A sign at the Maine Turnpike rest stop in West Gardiner points out the electric vehicle charging station. Credit: Jessica Piper / BDN

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I’d probably buy an electric vehicle.

That’s not a common opinion among those of us on the right side of the political spectrum, but I happen to be a great lover of technology and technological advancement. If I’m being honest, I’ve been amazed by the improvements in performance and design that we’ve seen in electric vehicles over the last decade.

A friend of mine who lives in San Francisco — a quite well-to-do pharmacist — told me earlier this year he was buying a new BMW i4, which is an all-electric luxury sedan.

“I don’t really care about the environmental stuff,” he told me, “but I test drove one and the thing flew. The engineering is finally hitting the mark.”

That, to me, has always been the thing that mattered with electric vehicles. In the past, they’ve been underpowered, with real range limitations, and have not been a true, practical replacement for traditional gasoline engine vehicles. Now, they are offering consumers a choice.

They are still expensive, though, and there are a lot of issues that need to be solved if they are to fully replace gasoline engines. Electric grid capacity, for instance, is a major concern, as is charging station infrastructure. Beyond that, there are questions about the ability and environmental cost to procure the materials, like lithium, that are needed for the batteries. There is also the inevitable question as to the type of electricity that is being used to charge the cars in the first place. After all, a coal-fired plant charging a battery isn’t exactly “clean.”

For medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks, there are other questions, particularly for the state of Maine. Is the performance going to be able to truly replicate what a gas vehicle can do for heavy hauling? How does the cold impact these batteries? Is this technology really ready to replace gas vehicles of this class?

These are important questions, because Maine is now considering the adoption of vehicle emissions regulations that are similar to those currently on the books in California. These rules would effectively phase out the sale of gas-powered cars and trucks, replacing them with “zero-emissions vehicles” over a few years.

At issue are two citizen petitions that have been submitted to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The petitions, sponsored by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, ask that the state change its regulatory structure in order to adopt California’s “Advanced Clean Cars II” and “Advanced Clean Trucks” regulation.

These new regulations would require that in the 2027 model year, 43 percent of vehicle sales would need to be “zero-emission vehicles,” with a year by year increase occurring until to 2032, when 82 percent of vehicles sold would need to be of this type. For medium- and heavy-duty trucks, similar requirements to varying degrees would be made depending on specific class.

One of the most troubling aspects of this proposal is that the regulations being considered do not require legislative approval, as you would expect (and likely want) in any kind of significant change of this kind.

The Maine Administrative Procedure Act defines how rulemaking authority can be exercised by an agency. There are two types of rules, one is known as “routine technical” and the other is “major substantive.” Rules that are designated as major substantive are subject to formal legislative review, while routine technical rules are not.

The designation of a rule as either is made by the Legislature when it enacts the law authorizing adoption of the rule. In this case, the regulatory rules under consideration are deemed “routine technical,” despite their grand scope.  

While the ultimate goals of these changes may be laudable, it is undeniable that Maine is a poor state, and not in a strong position to be able to afford this type of transition. Additionally, talking with truckers, plow drivers, and others who use medium and heavy duty trucks, there is little to no faith that such a transition is either possible or wise at the current state of the technology.

It is unclear, at this time, what Gov. Janet Mills position on this proposed change is, but encouragingly she did indicate last year (in the heat of a political campaign) that she did not want Maine to “blindly” follow California’s lead on this issue. Given her recent history of breaking essential campaign promises, though, that declaration doesn’t fill me with much hope.

But you can weigh in on this and tell the Maine Board of Environmental Protection what you think. There is a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 17 in the Augusta Civic Center, and public comment is being accepted through the end of August. Don’t let them sneak this rule by without making your voice heard.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...