With a state law mandating that Washington utilities provide 100 percent carbon-neutral energy by 2035, a House bill sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) proposed to do the same in the transportation sector by requiring all new vehicles sold in the state to be electric starting in 2030. However, the bill failed to its committee before the cutoff date.
While HB 2515 directs the Washington State Transportation Commission (WTSC) to set up rules by 2024 on how to achieve this transition, stakeholders concerned with the proposal who testified at a Feb. 10 public hearing in the House Transportation Committee say the measure just isn’t realistic.
“We think it would be impossible to meet the standards in this act,” Alliance for Automotive Innovation Program Coordinator Ryan Spiller said.
A similar bill under consideration is SB 5811 adopting California’s zero emissions vehicle program regulations. The legislation cleared the Senate 26-23 and is scheduled for a Feb. 13 public hearing in the House Committee on Environment & Energy.
Currently there are approximately 42,000 registered electric vehicles (EV) in Washington and almost 55,000 EV and hybrids combined. A state goal was to reach 50,000 registered EVs by this year. Under HB 2515, the state Department of Licensing would be prohibited from registering any vehicle models built in 2030 or after.
Macri told the committee that “while the idea of a world without gas cars might sound somewhat radical today in 2020, when we think about the world we want to have in 2045, 2050, it does not seem that radical, at least to me. My interest…is to ensure that our policy goals and actions move us rapidly towards 100 percent clean energy.”
However, among the numerous objections raised by skeptics during the hearing were the bill’s restrictions on other clean fuel sources, the impact to low-income residents and its relation to other proposals that add further pressure to Washington’s energy system.
Rep. Jesse Young (R-26) asked Macri how her bill would work if the lower Snake River dams were removed, as some groups have proposed. The dams generate 7-8 percent of electricity in the state. “It would seem that…would make this counterproductive, because we’re going to need as much electrical generation as we can possibly get if we’re ever going to implement this.”
Macri said that though related, the issues were part of a “totally different” policy discussion.
While Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) noted that Washington has the potential to invest in hydrogen fuel technology, Pacific Propane Gas Association lobbyist Mel Sorenson said the state legislature has already recognized propane as a clean energy source via incentives. He added that propane is currently used by several public vehicle fleets such as the King County Housing Authority.
“We are extremely concerned that the effect of this legislation would be to curtail this very well thought and thorough series of incentives and compromise the very hard work that’s been done,” Sorenson said.
In favor of preserving fuel choices was Jessica Spiegel with Western States Petroleum Association, who said: “The people of Washington choose vehicles that are the best for them, and they’re at this time not choosing electric vehicles. Washington should not eliminate efficient and clean transportation choices that consumers are obviously demanding. Other environmentally quality innovations aren’t investigated when you choose a winner.”
Others, including Rep. Debra Entenman (D-47) expressed concern that the transition would make vehicle ownership less affordable. Although some predict EVs may be the same price as gas vehicles by 2024, ClimateWorks Foundation Anthony Eggert notes in a Forbes column that “reaching these outcomes requires continued market expansion.”
“I want to make sure that people understand that there is a middle class that is not transitioning to electric cars because we…cannot afford them,” Entenman said at the public hearing.