A Toyota Rav4 plugin hybrid charges at a ChargePoint charger in front of City Hall in Portland on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

State lawmakers are taking the wheel in Maine’s debate over phasing in electric vehicle sales.

The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday unanimously approved legislation declaring EV rules to be the jurisdiction of lawmakers and not the Board of Environmental Protection, an appointed citizen board that rejected a mandate to boost electric and hybrid car sales the previous day.

The measure now heads to the House and Senate.

“I’d be surprised if it met additional controversy,” Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, co-chair of the committee, said in an interview Friday. “Sometimes I’m surprised, but it will probably be enacted as is.”

An absence of controversy would contrast with thousands of public comments submitted to the board from environmentalists who say Maine must act immediately to curb tailpipe emissions – a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions – and opponents who accused state officials of seeking to impose mandates limiting vehicle choice.

Rep. Michael Soboleski, R-Phillips, a member of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said the legislation “ensures our emissions laws will remain under the purview of the Legislature.”


He and other critics focused on the process used to put the issue before policymakers.

Legislative Republicans called a news conference Thursday to praise the board’s decision, while denouncing a petition signed by 150 Mainers that prompted the board to consider clean car standards. Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said the petitioners “basically abused the system” to force the issue when it should be decided by the Legislature.

Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, said the public should have “an opportunity to challenge, but not so much adjust or replace” the rule.

Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said petitioning is an arduous task and was “laid out by the Legislature.”

Each signature must be notarized, certified and witnessed in the towns of residence of those who signed the petition, he said. “It’s not getting signatures outside a supermarket,” he said.

Susan Lessard, chair of the Board of Environmental Protection, questioned its authority to make the decision, rather than the Legislature, when she and three other board members voted Wednesday to reject the EV rule.


Brenner and Soboleski said members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee accepted a recommendation by the board that the Legislature make the final decision.

The legislation designates state rules governing new motor vehicle emission standards as “major substantive” rather than “routine technical,” which would be the responsibility of the board.

The proposed EV standards would have required increasing the share of zero-emissions and near-zero emissions cars and trucks sold in Maine to 51% of all vehicles sold in 2028 – up from 43% as previously proposed – and 82% of all vehicles sold in 2032.

Critics, including Republican lawmakers and car dealers, said Maine lacks enough chargers, particularly in the state’s vast rural stretches, to support EVs.

That was a central argument by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, who has said he supports “clean cars” and favors incentives to promote installation of EV charging stations. He and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, signed onto the bill, making what had been a Republican initiative a bipartisan bill backed by the Legislature’s top Democrats.

Lawmakers included in the legislation requirements for reports on issues such as zero-emission vehicle adoption rates in Maine relative to national trends, strategies to reduce barriers to greater EV use in rural communities, and how market forces and policies can help overcome barriers to greater EV purchases.


The Maine Climate Council’s annual report last December included an ambitious goal of 219,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030. Fewer than 12,500 were on the road at the end of 2023, the report said.

The Board of Environmental Protection was to consider phasing in rules for the 2027 model year, but put off a meeting initially set for December because a state of emergency was in place following a Dec. 18 storm. That delayed the rules until the 2028 vehicle model year. With that policy rejected by the board, Maine has lost more time needed to meet its 2030 timetable, Shapiro said.

“Having the rule modified for 2028 was a harmful delay,” he said in an interview Friday. “2029 is an additional delay. Climate change is affecting us now.”

“It’s why the (state) climate plan is called ‘Maine Won’t Wait,’ ” Shapiro said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.