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After more than a year of controversy, consternation, citizen complaints, and contemplation, Delaware’s environmental secretary has moved ahead with a mandate for car dealerships to sell more and more zero-emission vehicles starting in three years.
The 2021 proposal by the Carney administration initially sought to require that starting with 2026 model years, 35% off all new cars, SUVs, and light trucks delivered to dealerships would be either fully electric or plug-in hybrid electric. That percentage would have increased gradually to 100% in 2035.
The final decision was not quite as stringent. Shawn Garvin, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, has decreed that the mandate will begin with a 43% requirement for the 2027 model year. That percentage will ramp up to 82% for the 2032 model year. After that, the mandate will expire, but Garvin said it could be renewed in some form.
The mandate does not affect the right or ability of dealerships to sell used gas-powered vehicles — only new ones. Dealers also will be allowed to sell new heavy trucks powered by gasoline.
Garvin hailed the mandate as one that will reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and cut other air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, which creates smog and causes respiratory ailments like asthma.
The regulation “aims to protect public health, reduce emissions, and align with Delaware’s climate goals – all while providing consumers with cleaner and more sustainable transportation options,” Garvin said. “This decision will result in cleaner air in Delaware and strengthen protections for communities overburdened by exposure to tailpipe pollution.”
Even though Garvin modified the proposal somewhat, he said it would still go a long way to helping Delaware meet its goals, enshrined in a law. Gov. John Carney signed this summer, to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach a 100% net reduction by 2050.
“We felt that 2032 and 82% was a good benchmark, getting vehicles more available in the state of Delaware than they are now, making it so our consumers didn’t have to go to other states to get those vehicles,’’ Garvin said.
Although Republican lawmakers held a series of citizen town halls this year, with most attendees opposing the proposal and many railing about intrusive government overreach in the sessions or in written comments to the state, Garvin said he didn’t scale back the proposal for those reasons.
“We didn’t feel like we needed to go 2035 initially to do what needs to be done in making sure vehicles are available and start getting the public health and environmental benefits for the state,’’ Garvin said.
Gov. Carney said in a statement that he’s pleased his appointee Garvin has decided to mostly adopt the Advanced Clean Car II standard first adopted by California in 2022. Fourteen other states, including Delaware’s neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, have adopted the rule. Pennsylvania has not.
“Over the next decade, Delaware will transition to a clean energy future to reduce pollution and take on climate change. Addressing transportation emissions is a critical part of that effort,’’ said Carney, who leaves office in January 2025. He added that the rule “is a thoughtful approach that will not eliminate gas-powered vehicles, but continue to move us forward.”
The American Lung Association of Delaware said the 100% mandate should have been ordered, but nevertheless applauded the administration for taking “bold action.’’ The group said the move will benefit the more than 90,000 Delawareans who have asthma as well as tens of thousands who are vulnerable to air pollution because of age or medical conditions.
“Delaware is moving in the right direction,’’ said Deborah Brown, the association’s chief mission officer. “There is no question that the transition to cleaner and zero-emission vehicles will save lives and reduce lung health emergencies.”
Republican lawmakers are continuing their attack on the mandate, however.
House Minority Leader Mike Ramone of Pike Creek, whose bill to require legislative approval for such a mandate has passed the House but not the Senate, said Garvin made the wrong call in a decision that should not have been his to make. Under current law, Garvin has the authority to establish the regulation.
“The people of Delaware voted for people in the General Assembly, in the Senate and the House, to be involved in these kinds of decisions,’’ said Ramone, who hosted some of the town halls. “This isn’t simply saying, you know, we should charge three dollars to get into a state park instead of two dollars. This is a mandate of behavior of the people of our state.”
Ramone also noted two developments this week. First, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, facing legislative opposition, withdrew his plan to adopt the same standard Delaware initially proposed. Also, a Consumer Reports survey found that owners of electric vehicles reported substantially more problems than owners of internal combustion engines powered by gasoline.
Ramone also said he’s concerned that Delaware’s dealerships and consumers will suffer.
“If they can’t sell the EVs off their lots and they’re being forced to buy a certain percentage, it’s going to put them at a point where they’re not gonna be able to put any gas cars on their lots,’’ Ramone said. “I just think that’s gonna end up increasing the used car prices for gas cars, which is going to clobber those who have the least to spend to have a vehicle.”
State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, the Republican minority whip, said the market — not a top government bureaucrat — should decide the future of transportation.
“We didn’t outlaw horses and buggies. We didn’t outlaw people riding horses’’ at the end of the 19th century, Pettyjohn said. “But what happened was technology, business, the economy innovation happened, and made it so the newest form of travel, the gas-powered automobile, was superior to what we had before.”
“I agree that at some point in time the transportation sector is going to go electric, but let it happen naturally. Let it happen when the affordability is there. Let it happen when the infrastructure is there. Don’t set an arbitrary timeline and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to pick this date several years from now that we’re going to be there,’ not factoring in that there may be issues that prevent us from getting there naturally.”
All objections aside, the rule is now in effect.
Garvin noted that a federal tax credit and a state rebate currently provides buyers with up to $10,000 to defray the cost of an electric vehicle. The state is also spending millions of dollars to update the charging infrastructure, and new homes must be capable of installing charging infrastructure under a bill passed by the General Assembly this year.
Sales of electric vehicles are rising rapidly nationwide, with annual sales expected to top one million this year for the first time, and EVs have accounted for about 8% of new vehicle sales in 2023.
Garvin also said his department would conduct annual reviews of the program, to confirm that the proper percentages of EVs are being delivered to Delaware, and to ensure that advancements in technology, supply chains, affordability, and battery performance are occurring in the automotive industry as anticipated.
“There’s a lot of things that we will be evaluating and looking at and collecting,” Garvin said, “so that we can get a sense of how this is going in and the direction moving forward into the future.”
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