Justin Hynes (left) and Mark Murphy, who are both master certified automotive technicians at VIP Tires and Service, inspect an electric vehicle at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A proposal that would have Maine step up its shift to electric vehicles has some supporters and detractors agreeing on one thing: the timetable may be too tight to implement the goals.

Ahead of a Thursday hearing before the state’s Board of Environmental Protection that would push Maine toward California’s aggressive electric vehicle standards, Lee Auto Malls Chairman Adam Lee said the proposed timeline from environmental groups may be too strict given the potential short supply and high costs in the emerging sector.

“It’s these types of standards that have pushed the auto industry to improve fuel economy and efficiency,” said Lee, who has served on the boards of several Maine environmental groups. “But these are really ambitious goals, and I worry about supply chain issues, product availability and product affordability. So I’m conflicted about the proposals.”

The Mills administration has set an ambitious goal of having 219,000 electric vehicles registered in the state by 2030. But as the Bangor Daily News reported in May, the state has so far reached only about 4 percent of its goal, with roughly 9,500 electric vehicles.

Maine is one of about half a dozen states that has tried to follow California’s clean vehicle standards. Last year California voters approved a plan to require all new cars, trucks and SUVs to run on electricity or hydrogen by    2035, with targets of having 35 percent of zero-emission vehicle sales by 2026, 68 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035. Massachusetts and Vermont followed with similar plans.

The proposal here, put forth by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, would require light-duty, zero-emission vehicles to make up 43 percent of sales for model year 2027 and 82 percent of sales in model year 2032. Progress on electric vehicle sales would be reviewed by 2028 to determine if the board should adopt the California mandate.

Those opposed to the proposal, including legislative Republicans, agree with Lee that the timetable is too quick. A separate but similar proposal applies to trucks weighing more than 8,500 pounds.

Matt Marks, who lobbies for the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said that the industry is not against electric vehicles, but it has concerns about rural areas meeting the requirements.

Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, said earlier that the association supports voluntary adoption, “but we just think that we’re not ready to try to force fleets or manufacturers to move forward at this point.”

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has said it does not want to let decisions by another state determine Maine’s actions on replacing gas with zero-emission vehicles. It is monitoring the petitions that will be considered Thursday.

“We should commit to a responsible, thoughtful approach to electric vehicles that will help Maine consumers and businesses save money, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our economy and environment from the climate crisis,” the governor’s office said.

But Maine could lose out if it waits too long to step up zero-emission car standards, Emily Green, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which supports the Maine proposals, said.

“If we don’t adopt the rule, manufacturers are going to comply with the mandate they have in other states and prioritize delivering vehicles to those states instead of Maine,” Green said.

The dates the California and Maine proposals set apply to new car sales and will not mean gas vehicles will be taken off the roads. About 60 percent of vehicles in Maine still would operate on gas in 2035.

The Conservation Law Foundation plans to release a report Wednesday about the benefits of electric vehicles, including the savings on fuel and maintenance for drivers, climate benefits and a decrease in air pollution. The total benefit is about $17 billion by 2050 if Maine adopts the proposal for new 2027 vehicles.

While electric vehicles still are about 10 percent more expensive than gas ones, they can save an average customer about $14,000 over the life of the vehicle, Green said.

The Board of Environmental Protection, whose members were appointed by the governor, will decide whether the rule will be adopted. It will hold public hearings on the proposals Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center and on Aug. 20. It is expected to make a decision later this year.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...