The 2022 Bolt EV (foreground) and EUV are shown in Milford, Mich. Automakers are rolling out multiple new electric vehicle models as the auto industry responds to stricter pollution regulations worldwide and calls to reduce emissions to fight climate change. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

The 2022 Bolt EV (foreground) and EUV are shown in Milford, Mich. Automakers are rolling out multiple new electric vehicle models as the auto industry responds to stricter pollution regulations worldwide and calls to reduce emissions to fight climate change. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Editorial: Goal or mandate, encourage move to electric cars

Legislation has advanced to set a goal that new sales after 2030 be of electric vehicles only.

There’s a lot of wiggle room between a mandate and a goal, but a shift this month in legislation regarding the sale of new vehicles in Washington state could still help power the transition from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles to electric and other zero-emission vehicles.

As originally written, House Bill 1204 would have mandated that all cars and light-duty trucks of model year 2030 and beyond be electric vehicles, to be registered and licensed in the state. The mandate wouldn’t have affected the sale and registration of used fossil fuel-powered vehicles manufactured before 2030.

But that mandate isn’t what came out of the House Transportation Committee on Monday, before a legislative deadline. The substitute legislation that survives drops the mandate and the requirement for regulations, establishing a goal that cars and light-duty trucks sold in 2030 and after be electric.

If it seems as if all the power of the original bill has been drained, the substitute still had enough juice left in its battery to win approval from 17 committee members, with nine opposed and three voting no recommendation.

What likely forced the scaling back of the bill’s language was guidance from the state Attorney General’s office, as reported earlier in the month by The Seattle Times. Lawmakers sponsoring the original legislation were advised that if adopted the electric-only mandate would likely face legal challenges in federal court that the bill had exceed the state’s authority under the federal Clean Air Act.

California, itself moving to set a similar electric-only mandate for new vehicle sales by 2035, is the only state granted an exemption under the Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle emission standards, although other states can choose to follow California’s tougher standards. In addition to setting a deadline five years earlier than California’s, that state already is facing litigation regarding its new rules. Washington state lawmakers were advised that the state legislation might interfere with California’s effort.

Even the down-shifting of gears from a mandate to a goal, however, still allows forward movement on a transition away from gas and diesel vehicles, which remain the largest source of carbon pollution and greenhouse gases in the state. And that transition is supported by a majority of state residents and by the continuing growth in electric vehicles’ market share.

A goal can still signal to motorists and the auto industry why the transition to electric vehicles must be pursued.

A poll by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications found that 60 percent of Washington state residents polled either strongly agreed (30 percent) or somewhat agreed (30 percent) that restricting sales of new vehicles to electric power by 2030 was good policy. Asked if they supported or opposed a mandate, 59 percent supported, 35 percent were opposed.

Similar majorities or pluralities said such a mandate would have positive impacts on air quality, health, climate change, the state economy, state jobs and the state’s energy independence.

While electric vehicles are still outnumbered on the state’s and nation’s roads, their presence is growing. Sales in the state for electric and plug-in hybrids grew from 7,068 in 2017 to 12,650 in 2018, rising in market share from 2.5 percent to 4.3 percent; Washington is behind only California and New York for the percentage of electric vehicles sold for 2017-18.

As of the end of 2018, Washington state had more than 42,500 plug-in electric vehicles on the road.

And Washington is well-suited to serve as a leader in the use of electric vehicles because of its relatively low rates for electricity, 70 percent of which comes from renewable sources, on a path toward 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity by 2030.

Consumer concerns regarding the mileage range of electric vehicles now may be waning as battery and electric vehicle technologies improve and become more affordable.

As well, work continues by the state and others to build out the vehicle-charging infrastructure necessary to recharge electric vehicles, including an investment of $17 million by the state Department of Ecology from the settlement with Volkswagen over its false “clean diesel” claims; another $10 million investment by the state Department of Transportation and $10.7 million in similar work by the state Department of Commerce, according to information from Coltura, a clean transportation advocacy group.

And those advancements in consumer interest and infrastructure haven’t gone unnoticed by the auto industry.

Less than a month ago, General Motors announced its commitment to beginning its phase-out of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, and selling only zero-emission vehicles by 2035, a recognition of the increasing demand and the global imperative to wean transportation away from carbon-emitting fuels.

Goals, of course, don’t have the teeth of mandates. That realization goes back to 2007 when the Legislature set a “goal” of electrifying the vehicle fleets of state agencies and local governments by 2018. Neither the state nor local governments managed to increase the number of electric vehicles in those fleets by more than a fraction.

But mandates that are tied up in lawsuits don’t do much good either.

Regardless of mandates or goals, the transition to electric vehicles must continue and accelerate, a realization that was also clear in the George Mason University’s poll of state residents. Asked if the switch to electric vehicles would happen quickly enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, only 26 percent said it would; 43 percent said it wouldn’t.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, April 15

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. (NY Governor's Press Office via AP, File)
Editorial: Vaccine passports can nudge more toward immunity

Used to persuade rather than exclude, the passports could increase access to businesses and venues.

Comment: Low-carbon fuel standard is too costly and won’t work

Similar standards in California and Oregon have increased fuel prices but haven’t reduced emissions.

Comment: Post-covid, work-from-home advocates face challenges

Employers may seem open to hybrid arrangements, but those may prove to be the worst of both worlds.

Comment: Pop culture’s role in confronting racism

The introduction of a Black character in ‘Peanuts’ in 1968 sparked inclusion in other popular media.

Harrop: QAnon beliefs should bar followers from teaching

It’s not about politics; it’s about whether someone so divorced from reality should teach children.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, April 14

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Eric Brossard displays his commemorative Drug Court graduation coin that reads, "I came with hope, worked and learned. I have a new life. A life that I've earned." (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Court ruling requires focus on addiction treatment

A court decision allows for a more effective and affordable solution to substance use disorder.

An architectual illustration shows the proposed Learning Resource Center at Everett Community College. The centerAn architectual illustration shows the proposed Learning Resource Center at Everett Community College. The center would replace the college's Libary Media Center, built in 1988. The Senate capital budget proposal allocates $48 million for its construction, while the House budget includes no funding for it. (Courtesy of Everett Community College) would replace the college's
Editorial: Capital budget a bipartisan boost for communities

House and Senate proposals are substantial and needed, but final talks should secure an EvCC project.

Most Read