Whether through mandates or merely goals, efforts to boost the use of electric vehicles in Washington are wise. The state, with an eco-conscious ethos, should be a leader in the global movement away from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.
In the Legislature, House Bill 1204 reflects the thin edge between mandates and goals. The bill originally would have required that starting with the 2030 model year, vehicles must be electric in order to be registered and licensed in the state.
According to The Seattle Times, advice from the state attorney general’s office suggested that such a mandate would face legal challenges claiming it overstepped the state’s authority under the federal Clean Air Act — and those challenges would delay implementation.
Instead, the House Transportation Committee advanced a bill setting a goal that all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks after 2030 be electric.
The difference between the bills is significant, draining much of the power from efforts to sharply reduce carbon emissions on Washington roads. Yet even the longest journey begins with a single step, and numerous small steps are adding up to long-range progress against emissions.
Notably, auto manufacturers have recognized how climate change is altering consumer tastes. Sweden’s Volvo has announced that its entire fleet will be battery powered by 2030; Detroit-based General Motors has selected 2035 as its target date for being entirely electric; and other automakers are gradually moving to electrify their fleets.
The moves are a gamble. Consulting firm AutoPacific estimates that by 2025, sales of EVs in the United States will triple — and still make up only 5 percent of the market.
But the moves also are necessary. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector is the country’s largest source of carbon — accounting for about 28 percent of emissions. Setting a goal of increasing the number of electric vehicles sends a strong signal about the state’s priorities.
Washington residents are likely to be receptive. A poll by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications found that 60 percent of state residents either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that restricting sales of new vehicles to electric power by 2030 is good policy.
Meanwhile, Clark Public Utilities has approved a Transportation Electrification Plan, which will include multiple initiatives to promote electric vehicles — such as rebate or grant opportunities for car chargers and a rebate plan for used electric vehicles.
“We’re hopeful that that incentive will drive EV ownership in some of the more moderate-income demographics in Clark County,” said the utility’s Matthew Babbits.
An expected increase in the number of electric vehicles requires investment in charging stations. The state Department of Ecology has committed $17 million from a settlement with Volkswagen toward infrastructure, and the state has added $20 million from other departments.
All of that plays into a goal of increasing the number of zero-emission cars on the road. As a General Motors commercial that starred Will Ferrell and aired during the Super Bowl humorously noted, Norway leads the world in percentage of electric vehicles sold — more than half of its new cars.
If Norway can embrace gas-free cars, we’re certain the United States can, as well. Washington should lead the way in reaching that goal.