Connecticut Republicans Rally Against Potential EV Mandate as Democrats Renew Push


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HARTFORD — Connecticut Democrats are once again working to pass a mandate for electric vehicles, even as Republicans in the State Senate say they will do everything in their power to oppose the measure.

The renewed push comes after Gov. Ned Lamont late last year paused similar efforts to ensure that Connecticut will follow California’s latest emissions standards banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

State Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, told CT Examiner this week that he was prepared to rally the public in opposition.

“If this legislation begins to gain further traction, I believe then that we need to inform our constituents — we have an obligation to inform our constituents — of this policy going forward,” said Harding, a ranking member of the Environment Committee, which would have influence over legislation tied to EVs. “And I think ultimately if having a rally raises awareness … then I’m not saying no to that right now at all.”

Harding said his caucus was strongly in favor of incentives like tax credits to offset the cost of buying EVs, but he said that what he’s heard about the transition from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection doesn’t make sense.

“The problem I have with this government policy is that we’ve received zero answers on how we are going to get there,” he said. “How is our grid going to take this on? How is there going to be enough supply? How are our families going to be able to budget buying a brand new electric vehicle when one of their cars breaks down? [DEEP says] 10 years is a long time from now and anything can happen. That’s not an answer.”

DEEP representatives were not available for comment. 

In a statement on Friday to CT Examiner, Julia Bergman, a spokesperson for the governor, said the transition to electric vehicles had already begun, but they were hopeful they could satisfy some of the Republican objections.

“The shift to hybrid and electric vehicles has been underway for several years now, not only in our state but in states all across the nation,” said Bergman. “The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the utilities, and the Legislature have worked to put in place policies and plans to help families, businesses, and the grid transition to that future …. The Legislature is continuing to work on this, and we are hopeful that there will be a proposal that addresses some of Senator Harding’s concerns.” 

Harding said he believes the 2035 EV mandate could fail this legislative session, despite a Democratic majority in both the state House and Senate. 

“I’m optimistic in that I believe there are enough Democrats that understand their constituency,” he said. “I would say that no matter where you go in Connecticut, when this issue comes up, the residents ultimately resoundingly reject this policy because it doesn’t make logical sense. … It is unwarranted. It is unfair. And, frankly, it’s unnecessary.”

But State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, vice chair of the Environment Committee, pushed back on criticism from Harding and others about the lack of a charging infrastructure.

“I am a big, big proponent of Yankee ingenuity,” Palm said. “I don’t think that we in Connecticut, especially those of us who grew up here, can possibly, with a straight face, say that we can’t figure out this mechanical technical problem, yet we figured out airplane engines. We invented the bicycle. We did everything in Connecticut and now we are saying we do not have enough EV stations; we don’t have enough grid and we can’t figure out how to transition .… I think we absolutely can.” 

The debate has also been taken up by a number of nonprofits and policy groups, particularly the left-leaning Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and the right-leaning Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

David Bingham, a founder and co-chair of the CTLCV, told CT Examiner that the issue was personal for him.

“As a physician, I can say that one of the main causes of high medical bills has to do with lung disease that’s caused by air pollution,” Bingham said. “Burning fossil fuels has been significantly impacting our poorest communities because there is more likely to be heavier traffic in those areas. Just from a medical standpoint, there would be a substantial reduction in future costs [by driving EVs].”

Bingham called Lamont “one of the better governors in the nation on this issue.” But Bingham, who owns a 2017 Toyota Prius Prime hybrid, acknowledged the frustration of charging stations.

“I was recently at the Capitol listening to the testimony on some environmental bills and it was nice that there’s a charging station in the parking lot, but that’s not always the case,” he said. “There’s a transition time with people wanting more charging stations. Because of the infrastructure bill signed by Congress, there will be a lot more money coming into the state for that kind of thing.”

But according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the state is poised to receive $52 million over several years to subsidize the construction, ownership, maintenance and operation of electric car chargers.  

Currently, only about 36,000 of the more than 3 million vehicles registered in Connecticut as of July 2023 were electric.

Meanwhile, Bryce Chinault, director of external affairs for the Yankee Institute of Public Policy, opposed the mandate in a Jan. 5 op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal.

If “electric vehicles are the future … why are we mandating these regulations instead of letting the market work?” he asked.

In a call this week to CT Examiner, Chinault warned that Connecticut residents already pay some of the highest rates in the country, and those bills “will go through the roof” given the demands of electric vehicles.

Asked about mandating electric vehicles, Eric Jackson, executive director of Connecticut Transportation Institute at the UConn School of Engineering, was of two minds.

“In my view, electric vehicles help with the climate crisis in terms of you no longer having particular matter coming out of vehicles,” he said. “Air quality is improved because there are no tailpipe pollutants coming out of it. If … the power industry as a whole moves more to sustainable sources like wind or solar, then you’d be able to actually reduce the carbon footprint even further.”

But Jackson was hesitant to embrace the idea of a mandate.

“I’m kind of torn in the middle,” he said. “I am not a huge fan of mandates, but things like a seat belt law are there to protect people. I am much more of a free market person in terms of it would be great for people to see the benefits of these vehicles. But to force them and say you can only purchase an electric vehicle after such and such a date is challenging for me to accept. I’d rather people do it on their own.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950