Vermont is considering new rules to force car and truck makers to supply more electric vehicles to the state

Vermont is passing new regulations that will push automakers to dramatically increase the number of electric vehicles they supply to dealerships in the state.

These new regulations will apply to cars and large trucks. And by 2035, every new car sold in Vermont will have to be powered by electricity or hydrogen.

morning edition host Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Vermont Public climate and environmental reporter Abagael Giles. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: So these rules… what do they do? What will change for, say, the average person buying a car in Vermont?

Abagael Giles: Yeah, kind of like at the 90,000 foot level: one really key thing to understand is that this rule regulates big companies that make and sell cars and trucks, not people like you and me who buy them. And not even the dealers who sell them. And this does not apply to used cars.

But it will affect us all downstream. So, starting with the 2026 car models, automakers will be required to supply an increasing number of electric vehicles to Vermont dealerships each year. And by 2035, every new car sold in the state will either be powered by electricity or hydrogen.

Not all states adopt these rules. New Hampshire, for example, isn’t, so you could cross the border in 2035 and buy a new car with an internal combustion engine. But you won’t be able to save it here in Vermont.

It’s a little bit different for big trucks, you know, vans and delivery trucks and big trucks, tractor-trailers. This rule does not phase out internal combustion engines for trucks, it simply requires them to become more efficient and less polluting over time. And Vermont needs access to more electric models.

Interesting to think about where these rules came from, did Vermont come up with this idea alone?

So basically federal law gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate air quality. It’s not really something that states can do. But California has this loophole where it can regulate air pollution from cars more strictly than the federal government does. Other states can join California in doing so, as long as we adopt California’s regulations exactly as California wrote them. This is mainly to protect car manufacturers, so they don’t invent new technology only to find out that it just won’t cut it in a random state.

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Seventeen other states have adopted some or all of California’s rules, and Vermont would be the seventh state to adopt California’s large truck regulations.

Abagael, you mentioned it starts with the 2026 models. But why is Vermont adopting these rules now?

Yes, so we have this climate action plan that was adopted last year. And he asked us to adopt these California rules, these latest versions, no later than December 1, 2022. But in fact, the decision to follow in California’s footsteps and regulate automobile pollution more strictly than the EPA , which was taken by the Vermont Natural Resources Agency back into the [19]1990s. The ANR has since updated its regulations to keep up with California over time. And this is kind of just the latest iteration of that.

The big question, though, from a climate perspective, how much of a dent is this really going to make?

Yeah, that’s a great question. Vermont has therefore committed by law to reduce its emissions, with major deadlines ahead, namely in 2030 and 2050. Transportation is our largest source of emissions as a state. Electrification is sort of the plan to get there right now in this sector.

So, you know, full disclosure Mitch, these new rules, they’re not going to get us where we need to be by 2030. We’re going to have to do more. Independent modeling from the state commission last year suggests these regulations will get us about a third of the way to our 2030 commitment to reduce pollution from cars and trucks.

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And Vermont doesn’t have a plan right now to get us the rest of the way. And to be honest, it looks like we probably won’t get any this legislative session. So those rules are kind of what we’re working with right now.

What about the market for these electric vehicles? I mean, we’re starting to see more of them, it seems gradual, but you’re seeing more of these cars on the road. Will there be enough supply, first, and perhaps more importantly for many people in Vermont, will it be affordable, even if the supply is there?

So the short answer to your market question is yes, the market exists right now, and so does the technology. But in some cases, especially with very large trucks, the original sticker price is still quite high. But for smaller trucks and vans, you can already save money by going electric in many cases. And that’s going to be a lot of people affected in Vermont.

It is also important to note that this rule will not completely eliminate conventional trucks. It just requires manufacturers to provide cleaner products and increase the number of electric options available in Vermont.

Sort of shifting into the electric vehicle market, electric vehicles for cars, passenger trucks are expected to dominate the US automobile market by 2035.

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Even if Vermont does nothing at all, right now electric vehicle sales represent less than 10% of the cars on the road in Vermont. The idea is that this will grow the market for used electric vehicles. And right now in Vermont, you know, most of the cars people are buying are used. People who qualify for income can now get state assistance to buy a used electric vehicle.

But yes, generally speaking the advocates and people at the Natural Resources Agency agree that we really need big policy solutions to bring more funding into the picture to help those of us in the car market opportunity to make this change.

And low-income people, those who say they need a delivery truck for their small business, are actually the ones who already benefit the most. If they can get help with the initial cost of purchasing an electric vehicle, over time they are likely to save money on maintenance, save money on more stable fuel.

So that’s going to be a big part of the picture in the next legislative sessions.

But what about the incentives currently offered in Vermont to purchase an electric vehicle?

Yeah, so full disclosure, it’s complicated. Drive Electric Vermont breaks it all down on their website. And it’s a good place to go if anyone is considering making the switch.

But basically right now the state of Vermont is offering up to $4,000 towards the purchase of a new electric vehicle, you could get up to $8,000 if you qualify for income. If you’re in the used market, you can get up to $5,000 for a used electric or hybrid vehicle. And on top of that, the federal government offers up to $7,500 in tax credits, which basically means you get that back after you buy an electric vehicle when you pay your taxes, as long as your income is high enough to pay as much.

And then state utilities also offer a host of different incentives.

What is the next step in the process?

Public comments on these new rules therefore end this Friday. One really important thing here is that since we’re not really allowed to change the rules, the state is really looking for input on whether to pass them, and what your business or family might need to be able to adapt to them. From there, the rules will go to the Legislative Rules Committee for review. It is a group of legislators from both chambers who meet as needed to do this work.

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Technically…this committee could decide not to pass the bylaws if the public comments are overwhelmingly against them. But it is highly likely that the state will adopt these rules. This is really what is called for in our broader climate policies which have been audited and reviewed extensively elsewhere.

And the Natural Resources Agency wants to do it before the December 1 deadline set out in the Climate Action Plan.

Learn more about the rule-making process and how to weigh in here.

Do you have questions, comments or advice? Send us a message or contact journalist Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.