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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Clarify vision of a future with electric vehicles

    Republican state legislators tapped into public anxiety when they blocked plans for Connecticut to continue utilizing California motor vehicle emissions standards. Those standards include banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks by 2035.

    Republicans on the Regulation Review Committee made it clear they were prepared to vote in unison Tuesday against the California regulations. Regulation Review is the rare committee on which Republicans, despite their minority status in the legislature, have an equal number of votes, 7-7. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont could have survived a split vote, but when some Democrats on the committee also voiced reservations, the governor was forced to withdraw the regulations or risk defeat.

    Among the committee Democrats not sold on the idea was state Sen. Cathy Osten, whose 19th District includes small, rural communities where many of the residents are dependent on their pickup trucks and where electric vehicle charging stations are a rare sight.

    Folks confront a big disconnect between the lofty target of ending the sale of any new gasoline-powered vehicles in about 11 years and the reality of what they see, and don’t see. They see electric vehicles with prices that would bust their budgets, particularly for larger vehicles, such as pickup trucks. They see a state with among the highest electric rates in the country, served by a grid that could not meet a sudden transformation to electric travel. And they don’t see enough charging stations to make such a transition feasible.

    Don’t get us wrong. Connecticut should strive to be a leader as the nation moves from the internal combustion engine of the 20th century to the high-tech hybrid and electric cars of a new century. This is important not only to contribute to reducing greenhouse emissions, as small as that contribution may be on a global scale, but also to improve air quality. Motor-vehicle emissions are a health problem, particularly for those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

    But Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature must realize they have a serious credibility problem. The governor now says he will ask the Democrat-controlled legislation to pass the California standards, which would take the Regulation Review Committee out of the political calculation.

    States basically have two options. They can adopt the stricter California standards or the less stringent federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. Car manufacturers need some level of uniformity. They cannot tailor production plans for different emission standards in every state. California clean air standards are utilized by 17 states, including Connecticut since the early 2000s, when adopted by the administration of Republican Gov. John G. Rowland.

    Major car manufacturers are moving rapidly forward with transitioning to hybrid and electric-powered fleets. The cost of these vehicles should become more affordable as production ramps up. Flipping to sales of only electric cars and light trucks by 2035 is a realistic target.

    But if the governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature want public backing, they need to demonstrate there are realistic plans to improve the power grid to meet the demand. They must provide assurances, with concrete policies and not promises, that there will be adequate recharging stations to serve a new generation of electric cars. And they should provide financial incentives to bring down costs, such as rebates, piggybacking on federal tax credits, and reducing registration fees for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

    Connecticut has a rebate program now, called CHEAPR. Rebates range from $4,250 for an eligible new electric vehicle to $2,250 for a plug-in hybrid electric, with smaller rebates provided for used cars. Unfortunately, it is a well-kept secret, with the state doing a poor job of promoting the buy-electric program.

    Car buyers also need to know a 2035 target will not be cast in stone. If the infrastructure is not in place, if price points don’t improve, the date can slip.

    The bottom line is that the governor needs to communicate better if he wants to generate public backing. Republicans caught him off guard. And look for the GOP to make this an issue in the 2024 election, when state senators and representatives will be up for election. Our expectation is that voters, and car customers, will buy into the vision of an electric-vehicle future — but only if it is a clear vision and not the blurry one that now exists.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.