Maine Legislature should reverse BEP action on clean cars

By Matthew Gagnon

150 signatures.

That is 0.011 percent of Maine’s 1.36 million residents. That’s all it took for environmental groups to force the consideration of a policy that has the potential to completely reshape the economy of the state. That’s all it took for special interests to likely import a controversial rule from the progressive political dreamland of California. 

On Tuesday, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection agreed, in a 4-2 vote, to direct the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to push forward with the preparation of a rule that would phase out, by government mandate, the sale of gas-powered cars in Maine. 

This new rule, originally proposed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other environmentalist allies, needed no legislative scrutiny to be considered. That is because, as I detailed in early August, the guiding regulations that are under consideration for change are designated as “routine technical” rules, which is a governmental gobbledegook definition that obscures our understanding of how changes are made. What it means is that a small number of unelected bureaucrats, not the people we elect to legislate in Augusta, get to decide on changes. All they really needed was those 150 signatures.

Of interest is that Gov. Janet Mills herself has claimed to be opposed to this kind of proposal, though I have never really trusted her pronouncements on the issue. In August of last year — while running for re-election, it should be noted — she stated, in reference to California’s draconian electric vehicle mandates, “I would not be inclined to adopt any mandate along those lines.” Instead, she said that she wanted to “make electric vehicles available, rebates available — but not a mandate.”

That was then, but now that her re-election has been secured, we’ve already seen how seriously (or not seriously) she takes her promises. She promised to govern in partnership and collaboration with Republicans and did exactly the opposite with a state budget in 2021. She promised that she wouldn’t push changes to Maine’s abortion law to make them more radical, and yet she did. And she promised Mainers she wouldn’t support tax increases, and then did exactly that with her support for paid family and medical leave. 

But in the world of broken promises, this is the most insidious, because she can claim that she isn’t responsible for her words not being true. After all, it wasn’t her administration that made this decision, and it wasn’t a piece of legislation that was sponsored by her office that did this. So how could we ever dream of her being complicit in this about-face?

Well, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection is stacked with people who were appointed or reappointed — all of them — by Mills, likely greasing the skids for quiet passage of radical change.

Was that the intent all along? I have no idea, and there is no way to know. But what I do know is that the rhetoric of moderate, reasonable environmental policy that was opposed to the radical mandates of Californians appears to be at odds with the ideology of the people she appointed, who made this decision to advance (but not yet adopt) this proposal.

Make no mistake, the rule, once formally adopted, will fundamentally remake the Maine economy. The “Advanced Clean Cars II” rule mandates that electric vehicles make up a certain percentage of the new sales of passenger cars in Maine. The mandate would require 43 percent of sales by 2027, when we are at just 6 percent today. It would then increase to 82 percent by 2032. 

Do the special interests pushing this, or the activist bureaucrats supporting it care about the potentially crippling financial cost of this to the consumer in Maine? Are they worried about the environmental impact of mining for lithium, or the carbon footprint of the electricity generation that is powering these vehicles? Do they care that Maine likely could have a greater impact on the environment for a lower cost by trying to bridge to electric vehicles by encouraging the production and purchase of more hybrids?

No, it doesn’t seem so. It looks to me that it is more important to be doing the bidding of a narrow constituency of special-interest activists. 

The bureaucrats that made this decision did not give enough consideration to why consumers are not adopting electric vehicles. BEP members have instead apparently decided that consumers are behaving irrationally for not doing so. Their solution is to eventually force car dealers to sell a product without a developed market, and to force consumers to buy something they don’t want, or can’t afford. 

The Maine Legislature cannot allow this to stand, and must act to oppose this decision.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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