Ocean State motorists dodged a bullet last December when the TCI Gas Tax was defeated here and in 13 other northeast states. The “Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI)” would have artificially increased gasoline prices by up to 35 cents per gallon, while steadily reducing available fuel supplies, by ceding a major portion of our state’s energy policy to unelected, unaccountable, and un-Rhode Island bureaucrats.
Even still, over the past year, prices at the pump have soared in Rhode Island and across America, primarily due to left-wing policies pushed by green environmentalists and enacted by the Biden administration and our General Assembly … and partially, more recently of course, due to the war in Ukraine.
And if state lawmakers do not take action, it could get worse … much worse! Rhode Islanders are not out of the woods by any measure, when it comes to dramatic cost increases for automobile travel. As long as state lawmakers continue remain beholden to the “green” agenda and the belief that our tiny state can do anything to save our massive planet from perceived climate change disaster … and continue to give away policy-making-authority to out-of-state ideologues – the cost of personal travel will rise substantially, while choices for motorists will drop precipitously.
As one example, Rhode Island law mandates that our state automatically adopt certain emissions standards enacted by the state of California … and California has recently enacted extreme policies that will significantly drive up the cost of vehicle ownership here in our state.
In 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to phase out and eventually ban the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035. Under the order, only Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) may be sold by 2035. You haven’t heard much about it yet, but Rhode Island must follow suit.
California is the only state in the country that may promulgate their own vehicle emission regulations, but 16 other states have statutorily adopted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) program. The 16 states are New York (implementation 1993), Massachusetts (1995), Vermont (2000), Maine (2001), Pennsylvania (2001), Connecticut (2008), Rhode Island (2008) Washington (2009), Oregon (2009), New Jersey (2009), Maryland (2011), Delaware (2014), Colorado (2022), Minnesota (2025), Nevada (2025) and Virginia (2025).
This week, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity signed onto a coalition letter along with organizations from 14 of the 16 impacted states, calling on state legislatures to decouple their “emissions” policies from the increasingly radical and costly standards that California is setting. In this column are some of the arguments put forth in that letter.
Rhode Islanders in all impacted states should be troubled by the nature of Governor Newsom’s executive order. Lawmakers from our state and the 15 others would be stripped of the right and responsibility to represent their constituents in a manner that best reflects conditions in their respective states. While the hands of Ocean State lawmakers would be tied … motorists would also be deprived of vehicle purchase options. Significant discrepancies exist between extreme emission California-type reduction plans and the realities they would produce in Rhode Island and the other 15 states.
For example, these California regulations would result in the banning of the sale of traditionally-powered vehicles in all of the New England states except New Hampshire. New Hampshire would become the beneficiary of this poorly thought-out mandate, as residents and businesses would flock to the Granite State for its lower costs and larger array of options. Do we really want to give Rhode Island residents and business owners yet another reason to move away?
But there is a solution. By repealing Rhode Island’s statutory requirement to follow California standards, Ocean State lawmakers would similarly give our state’s automobile dealers an enormous competitive advantage in southern New England … and would also give drivers significantly more and lower cost options.
Additionally, unlike the population centers of California, Rhode Island and 11 other of the 16 states deal with harsh winter months that produce heavy snow falls. California Governor Newsome’s bans will eliminate the option of reliable vehicles that perform well in these conditions.
And perhaps most importantly, if Rhode Island lawmakers fail to take action, vehicle purchase prices will soar, while passenger safety will plumet. The manufacture and exclusive sale of vehicles with “green” engines, as will soon be mandated, is a far more expensive process … potentially raising purchase prices, on average, from $3,000 to $5,000 per vehicle. Also, high-fuel-efficient and electric vehicles normally use significantly lighter-weight materials, meaning they are far less likely to protect passengers in the event of a crash.
With inflation at a 40-year high, supply chain delays, and COVID-19 still impacting everyday life, it is clear that real world events have put enormous financial and health strains on much of our population. The theoretical fears over global warming are no longer a top-of-mind concern for most citizens, according to most polls. These California vehicle bans are the wrong idea at the wrong time for Rhode Island.
Adding the painful and unnecessary financial burden of banning affordable vehicles onto the backs of Ocean State households and businesses will only hamper our state’s long term economic prospects.
Further, these California bans are highly regressive in that they would harm low-income and rural residents much more significantly than their more affluent urban and suburban peers. People drive out of necessity. Higher vehicle costs would have to come out of other areas of household budgets leading to difficult choices for people already struggling to make ends meet. It will also mean that small businesses that transport goods or provide mobile services will have higher operating costs. Those increased expenses would ultimately be passed along to consumers through higher prices, putting even further upward pressure on inflation.
Now is the time for state lawmakers to decouple Rhode Island from California’s harsh emissions regime and its vehicle bans. Such foresight would demonstrate that our public officials put the well-being of their constituents ahead of an unachievable environmental agenda pushed by extremist advocacy groups and unelected bureaucrats.
It is not government of, by, and for the people … if Rhode Island remains beholden to policies devised in another state, by a political decision made 14 years ago; a decision we now know will directly harm motorists and that circumvents a much-needed democratic process that reflects today’s circumstances in our own state.
I join with my colleagues in over a dozen other states in calling on Rhode Island lawmakers to reconsider the question as to whether or not it is in our state’s best interests to remain tethered to California’s increasingly extreme and costly emissions standards. Rhode Island must be free to craft its own environmental policies … so let the public debate begin!