The Maine Board of Environmental Protection narrowly supported new clean car rules on Tuesday that promote a gradual transition to zero-emission vehicles, but members admitted that their eventual vote would likely be challenged by state lawmakers.

“This is probably going to get reviewed by the Legislature anyway,” said Robert Duchesne, of Hudson, a former state legislator and radio show host. “It’s a routine technical (rule), but I expect they’ll be lining up at the revisor’s office over the next week or so (to take the issue up next session).”

In a straw poll of members, the board split 4-2 Tuesday with a majority in favor of recommending that Maine eventually adopt California’s new advanced clean car program. A final vote won’t be taken until after the board’s staff responds to more than a thousand public comments about the proposed rule.

The board balked, however, at adopting California’s new clean truck program. Members worried that Maine doesn’t have enough heavy-vehicle charging stations to support the rollout and that the cost of electric-powered trucks is too high. They preferred a new federal clean truck proposal.

The new clean car rule the board plans to recommend would require auto manufacturers to make an increasing number of near-zero or zero-emission vehicles available for sale in Maine. If implemented, 43% of all vehicles sold in 2027 would need to meet the standards and that would increase to 82% by 2032.

Supporters believe the rule will improve public health, help Maine reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs that will boost the economy. They believe it will boost Maine consumers’ access to the EV market because automakers won’t want to face fines for failing to meet graduated sales quotas.


Opponents say the rule would eventually strangle the gas-powered vehicle market in Maine, strip consumers of choice and hurt dealers left drowning with EVs too costly for Mainers to buy. They say Maine lacks the charging infrastructure and the electric grid for this projected EV transition.

Duchesne, retired conservation biologist Barbara Vickery, of Richmond, retired environmental science professor Robert Sanford, of Gorham, and retired wildlife biologist Steven Pelletier, of Topsham, signaled support for the new rule, although their straw poll vote was not binding.

Duchesne urged fellow board members to make sure Maine didn’t get left behind. Supporters note that electric vehicle manufacturers are more likely to ship EVs to states that put new EV car sale quotas on manufacturers. Other states are likely to lose access, especially to affordable zero-emission cars.

“The marketplace is changing whether we like it or not,” Duchesne said. “This is coming no matter how uncomfortable it is to the old infrastructure that is used to dealing with it another way. It’s going to take a lot of people kicking and screaming, but it’s going to change. It already is.”

Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard and retired geologist Robert Marvinney, of Readfield, were opposed.

“Look at the list of pros, it’s all improvements based on modeling, based on analysis, but when I look at the opposition, it seems to me there are very direct impacts on businesses and on lower-income people,” Marvinney said.  “I really don’t think this policy is the right one.”


But Pelletier contrasted the rule’s potential negative impact on certain businesses, such as auto dealers who might wind up with certain luxury EVs sitting on their lots unsold due to their high price tag, with the financial impact of climate change if Maine does not meet its emission reduction goals.

“Climate change is going to be having other effects that we’re not talking about, that we’re not seeing,” Pelletier said before announcing his support. “I think it’s important that this board have a position on this and move forward with it.”


The straw poll hit a nerve with some politicians, as Duchesne predicted.

“The Maine Board of Environmental Protection could not be more out of touch,” said Matt Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Policy Institute, a free-market think tank in Portland. “Eliminating consumer choice in the automobile market without the consent of the Maine Legislature is the epitome of the administrative state run amok.”

“Far-left progressives do everything they can to increase the cost of living for Maine’s citizens,” said Sen. Matt Harrington, R-York. He said the rule would force “Maine consumers to buy electric vehicles they don’t want, cannot afford or that aren’t practical for their needs.”


Environmental groups were happy with the early signal of support, but most didn’t want to comment on the fate of the proposal until the straw poll turned into a binding vote. Climate and clean energy outreach coordinator Josh Caldwell of the Natural Resource Council of Maine urged adoption as soon as possible.

“Give people more choices to buy cars that cost less to drive and don’t create tailpipe pollution,” Caldwell said. “Communities across the state are already feeling the impacts of climate change, and we can’t afford to stall on adopting clean technologies that Maine people and businesses want now.”

Senior attorney Emily Green of the Conservation Law Foundation urged the board to adopt stricter car standards that would transition to all new car sales being zero-emission by 2035 and to revisit the truck rule at its next meeting.

“Our leaders need to go beyond the rule they’re considering and go all electric by 2035,” Green said in a written statement. “Rejecting the clean trucks standards would be absolutely the wrong move. Our future health, air and climate depend on us taking bold action today.”

Currently, electric vehicles make up about 6% of new car sales in Maine. Maine’s climate action plan is calling for 219,000 near-zero or zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030. As of April, with 10,308 registered near-zero or zero-emission vehicles, Maine was at about 5% of its 2030 goal.

The proposed rules would deliver a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2025 levels and nearly $17 billion in benefits for Maine’s families and businesses, according to a study from the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the environmental groups that petitioned for the new rule.


Vermont, Massachusetts and New York already have adopted California’s standards. Manufacturers tend to favor these states when it comes to deciding where to ship their limited zero-emissions inventory to avoid the possibility of paying a noncompliance fine, the petitioners said.


More than half of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels come from tailpipe pollution emitted by gas-powered vehicles. Without more EV use, supporters say Maine won’t meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels in the next decade and 80% by 2050.

Maine hasn’t adopted regulations or policies addressing the transportation sector, Maine’s largest emissions contributor, and Gov. Janet Mills, who created the Maine Climate Council and is co-chair of the U.S. Climate Alliance, has criticized California’s plan to phase out all new gas-powered vehicles.

The state’s consideration of the proposed regulations is a result of petitions signed by 150 Mainers in late May that were submitted by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club.

Under state law, a state agency must initiate rulemaking procedures when a petition signed by at least 150 registered voters is submitted, but it is not required to adopt the rule. The proposed rules are considered routine technical changes and don’t require legislative approval.

A hearing on the proposed rule drew more than 150 people to the Augusta Civic Center in August.

The Board of Environmental Protection, whose seven members are appointed by the governor, oversees departmental rulemaking.

The board considered but didn’t adopt similar clean car rules in 2021.

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