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GOP lawmakers in Connecticut block phaseout of new gas-powered vehicle sales


It's tough for Republicans to win battles in the Connecticut legislature since it's dominated by Democrats. But over the past year, GOP lawmakers found an issue they could win on - getting Connecticut to reject a deadline for phasing out sales of new gas-powered cars to make way for electric vehicles. Molly Ingram of member station WSHU has the story.

MOLLY INGRAM, BYLINE: In 2004, the Connecticut legislature and over a dozen other states voted to adopt California's strict standards for clean air. That means whatever California does to curb greenhouse gas emissions, those states have to do it too. And in August of 2022, the California board that sets those standards voted to phase out the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. That raised alarms for Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding and his Republican colleagues, along with a few Democrats. Harding says Connecticut Republicans want to reduce the state's carbon footprint, but they were worried about the cost of the vehicles and their at-home chargers for buyers, the strain on the electric grid and that the regulations were written by Californians who had California in mind.

STEPHEN HARDING: If you have an issue with a regulation being passed by California as it relates to emission standards, there's literally no one you can go to to address your concern as a constituent. Taking away all the other political aspects of this, that's just bad governmental policy.

INGRAM: When it was clear that there was bipartisan concern for adopting those standards, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, who is a Democrat, put the plan on hold. And by the spring, the Democratic-dominated legislature didn't even approve a bill that would have just established a study on supporting electric vehicle infrastructure. The measure had been overtaken by a social media and press conference campaign from the Republicans to mobilize residents against it. They called it a ban with no plan.

They found a lot of public support. A California rule was an easy target. It helped that it's also an election year in Connecticut's legislature, meaning Democratic lawmakers are more hesitant to support a bill that received an onslaught of negative feedback from voters. Transportation Committee co-chair, Senator Christine Cohen, a Democrat, said the bill would not have banned anything. In fact, the word ban did not even appear in the text of the legislation.

CHRISTINE COHEN: We're seeing testimony saying to stop the mandate. There is no mandate in this bill. We're seeing testimony saying that they don't want to be told to get rid of their combustible engines. That is not what's happening in this bill.

INGRAM: She said the Republicans were fearmongering and that the state would have had the next 11 years to gear up for the switch. But still, hundreds of regular Connecticut citizens came to the legislature to testify against it in hearings, like Amy Johnson.

AMY JOHNSON: How will our cold New England temperatures affect the use of electric vehicles? How will this affect our already skyrocketing electric bills? Where are these batteries manufactured? How will the batteries be disposed of? If there is a power outage, how will this affect usage?

INGRAM: A dozen states signed on to the California plan to phase out sales of new gas-run cars by 2035, but it's not just Connecticut that has had second thoughts. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, recently announced that his state would be pulling out of the agreement, which had been approved under his Democratic predecessor. It's unclear what happens when the states abandon some of the California standards. That might mean they default to less strict federal clean air standards. That means Connecticut is in limbo too. But it's not headed toward an electric vehicle mandate, and Republicans can count that as a win in a blue state.

For NPR News, I'm Molly Ingram.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKEMI FOX SONG, "SO FINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: June 26, 2024 at 5:14 PM CDT
An earlier version of this headline and summary text did not make it clear that the plan would have phased out sales of only new gas-powered vehicles, as the story states.
Molly Ingram
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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