Following the Biden administration’s restoration of California’s authority to set more stringent vehicle emission standards than federal rules, Massachusetts is poised to follow suit by imposing a 2035 ban on new gasoline-powered vehicles, potentially setting the stage for the next major fight over how to meet state climate goals.
Massachusetts is one of sixteen states bound by California’s automobile emission standards, a policy implemented in 1991 under the Massachusetts Clean Air Act that assures the state has some of the strictest anti-pollution measures for new cars trucks.
Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order in 2020 requiring state regulators to compel the sale of solely zero-emission automobiles by 2035, and Baker included the idea in his December 2020 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.
“As a result, the promise by the state of Massachusetts to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 is one to which we are committed,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides stated last month at a Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change hearing.
A combination of free-market think tanks is now challenging this position and advocacy groups led locally by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. They believe the state should decouple from California.
“For us in Massachusetts, MassFiscal and (Citizens for Limited Taxation) are going to fight tooth and nail to ensure that motorists have options and that the free market, not the governor of California, determines what people want,” Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said.
Craney organized a conference call Thursday with groups representing the six New England states, excluding New Hampshire, that have laws tying their vehicle emission standards to California, describing it as the next major battleground following the success of many of the same groups in opposing the now-defunct regional Transportation Climate Initiative.
TCI would have aimed to cut carbon emissions from automobiles and trucks by imposing a falling emission cap on member states.
The new alliance, which includes 29 organizations from 15 of the 16 states that share a border with California, aims to educate the public, the media, and politicians on what will happen in a little more than a decade.
“Citizens oppose autopilot legislation,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, adding, “We’re trying to restore accountability to any of these laws, particularly something as drastic as this, which would prohibit internal combustion engines.”
Requests for feedback from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs were not responded to.
The federal Clean Air Act of 1970 obliged states to conform to federal automobile emission requirements. Still, it allowed California to establish its laws to combat smog as long as they were more strict than the federal ones. Other states were permitted to join either the federal regulations or the California rules.
While President Donald Trump revoked the waiver allowing California to set its regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency reinstated that authority on Wednesday, along with the states’ rights to follow California’s example on tailpipe emissions regulation.
According to Nick Murray of the Maine Policy Institute, following California’s lead will impose a “significant economic burden on low- and middle-income Mainers.”
He also questioned if New England’s electric grid could manage the demand associated with a complete transition to electric vehicles by 2035.
“It is just not practicable to adhere to California laws,” Murray stated.
Meg Hansen, head of the Vermont-based Ethan Allen Institute, predicted that a ban on gasoline-powered automobiles would fail in rural areas like hers, where public transportation is unavailable, and zero-emission technology is “neither inexpensive nor easily available.”
“Vermont is not a California colony,” Hansen stated. “For Vermont politicians to transfer regulatory control over our standards to another state is anti-democratic and foolish.”
Christian Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, stated that the California Air Resources Board had initiated the regulatory procedure necessary to execute Newsom’s executive order, and opponents such as his organization intend to participate.
Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued emergency regulations in January requiring the state to immediately adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) policy, which requires an increasing percentage of trucks sold between model years 2025 and 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles.
According to the Baker administration, to achieve a 45 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2030, the state would need approximately 1 million of the 5.5 million passenger vehicles projected to be registered in the commonwealth to be zero-emission vehicles, a significant increase from the roughly 36,000 on the road in January 2021.