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Vermont is weighing new rules to require car, truck manufacturers to supply more electric vehicles to the state

A photo showing cars lined up with plugs attached to large orange wires
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Vermont is weighing new regulations that would require car and truck manufacturers to supply the state with more electric vehicles.

Vermont is in the process of adopting new regulations that will push auto manufacturers to dramatically ramp up the number of electric vehicles they supply to dealerships in the state.

These new regulations will apply to cars and big trucks. And by 2035, every new car sold in Vermont will have to be powered by electricity or by hydrogen.

Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Vermont Public climate and environment reporter Abagael Giles. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: So these rules … What do they do? What's going to change for, say, the average person who buys a car in Vermont?

Abagael Giles: Yeah, so kind of like at the 90,000-foot level: One really key thing to understand is that this rule regulates the big companies that make and sell cars and trucks, not the people like you and me that buy them. And not even the dealerships that sell them. And it doesn't apply to used cars.

But it is going to affect all of us downstream. So starting with 2026 car models, manufacturers will have to supply a growing number of electric vehicles to Vermont dealerships every year. And by 2035, every new car sold in the state will either be powered by electricity or by hydrogen.

Not all states are adopting these rules. New Hampshire, for example, isn't, so you could drive across the border in 2035, and still buy a new car with an internal combustion engine. But you won't be able to register it here in Vermont.

It's a bit different for big trucks, you know, passenger vans and delivery trucks and the big shipping ones, tractor trailers. This rule doesn't phase out internal combustion engines for trucks, it just requires that they get more efficient and less polluting over time. And it requires Vermont get access to more electric models.

Interesting to think about where these rules came from, did Vermont come up with this idea alone?

So basically, federal law gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate air quality. It's not really something states can do. But California has this loophole where they can regulate air pollution from cars more strictly than the federal government does. Other states can join California in doing this, so long as we adopt California's regulations exactly as California wrote them. This is mostly to protect auto manufacturers, so they don't invent a new technology only to find out it's just not going to cut it in some random state.

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Seventeen other states have adopted all or some of California's rules, and Vermont would be the seventh state to adopt California's regulations on big trucks.

Abagael, you mentioned that this is starting with the 2026 models. Why is Vermont adopting these rules now, though?

Yeah, so we've got this Climate Action Plan that was adopted last year. And it called for us to adopt these rules from California, these latest versions, no later than Dec. 1 of 2022. But actually, the decision to follow in California's footsteps and regulate car pollution more strictly than the EPA, that was made by Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources back in the [19]90s. ANR has updated its regulations since to kind of keep up with California over time. And this is sort of just the latest iteration of that.

The big question, though, from a climate perspective, just how big of a dent is this really going to make?

Yeah, that's a great question. So Vermont has committed by law to cut its emissions, with some big deadlines coming up, namely in 2030 and 2050. Transportation is our biggest source of emissions as a state. Electrifying is sort of the plan to get there right now in that sector.

So, you know, full disclosure Mitch, these new rules, they are not going to get us all the way to where we need to be by 2030. We're gonna have to do more. Independent modeling the state commission last year suggests these regulations will get us about a third of the way to our 2030 commitment for cutting pollution from cars and trucks.

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And Vermont right now doesn't have a plan for how to get us the rest of the way there. And to be honest, it's looking like we probably won't get one this legislative session. So these rules are sort of what we're working with for now.

What about the market for these electric vehicles? I mean, we are starting to see more of them, it seems gradual, but you're seeing more of these cars on the road. Will there be enough supply, number one, and maybe more importantly for a lot of people in Vermont, will they be affordable, even if the supply is there?

So the short answer to your question about the market is yes, the market does exist right now, and so does the technology. But in some cases, especially with really big trucks, the upfront sticker price is still pretty high. But for smaller trucks and vans, you can already save money by going electric in a lot of cases. And that's going to be a lot of the people affected in Vermont.

It's also important to note this rule won't phase out conventional trucks entirely. It just requires manufacturers supply ones that are less polluting and increase the number of electric options available in Vermont.

Kind of switching to the EV market, electric vehicles for cars, passenger trucks are expected to dominate the American car market by 2035.

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Even if Vermont does nothing at all, right now, electric vehicle sales make up less than 10% of the cars on the road in Vermont. The idea is that this will grow the used electric vehicle market. And right now in Vermont, you know, most cars that people buy are used. People who are income-qualified can get assistance today from the state to buy a used electric vehicle.

But yes, broadly speaking, advocates and the folks at the Agency of Natural Resources agree we really need some big policy solutions to bring more funding into the picture to help those of us in the used car market make this switch.

And lower-income folks, people who say they need one delivery truck for their small business, those are actually the people who already stand to benefit the most. If they can get help with the initial upfront cost of buying an electric vehicle, over time, they're likely to save money on maintenance, save money on more price-stable fuel.

So that's going to be a big part of the picture in the coming legislative sessions.

What about incentives though, that are available right now in Vermont to buy an electric vehicle?

Yeah, so full disclosure, it's complicated. Drive Electric Vermont breaks it all down on their website. And that's a great place to go if anyone is ... thinking about making the switch.

But broadly right now the state of Vermont is offering up to $4,000 towards the purchase of a new electric vehicle, you could get as much as $8,000 if you’re income-qualified. If you're in the used market, you can get up to $5,000 for used EV or hybrid. And on top of that, the federal government is offering up to $7,500 in tax credits, which basically means that you get that back after you buy an EV when you pay your taxes, so long as your income is high enough that you pay that much.

And then utilities around the state are also offering a host of different incentives.

What's next in the process?

So public comment for these new rules ends this Friday. One really important thing here is that since we aren't really allowed to change the rules, the state is really looking for feedback about whether to adopt them at all, and about what your business or your family might need to be able to adapt to them. From there, the rules will go to the legislative Committee on Rules for review. That's a group of lawmakers from both chambers who kind of meet as needed to do this work.

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Technically ... that committee could decide not to adopt the regulations if public comment is overwhelmingly against them. But it's most likely the state will adopt these rules. It's really what's called for in our broader climate policies that have been vetted and gone through a lot of review elsewhere.

And the Agency of Natural Resources wants to do that by that Dec. 1 deadline called out in the Climate Action Plan.

Learn more about the rulemaking process and how to weigh in, here.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate change and environment reporter. She joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station WBUR...as a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.

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