Washington Charges Up for Electric Cars

Amid the devastating pandemic gripping the state of Washington, the state government is working hard to support healthcare providers, assist workers and businesses, and educate the public about keeping safe and healthy in these unprecedented times

Governor Jay Inslee took a few minutes Wednesday to sign an important long-term measure passed by the legislature before the COVID-19 crisis intensified. SB 5811 requires the state’s Department of Ecology to begin a rulemaking for a Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) program.

Washington’s move is further demonstration of the fact that while the Trump administration is moving to stall progress on vehicle pollution standards, state leaders are continuing to step up, recognizing that cleaner vehicles lead to cleaner air, more jobs and investments and less dangerous carbon pollution.

ZEV requires automakers to ensure that at least 7 to 8% of new passenger vehicles are partly or fully zero-emitting by 2025, which will double the options Washington consumers will have available to them. The program is in place in eleven other states across the country, including most recently Colorado. Together those states comprise 30% of the U.S. auto market.

The ZEV program will increase the consumer availability and market deployment of electric vehicles in the state including passenger cars, crossovers, SUVs, and light trucks. Increased access and sales of EVs will help consumers save money at the pump, reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality, and attract further investments in charging infrastructure throughout the state. With rapid technology advancements, increased EV production, and reductions in battery costs, the latest analysis shows that electric-drive vehicles may soon become less expensive to purchase than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. They are even cheaper to own and operate.

States, Unhappy with Feds, Tackle Their Pollution Challenges

The move by Washington points to a growing trend among state leaders who are looking to clean car programs including ZEV to tackle one of the biggest sources of climate and smog-forming pollution: cars and trucks. Following Colorado’s adoption last year, the governors of Minnesota and New Mexico have also recently committed to adopting clean car programs.

States worry their pollution challenges will worsen as the Trump Administration moves forward to roll back emission standards for cars and trucks while also attacking long-held state authority, a move so unpopular and controversial that even some automakers have jumped ship. The Trump administration’s move is proving even more unpopular among the public. By a two-to-one margin, Americans support allowing states to set stronger tailpipe standards than the federal government, according to a December poll by the Washington Post.

The EV Industry: New Growth

The electric vehicle industry is seeing dramatic new investments and job growth. A number of new EV automakers—such as Rivian, Tesla, Lordstown Motors, Bollinger Motors, and Nikola—are building or launching products. Traditional automakers are also transitioning their investments to ensure they remain relevant as numerous jurisdictions across the world—including China and Europe—push to ensure zero emission vehicle technologies are deployed.

Moving Forward

As we all learn how to work together (from home) while physically distancing, our primary thoughts and concerns are for the health and welfare of Washington’s residents during this current emergency. When the time is right, we look forward to continuing to support Washington leaders in their efforts to clean up the transportation sector. Passing ZEV was an important, and overdue, step forward, but doesn’t erase the fact that the state legislature failed to move forward other critical policies including much needed transit funding, a clean fuels program, and fixing the state’s clean air act to allow for effective carbon regulation. We’ll be back!

Kate Tudor and Noah Long (Olympia, Washington) supporting clean transportation and clean energy efforts in January (months before physical distancing became the norm)

About the Authors

Simon Mui

Deputy Director, Clean Vehicles & Fuels Group, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Noah Long

Director, Western Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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