EV Mandate Stalls; Sen. Harding: “A Victory for Taxpayers”

May 6, 2024

Electric cars stall: CT House Speaker says no vote likely this year

Hartford Courant

In a surprising move, House Speaker Matt Ritter said that the legislature will not vote this year on any legislation pushing for electric cars, a blow to environmentalists.

The statement caught some legislators off guard because electric cars had been among the highest priorities facing the legislature late last year. At one point, lawmakers considered holding a special session in January before the regular session started so that they would have enough time to focus on an important issue.

But legislators rejected calls by Gov. Ned Lamont and other Democrats to enact the California emissions standards that would have banned the sale of gasoline-powered cars in Connecticut by 2035. Now, legislators have also dropped watered-down plans to study the issue after Republicans questioned the potential political makeup of the special task force that had been expected.

With the 2024 regular legislative session scheduled to end at midnight Wednesday, Ritter said he does not expect debate on the issue.

“I don’t think so,” Ritter told reporters Friday at the state Capitol. “I like the [study] commission. I see the value in it. I’m not sure that many people share my thoughts. Sometimes, as the speaker, you lose. I like the commission. I think it keeps it alive. I think our state was shocked at how much pushback there was and how maybe woefully unprepared we were. I don’t see it getting better by doing nothing, but some people think the commission is not worth it. So, you can’t win them all.”

Regarding studying the issue, Ritter said, “People don’t want to do it. No. People don’t want to do it. … I’m a little disappointed.”

Depending on who wins in the crucial November elections and the size of any potential Democratic majorities at the state and federal levels, Ritter said the issue could be revisited in 2025.
“Maybe. We’ll see. I don’t know,” Ritter said. “A lot will depend on who wins, especially down in D.C.”

One of the problems is that some Democratic legislators questioned the benefit and the impact in the cities, where many low-income residents either do not have cars or cannot afford electric vehicles.

Ritter had said previously that legitimate concerns had been raised by critics about the affordability of the switch to electric cars, adding that he believes that the state should help subsidize the cost of expensive electric buses in struggling cities like Hartford and Bridgeport.

Republicans were generally pleased.

“This is a victory for Connecticut taxpayers,” said Senate Republican leader Stephen Harding of Brookfield. “This bill is now thankfully dead, thanks to the thousands of taxpayers who spoke out against it and signed our petition at BanWithNoPlanCT.com. From the start, Republicans knew that this ‘study’ was a clear path to an electric vehicle mandate. This legislation was a ‘roadmap’ for the majority party to launch a full-throttle pursuit of a ban on gas-powered vehicles after Election Day.”

He added, “We must continue to stay vigilant, because this idea will no doubt be brought up again. Republicans support efforts to protect the environment and to make the air cleaner, but the multiple question marks and contradictions surrounding the mandate’s achievability, affordability, and budgetary impact remain serious concerns.”

Lamont and Ritter support the clean-air standards of liberal states like California as more drivers are increasingly buying electric cars. Republicans, meanwhile, say Connecticut should join 32 other states that follow the federal Environmental Protection Agency standards that are less strict than those in California and nearby states like Massachusetts, Vermont, New York and Rhode Island.

The controversial proposed regulations on electric vehicles caused a firestorm of protest among Republicans who said it is impractical to require all new cars sold in Connecticut to be zero-emission electric because the state does not have enough electric charging stations and the costs are too high.

Lamont’s office said Friday that he maintains his position in favor of the California standards.

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford was surprised about no votes being planned.

“I’m puzzled by that,” Candelora said when asked by The Courant. “Republicans have said all along that we need a plan. … Number one, we need to make a decision. Are we going to adopt the federal standard or continue on the California pathway? I’m opposed to continuing to follow California, especially in that they’re in litigation over their standards. … I would support that commission if it was constituted a different way. The chairs of that committee asked for our input. We gave them our input and never heard back from them. We’ve been honest brokers in this debate, but for some reason the Democrats refuse to come to the table.”

The commission, he said, was “stacked in a one-sided view” that would lean toward adopting the California standards.

Recent history

The first blow came back in November when the legislature’s 14-member Regulations Review Committee failed to vote on regulations saying that new cars sold in Connecticut starting in 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles. Some committee members raised concerns, and Lamont withdrew the proposal.

Undeterred at that point, Lamont held a press conference with supportive Democratic legislators as he charged forward with his plan for the full legislature to examine the overall issues in order to take action in the 2024 legislative session. But lawmakers decided not to move forward.

More charging stations on the way

A major issue that has raised concerns is whether the state will have enough charging stations and the proper infrastructure to generate all of the electricity that will be needed to charge car and truck batteries.

In 2021, officials announced that Connecticut would receive $53 million over the next five years from the federal government for electric-charging stations in an effort to cut air pollution by encouraging the use of electric cars.

The funding is part of the $1.25 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed both chambers of Congress. All seven members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of the package, which President Joe Biden signed. Under an 80-20 matching grant, Connecticut will contribute $10.6 million to the federal funding for a total allocation of $63.6 million in a move that the state environmental commissioner described as “a game-changer” under a historic investment.

The federal money is designed for charging stations to be built within five miles of busy interstate highways, including Interstates 84, 95, 91, 395, and the Merritt Parkway, officials said. The federal money, for example, cannot be spent in rural towns in northern Litchfield County or eastern Connecticut that are not near any highways.