States That Are Deadbeats on Electric Cars

By · October 28, 2013

Maine LEAF driver

LEAF-driving Marc Lausier of Scarborough, Maine, tried to get Gov. Paul LePage to see the light on electric cars. But no luck so far.

As reported last week, the announcement on Thursday that eight governors are teaming up to support electric cars was timed to coincide with a review of zero emissions mandates by the California Air Resources Board. The message to automakers was clear: with the right incentives and charging infrastructure, electric cars can find a sizable market throughout the United States—so stop making excuses, and get ready to ramp up EV production.

And yet, there were seven states conspicuously missing from the list. That's because those seven states are among those already signed on to California’s tough vehicle emissions laws—but missing in action at last week's announcement.

It's hard to keep track of how many states follow California emissions laws, but my count shows 14. Again, only half of them took a stand last week to support EVs.

Driving on Party Lines

You probably won’t be surprised that six of the seven states that declined to stand up for electric cars last week are run by Republican governors: Arizona, Florida, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

And every single one of the seven states enthusiastically joining the electric car campaign last week have Democratic governors: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

I’m not sure why Washington—the seventh state not on the list—and Jay Inslee, its Democratic governor and a longtime supporter of electric cars, wasn’t a part of the announcement last week. But Washington appears to be the exception that proves the rule: When automakers start waging a battle to erode California’s zero emissions laws, you can expect ongoing support of EVs to fall along party lines.

Yet, electric cars were supposed to transcend party bickering—because all sides want the U.S. the buck its addiction to oil, and our citizens to breath cleaner air. So why would those six states stay on the sidelines? The McClatchy-Tribune Regional News tried to answer that question when it comes to Maine.

Beyond Our Ability

According to the news service: “Maine declined to participate in a multi-state effort to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles because the state lacks the resources to implement required components of the plan, a state official said Friday.”

Gov. Paul LePage did not respond Friday to phone and email requests for comment from McClatchy. But Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan provided several reasons why the state opted out. “When the draft (memorandum of understanding) came to us it was sent with an action plan that was well beyond our ability to undertake it," she said. "Maine is a rural state—we are geographically large and our population is spread out. Plug-in infrastructure may make sense down the road for Maine when market conditions develop." California's zero emissions laws give automakers until 2025 to make EVs represent 15 percent of its sales.

Maine’s current charging infrastructure is indeed pretty weak—just 14 public charging stations in the entire state. But that’s really not far behind Vermont with only 20 stations. Logan told McClatchy that Maine’s emissions strategy included the use of natural gas in its truck fleets.

At least one EV owner in Maine, Marc Lausier of Scarborough, said he contacted Gov. LePage in hopes of persuading him of the benefits of zero-emission cars. "About nine months ago, I offered to let him test drive the car," but the governor declined, said Lausier, the first LEAF owner in Maine. "Unfortunately he's just not an environmentalist."

Stephen Woods, president and CEO of TideSmart Global in Falmouth, which has a free public charging station for electric vehicles, said supporting electric cars is not an issue of geography, but a matter of priorities. Woods, a former Democratic candidate for governor, said, “Unfortunately, Maine has been a little slow to the party.”

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