AUGUSTA — A proposal to require carmakers to make more zero-emission vehicles available for sale in Maine divided a huge crowd that packed a public hearing Thursday, with environmental advocates urging speedy adoption and suspicious opponents trying to pump the brakes.

The contentious hours-long forum unveiled deep-seated fears about the proposal: Would it force people to buy electric vehicles? Would it drive up new car prices? Would it hurt rural Mainers or bankrupt small garages or dealers? Can Maine’s electric grid handle that much demand?

Dawn McDonald, of Winthrop, warned the Maine Board of Environmental Protection that the rules would be especially harmful to working-class Mainers who must make do with a “beater” and can double as a “shade tree mechanic.”

“These are the people who work 10-hour days in a physical job and then come home and fix their vehicle in their own yard, laying in gravel or a foot of snow because they can’t afford to take it to a garage unless they opt to not buy oil or food for a month or more,” McDonald said.

But advocates say the proposal would force carmakers to send more zero-emissions vehicles to Maine to offer for sale, which would bring down prices. They say zero-emission vehicles cost less to repair as well as drive, even when charging costs are included, and perform well in Maine’s mountains and its winters.

“Rural Mainers love their EVs,” said Scott Vlaun, executive director of the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in Norway. “Besides being cleaner and quieter, they’re also cheaper to (fill up) and own over the long run. I do no maintenance on my cars except to change tires and wipers.”


The Maine Board of Environmental Protection hearing drew about 150 people. Appointed by Gov. Janet Mills, the seven-member board, whose members range from the Bucksport town manager to the former state geologist to a retired lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy, oversees departmental rulemaking.

The state’s consideration of the proposed regulations is a result of petitions signed by 150 Mainers in late May that were submitted by three environmental groups: the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Sierra Club.

Under state law, a state agency must initiate rulemaking procedures when a petition signed by at least 150 registered voters is submitted, but it is not required to adopt the rule. It also could opt to amend it. The proposed rules are considered routine technical changes and don’t require legislative approval. The public comment deadline is Aug. 28.

Questions posed by board members made it clear that some were dubious of certain opponents’ claims. When some complained about state interference in consumer choices, board member Robert Duchesne, of Hudson, noted that Maine had banned the sale of leaded gasoline for environmental reasons.

When Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner, decried the proposal as cruel, eliciting applause from the crowd, board member Barbara Vickery, of Richmond, formerly of The Nature Conservancy, reminded him the proposed rule would not prevent a Mainer from buying a gas-powered vehicle, new or used.

This upset the Republican lawmakers who lined up to oppose what they blasted as government overreach. Maine Republican Party Chairman Joel Stetkis criticized the “heavy-handed state government” as he submitted a petition signed by more than 10,000 people who opposed the proposed regulations.


The proposal would adopt a version of California’s clean vehicle emissions standards and require auto manufacturers to make an increasing number of near-zero or zero-emission vehicles for sale in Maine: in the first year, 2027, 43% of all vehicles sold and by the last year, 2032, 82% of all vehicles.


Currently, electric vehicles make up about 6% of new car sales in Maine. Maine’s climate action plan is calling for 219,000 near-zero or zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030. As of April, with 10,308 registered near-zero or zero-emission vehicles, Maine was at about 5% of its 2030 goal, state records show.

The proposal would apply only to new passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty vehicles. Anyone could buy a used gas-powered vehicle at any time, and even in 2032, when the strictest clean vehicle standards would be in place, up to 18% of all new cars sold in Maine could still be gas-powered.

Manufacturers who fail to meet the state goals could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day. The rules allow for some flexibility to help automakers meet these goals by allowing them to bank extra sales and giving them extra credit for selling to low-income Mainers or adopting the regulations before 2027.

Automakers would have to submit yearly compliance reports to the state that would be subject to audit.


Some opponents objected to the idea of adopting California’s standards, arguing that what may work in warmer, wealthier California will not necessarily work in a colder, poorer Maine. Some argued the rules weren’t working for California either, and blamed the state’s rolling blackouts on EV usage.

“I do not want to live in California,” said John Martincic, of Benton. “California is going down the drain.”

But supporters note the Maine proposal is not exactly the same as California’s. California will phase out gas-powered vehicle sales altogether by 2035, but the proposed Maine rules allow for gas-powered cars and trucks to account for 18% of new sales when the rules expire in 2032.

Supporters also note the proposal calls for a state review of the rules in 2029 to confirm there is enough demand to meet manufacturers’ sales targets, ensure there are enough charging stations to service all of Maine and that the electric grid is ready for that much demand.

The Board of Environmental Protection considered similar rules in 2021 but decided not to pursue them.

The Conservation Law Foundation released a new privately funded study that estimates the proposed rules would deliver a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2025 levels and nearly $17 billion in benefits for Maine’s families and businesses.



“The math couldn’t be clearer: this new rule will save lives and mean billions in benefits for Mainers,” foundation attorney Emily Green said. “Adopting the rule this year is imperative. But our leaders need to move further … and go all electric by 2035. Our future health, air and climate depend on us.”

Environmental groups like CLF are urging the Board of Environmental Protection to make the proposal more aggressive by following California’s lead, going beyond the 82% near-zero or zero-emission sales mandate by 2032 and banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

Such a scaling-up of the proposal would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 89% compared to 75%, and it would increase the monetized benefits to Maine’s families and benefits by another $4 billion, according to CLF’s impact study. But some advocates say such an amendment is asking too much, too fast.

The Maine Policy Institute, a Portland-based free-market think tank, urged the state to send the “nonsensical rules to where they belong – the dustbin of history.” CEO Matt Gagnon said the rules would have catastrophic results for Maine businesses, residents and electric grid.

Vermont, Massachusetts and New York already have adopted California’s standards. Manufacturers tend to favor these states when it comes to deciding where to ship their limited zero-emissions inventory to avoid the possibility of paying a noncompliance fine, petitioners claim.

More than half of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels come from tailpipe pollution emitted by gas-powered vehicles. Petitioners say increasing access to EVs is necessary to hit state climate targets, even though Mills has criticized California’s plan to phase out all new gas-powered vehicles.

Maine law requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels in the next decade and 80% by 2050. Yet Maine hasn’t adopted regulations or policies addressing the transportation sector, Maine’s largest emissions contributor.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new vehicle emission standards that would reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 10 billion tons and ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the U.S. are electric by 2032.

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