Minority Republicans in the Legislature promised Tuesday to make a campaign issue this fall of electric vehicles, insisting that voters should decide whether state legislators, appointed environmental officials – or anyone – should remake private transportation in Maine.

Several Republican proposals that sought to give lawmakers greater authority failed in the Legislative Council, which is made up of Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers.

Lawmakers set aside a measure that would have authorized the Legislature, not appointed state environmental officials, to decide how to phase in electric vehicles in Maine and scale back the sale of new gas-powered cars and SUVs. Rep. Dick Campbell, R-Orrington, also sought to change the type of rules subject to the petition process. His proposal was a response to a petition, organized by environmental advocates, signed by 150 people and submitted to the Board of Environmental Protection, to limit the sale of gas-powered vehicles in favor of EVs.

The BEP is a seven-member citizen board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature that is expected to vote on a proposed mandate as early as next month.

House Republican leader Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor said during the meeting that the petition proposal was “clearly to be major legislation.”

Two bills that proposed to give more power to lawmakers to consider policy on electric vehicles failed in the Legislative Council, though they received support from some Democrats.


“An unelected board should not have the authority to overrule the Legislature,” said Rep. Michael Soboleski, R-Phillips, who sponsored both.

A top Democratic lawmaker also opposes the EV rule sought by the environmentalists’ petition, but he supports the use of EVs.

“(Senate President Troy) Jackson has some serious concerns regarding the proposed rule change submitted via petition to the Board of Environmental Protection and was hoping the board votes against it,” a spokesperson said. “To be clear, President Jackson supports the use of electric vehicles and policies that help our state respond to the very real health, economic and environmental threats posed by climate change.”

However, the technology and a sufficient number of charging stations do “not exist equitably” in Maine and Jackson, D-Aroostook, prefers an approach that incentivizes Mainers to make the switch “as opposed to mandating it.”

Environmental advocates say gradually eliminating gas-powered cars, a major source of air pollution, is essential if Maine is to reach its zero-carbon goals. The policy has won acceptance in a dozen other states, but has met resistance in Connecticut.

The “Advanced Clean Cars II” plan would require zero-emission vehicles to make up 43% of new car sales for 2028 models and 82% of new sales by model year 2032. Those include electric and fuel-cell vehicles, along with a partial credit for plug-in hybrids. The issue of who has the authority for EV policy is not recent. Several members of the public said at a hearing in August that the proposed rule should require legislative review due to its scope and potential impact.


Critics also find fault with EVs. Republicans, car dealers and others say they are costly and out of reach for low-income Mainers and that far more EV charging stations would be needed for motorists who travel across Maine’s vast rural stretches.

A Department of Environmental Protection official said last month that the BEP “intends to vote” on proposed standards that would eventually require 82% of new vehicles sold to be considered zero emissions by the 2032 model year. A vote will be scheduled after a public comment period ends Feb. 5. The board plans to submit to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources a report summarizing its 2023 activities and will include a recommendation that the Legislature consider revising state law to authorize lawmakers to rewrite vehicle standards.

The BEP was supposed to vote Dec. 21 on the proposal, but a fierce storm three days earlier forced postponement. As a result, the effective date of the proposed vehicle rules was delayed one year, to the 2028 model year from 2027, angering environmentalists who say climate change demands quick action.

Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, said at Tuesday’s news conference that the rules are being pushed by “extremists” and “Maine is one of the last places that should be mandated for electric vehicles.”

“Now, we have a board of unelected bureaucrats appointed by Gov. Mills attempting to ram their radical climate agenda down the throats of Maine citizens, all while circumventing the Legislature,” Paul said. “We believe Mainers should decide what they drive and what fits their budget.”

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said Mainers should “ask tough questions” about state legislative candidates this fall and “whether they think it’s appropriate for state government to tell you what you can drive for a vehicle.”


And Soboleski said in an interview that EV policy is “going to be a serious issue” in the fall campaigns.

Rep. Steve Foster, R-Dover Foxcroft, said opposing views on the proposed mandate highlight the adage that there are two Maines – more progressive, wealthier communities in the south support the mandate and more conservative rural communities oppose it.

“Many of my constituents are scrambling trying to find used vehicles they can pay $2,000 or $3,000, get them on the road and use them to get back and forth from their jobs and the grocery store,” Foster said. “They are going to be in a tough spot with this mandate in place.”

Staff writers Randy Billings and Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: