Delaware could join California in 2035 ban on sales of gas-powered cars

A group of cars line up at charging stations

File photo: A group of cars line up at charging stations at a dealership in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Delaware appears ready to get even more serious about cutting air pollution, by mandating that all new cars sold in the state be electric by 2035.

The move is designed to cut Delaware’s main source of air pollution, which is currently the tailpipes of cars and trucks that travel on state roadways.

Since Delaware joined the U.S. Climate Alliance in 2017, the state has been working towards reducing carbon emissions by at least 26% by 2025. That move came after then-President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“This past March, Governor Carney directed the department to try to begin the process for the adoption of the Advance Clean Car amendments, which include the zero-emission standards,” said DNREC’s Valerie Gray at a recent public workshop hosted by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Delaware’s made significant progress toward cleaner air by placing requirements on our industrial and power sector, by their installation of pollution control equipment, and thereby have reductions in their emissions.”

Despite improvements from power plants and industrial polluters, emissions from vehicle tailpipes remain high.

“The American Lung Association continues to give New Castle County a failing grade year after year,” Gray said. “So, more reductions are necessary to protect our health, particularly for those communities that are located near our major highways. These communities are much more likely to experience higher health burdens from our transportation-related emissions.”

As part of the state’s effort to align its standards with California, Delaware will gradually increase the percentage of electric cars required to be sold on car lots around the state.

Under the proposed requirements, the state expects to see the sales of gas-powered cars drop from more than 800,000 in 2026 to fewer than 600,000 by 2035. Sales of zero-emission vehicles will increase to more than 300,000 by 2035, according to projections.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The regulations wouldn’t affect cars currently on the road today, just new cars being sold.

“If you currently have a gasoline and diesel vehicle, you are not going to have to comply with this program,” Gray said. “The program element for zero-emission vehicles applies to the auto manufacturers. If you continue to own and drive a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle, you’re going to continue to register it with [the] DMV, as you already do.”

The plan drew mixed reactions during virtual public workshops in recent weeks.

“I’m very happy. I’m thrilled, in fact, to learn about this plan going forward,” said Cindy Johnson of Wilmington during a recent workshop. “I’m really looking forward to when there’s less air pollution in the Delaware and Philadelphia area because it’s not fair to these vulnerable people, whether they’re children, whether they’re elderly people, to suffer with really what’s preventable illness.”

Denise Clendenning, a Newark resident who spoke at a recent workshop, said she was against the plan.

“Most people, and I know ourselves here, would not be able to afford the cost of an electric car at this time,” she said.

Clendenning noted the high initial purchase price, and echoed other residents’ worries about the costs of upkeep for battery-powered vehicles. “I don’t know if you guys can afford that, but I don’t think the average citizen in Delaware can. And with inflation at an all-time high, this whole plan is just ridiculous.”

Delaware’s average per capita income is $38,917, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census.

Following the state workshops, DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin will make a final decision on the potential EV mandate by mid-2023.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal