New Jersey seeks public comment on plan to ban sale of gas-powered cars

State seeks to phase out sales by 2035

By: - August 22, 2023 6:52 am

The proposal, which mirrors regulations adopted in California, would require zero-emission vehicles to account for 100% of vehicle manufacturers’ light-duty vehicle sales by 2035. (Photo by Sarah Vogelsong)

New Jersey began accepting public comment on a controversial proposal to phase out car manufacturers’ gas-burning vehicle sales over the next dozen years.

The proposal, which mirrors regulations adopted in California, would require zero-emission vehicles to account for 43% of vehicle manufacturers’ light-duty vehicle sales for 2027 cars, phasing up to 100% by 2035.

Light-duty vehicles weigh less than 10,000 pounds, a category that captures most commuter cars, vans, and pickup trucks.

The policy is meant to reduce the state’s air pollution while speeding its transition to electric vehicles. A 2022 Department of Environmental Protection report found more than a third of New Jersey’s carbon dioxide emissions flowed from the transportation sector.

But its ambitious timeline and the high costs of existing electric vehicles have spurred concerns over affordability and feasibility.

“I’ll say it again: I think it’s too much too fast, and it’s too costly,” said Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris), his chamber’s minority leader.

The rule proposal’s public comment period closes on Oct. 20. Members of the public can submit their comments on the state’s website.

Electric vehicles accounted for 5% of car sales in 2022 and for 1.4% of all vehicles registered in the state as of late December, according to department estimates, but administration officials pointed to rapid sales growth in the sector.

Between this month and June 2022, electric vehicles nearly doubled as a share of the state’s overall sales, rising to 9%, said Preethy Thangaraj, policy advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy on energy and the environment.

“It’s pretty steep. The first six months of 2022, we saw a 25% increase in EV sales. That’s a pretty impressive number, so we’re interested in seeing that number increase for sure,” she said.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than their gas-burning counterparts, even as some new models, like Chevrolet’s 2023 Bolt, offer relatively competitive pricing. The state offers incentives and rebates for electric vehicle and charger purchases.

Thangaraj said New Jersey expects prices to decline further as market competition and electric vehicle supply increases. She noted a California study found cost differences were likely to be offset by electric vehicles’ lower maintenance costs.

The California study acknowledged that the mandate would likely increase per-vehicle costs for manufacturers by between $440 and $1,119, depending on the year, and said those price increases would probably be passed down to consumers, though it was uncertain about the extent of consumer price increases.

“The governor’s plan to sell only EVs will not mean New Jersey becomes electric overnight. In fact, this heavy-handed government approach is likely to backfire,” said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a car dealership industry group.

Under the rule, the state expects zero-emission vehicles will account for 90% of registered light-duty vehicles by 2050.

California of the East Coast

Though federal law generally bars states from setting their own emissions standards, provisions of the Clean Air Act create a carveout for California, which faced severe air pollution at the time of the law’s signing, that allows the state to implement its own emission rules so long as it obtains a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other states can adopt California’s emission rules as their own, with some restrictions, and at least five states — New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington — have done so.

New Jersey plans to join the group, though doing so will leave the state’s administrative code open to edits from the other side of the country.

The Garden State proposed adopting California’s rule through incorporation by reference, a process that sees lawmakers adopt regulations by naming them instead of mirroring their language in the administrative code. That means that all amendments, supplements, repeals, or other changes to those provisions that California makes to its rule shall also be effective in New Jersey, the rule proposal says.

California regulations would override those in New Jersey’s administrative code in case of a conflict, but New Jersey could launch another rulemaking process if it wished to break with the Golden State, Thangaraj said.

But Bucco charged most residents aren’t on board with the governor’s mission of emulating the Golden State.

“Most people do not want New Jersey to be the California of the East Coast,” Bucco said. “California’s a mess.”

Wiggle room

Though the rules will eventually require electric vehicles to account for all of a manufacturer’s car sales, the rules would allow them some wiggle room in the program’s early years.

They would allow car manufacturers to make up shortfalls in electric vehicle sales through partial credits earned by selling zero-emission vehicles with low manufacturer-suggested retail prices, selling plug-in hybrids, or selling discounted electric vehicles to community transit programs that offer ride-sharing, car sharing, and other on-demand services.

Manufacturers could also bank credits year-to-year or across state lines and trade credits between each other in the program’s earlier years, with some restrictions. That could allow firms, like Tesla, that mainly or exclusively produce electric vehicles to sell their excess credits to competitors.

“That’s actually a pretty typical thing that Tesla would do here,” Thangaraj said.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.