Commentary: Giving a boost to zero-emission vehicle sales

Legislation that would set a minimum for ZEV sales should expand what’s offered to state car buyers.

By Matthew Metz

For The Herald

Everett has long battled air pollution, from the pulp mills of yesteryear to the vehicle exhaust of today.

More than 150,000 cars and trucks pass through Everett every day on I-5, sprinkling toxic exhaust on Lowell Elementary School and thousands of homes located within 200 yards of the freeway. The American Lung Association reports on hundreds of studies that conclude that people living within a quarter-mile of high-traffic roadways are at considerably higher risk for asthma, diabetes, heart ailments, dementia and premature death compared to people who live further away. Vehicle emissions are also hazardous to people who spend a lot of time on congested roads, as many Snohomish County residents do.

The best long-term solution to the problem of vehicle emissions is to require cars and trucks to be emissions-free. A bill pending in the Washington State House of Representatives, SB 5811, would move Washington forward on the path to zero-emissions vehicles. (Zero emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, are powered by electricity or hydrogen rather than gasoline or diesel.) SB 5811 mandates that approximately 2.5 percent of the cars sold by an automaker in Washington state be ZEVs. Automakers that don’t meet the standards must purchase credits from other automakers that have exceeded the standard, or pay a penalty.

SB 5811, championed by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, passed the Senate March 4 by a 26-22 vote. Gov. Jay Inslee has already promised to sign the measure into law once the House passes it. By passing the law, Washington will become the 11th state after California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont to apply ZEV sales requirements to automakers. The 10 ZEV states, soon to be joined by Colorado, comprise about a third of the total U.S. auto market.

Right now, many of the newest and best EVs (such as the Hyundai Kona SUV) are not available in Washington, because automakers choose to prioritize sales of EVs in the 10 ZEV states. The ZEV bill would motivate automakers to stock, advertise, incentivize and sell electric vehicles in Washington as they do in the other ZEV states in order to meet the minimum EV sales threshold. The ZEV bill benefits Washington drivers by giving them greater choice of EVs at better prices. Essentially, the ZEV bill passes the costs of supporting vehicle electrification from the taxpayers to the automakers, where they belong.

Washington’s adoption of the ZEV standards will support the development of new electric vehicles nationally. As more states adopt the ZEV mandate, the state standards edge closer to becoming national ones. The big car companies will have to raise their game to meet the standards. Less than 1 percent of the vehicles sold nationally by the largest five automakers so far in 2019 are electric.

We can’t keep using gasoline without further damaging our health and the world we are passing on to our children. The ZEV bill is a common-sense, low-cost measure to move us away from gasoline and towards a sustainable, carbon-neutral future.

Matthew Metz is co-executive director of Coltura, a Washington state-based nonprofit organization with the mission of improving climate, health and equity by accelerating the switch from gasoline vehicles to clean, zero-emission alternatives.

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