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Effort to phase out new gas-only vehicles by 2035 stalls in CT as governor withdraws plan

Retro style Gas Station in the Route 66 with old cars and fancy things catching the attractions of tourists that are on the road traveling Williams, Arizona.
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A retro-style gas station on Route 66 catches the attention of tourists in Williams, Arizona.

A proposal calls for Connecticut to adopt updated vehicle emissions standards that would bring the state in line with California’s stricter standards.

Connecticut’s bipartisan Regulation Review Committee was set to vote on the proposal Tuesday. But the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont told the Connecticut Mirror on Monday that it had pulled the proposal from the agenda after learning there weren't enough committee votes to support it.

State lawmakers told the Mirror they're considering bringing back the idea as a bill in the General Assembly, where it might have a better chance of passage.

Among the proposed regulations: Stopping the sale of new gas-only cars by 2035, and advancing zero-emission, electric or plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles.

People would be allowed to keep their existing gasoline-powered cars, but if they buy a new car after 2035, it would have to be electric. Used cars that solely run on gas would still be bought and sold in the state.

The proposal comes as Connecticut’s transportation sector accounts for the largest amount of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents have been raising concerns about the rule potentially limiting consumer choice of passenger vehicles. The regulations would limit the choices of car buyers, according to Senate Republican Minority Leader Kevin Kelly.

“That limits the options available to the people of Connecticut. And that's something that Americans are not accustomed to, to be told what you can and can't have the option to buy,” Kelly said Nov. 15 at a press conference.

Some Democrats weren't on board with the proposal. Democratic State Sen. Cathy Osten told the Hartford Courant she has concerns about how the regulations would affect “people of modest means.”

If Connecticut doesn’t adopt the updated clean car standards, the state would default to less-strict federal rules, according to Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Experts say this would slow state – and regional – progress towards curbing climate change.

However, adopting the standards would help make more electric vehicles available to Connecticut residents, Dykes said.

“These are standards that apply to manufacturers to ensure that a growing percentage of the vehicles that they offer for sale in participating states are meeting emission criteria that become more stringent year by year,” Dykes said.

Signing onto the standards would effectively give Connecticut residents more options, said Dave Cooke, a senior vehicle analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. That’s because manufacturers are prioritizing their electric vehicle sales toward the growing number of states that have adopted these policies.

“They have more availability of options, more availability of models, because of how manufacturers approach compliance with the state policies,” Cooke said.

The standards would also allow the state to work with neighboring states to build stronger infrastructure that would support electric vehicles traveling across the region, Cooke said. Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island have all committed to California’s standards.

The new proposed regulations would also apply for medium to heavy-duty vehicles for the first time, but would follow a slower timeline switching to electric compared to passenger vehicles.

If emissions reductions to improve air quality aren’t coming from cars and other vehicles, the state will have to seek pollution reductions in other industries, according to Paul Farrell, acting chief with DEEP’s Bureau of Air Management.

“This is really at the end of the day about public health, about protecting people,” Farrell said.

Connecticut Public's Matt Dwyer contributed to this report.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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