Stenhouse ProJo OpEd: Time for RI Lawmakers to Face Reality & Decouple from CA’s EV Mandates

Originally published by the Providence Journal, March 10. 2024 as:

Time for RI to drop use of California’s unattainable emissions mandate

Ocean State lawmakers should follow the lead of the Biden administration and Connecticut and reconsider Rhode Island’s commitment to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and its costly and unattainable electric vehicle (EV) mandates.

By law, every state must follow emissions standards set by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or by CARB. Rhode Island is one of 15 states where its lawmakers have chosen to follow California’s stricter rules. When it comes to sales of cars and small trucks, all CARB states must ban the sale of all gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035.

Up until now, EPA standards, far less stringent than CARB, required that two-thirds of all new vehicles sold by 2032 must be electric vehicles.

However, in a rare admission of error and a display of common sense, even hardliner environmentalists at the EPA had to concede that their electric vehicle goals were not attainable. Because of their high cost, unreliability and lack of infrastructure to re-charge batteries, EVs have not been as popular with consumers as the government forecast. In late 2023, U.S. automakers issued a joint letter to President Biden asking for a reprieve from the mandate for EVs, because they cannot sell them.

Further, after pleas from California’s governor for motorists not to charge their EVs during a recent peak energy usage period, another issue became evident: that there is not enough electric-grid capacity to reliably charge these levels of mandated EVs.

Thus, the EPA has signaled it will soon loosen its EV mandates, appropriately giving the entire zero-emission vehicle industry more time to advance its technology, reduce costs, and allow for the necessary grid and infrastructure expansion that will make EVs attractive to more motorists.

In late 2023, Connecticut, faced with a similar dilemma and forced to accept reality, smartly opted to decouple itself from CARB and its unreasonable and harsh emissions standards. It’s now time for Rhode Island lawmakers to face that same reality.

Adopting a common-sense, market-driven approach is exactly how the General Assembly and Governor McKee should proceed in reforming our state’s energy goals and policies. If the EPA standards are not achievable nationally, then certainly the much more severe CARB standards are not achievable for Rhode Island.

Rhode Island Energy admitted to an inquiry by my organization that, until the ‘need presents itself,’ there are no current plans to invest in adding capacity to our electrical grid. The need is now … with many regional fossil fuel and nuclear plants shut down in recent decades, our electric grid is barely capable of reliably serving Rhode Island during high energy demand periods. Such ‘investment’ costs would be passed on to customers, making EV charging even more expensive.

Rhode Island’s energy policy should encompass an ‘all of the above’ market approach. For decades into the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will necessarily play a major role in powering America. While we await and welcome coming advancements in green energy technology, Rhode Island should seek to expand its natural gas pipeline capacity, while also reconsidering carbon-free nuclear power.

It is also clear that our state’s much ballyhooed goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is also unattainable and must be reconsidered. Ensuring that residents have access to abundant, reliable, and low-cost energy – regardless of the source – should be our state’s new goal.

If Rhode Island is to effectively compete with other states for people, investors, companies and jobs — and benefit from a thriving state economy — we must have a sensible approach towards energy.

Now is the time to decouple our Ocean State from California-style mandates that punish consumers with unrealistic policies that reduce choices and artificially raise prices, and provide true EV choice to motorists. Especially when national green energy proponents have determined that near-term net-zero emissions goals, like those in Rhode Island, are not achievable.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in The Ocean State Current, including text, graphics, images, and information are solely those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of The Current, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, or its members or staff. The Current cannot be held responsible for information posted or provided by third-party sources. Readers are encouraged to fact check any information on this web site with other sources.

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