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September 22, 2023

New Jersey plan to phase out sales of gas-powered cars by 2035 gets mixed reception

Within 12 years, Gov. Phil Murphy intends for all new vehicles sold in the state to be electric, but critics worry about cost and the availability of charging stations

Environmental groups, progressive organizations, and electric vehicle manufacturers during a meeting Thursday hailed a Murphy administration plan to phase out sales of new gas cars by 2035, but the proposed rule met with opposition from fossil fuel groups, car retailers, and one prominent former Democratic official.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection took testimony on a proposal, called "Advanced Clean Cars II," that would require electric vehicles to account for an increasing share of new light-duty vehicle sales in the state, reaching 100% by 2035. Most consumer cars and pickup trucks fall into the light-duty category.

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Supporters said the proposed rule, which mirrors regulations enacted in California and a handful of other states, is needed to reduce air pollution and keep New Jersey on track toward its ambitious emissions goals, which include cutting the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of their 2006 levels by 2030.

"Our cars and trucks are the largest source of climate pollutants in the state. This is true across the country as well, and electric vehicles have reached an inflection point," said Doug O'Malley, state director of Environment New Jersey. "It's imperative that New Jersey join these other leading clean car states and adopt these standards by the end of this calendar year to ensure more electric vehicles are available."w2

The transportation sector accounted for 37% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Electric vehicles made up just 1.4% of all registered vehicles in the state as of late December, but their sales have accelerated rapidly over the last year, nearly doubling to 9% between August and June 2022.

The proposal's opponents warned New Jersey's infrastructure lacks enough chargers and said the state is not yet ready to accommodate widespread adoption of electric vehicles. In some cases, it never will be, said Ray Cantor, deputy chief government affairs officer at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

"There are a lot of places where you have apartments, condos, densely populated areas, where you know you can't put enough charging stations in," he said. "You can't tell people they need to walk blocks in order to charge their vehicle."

Critics also warned about costs, noting electric vehicles largely remain more expensive than their gas-burning peers, despite the introduction of some relatively affordable models like Chevrolet's Bolt.

Though electric vehicles are typically more expensive to buy, they often carry lower maintenance and fuel costs.

Others worried New Jerseyans would balk at a mandate.

"The tone of New Jersey residents when they hear the word mandate — whether it be for the potential of gas stoves in their homes or, in this particular case, how an automobile will be propelled going down the street — it is a word that concerns them greatly," said former Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a Democrat who is seeking a Senate seat in the GOP-held 3rd Legislative District in November.

The proposed rules change would not bar the sale of used cars with an internal combustion engine, though the supply of such vehicles would necessarily decrease as the rule's electric vehicle sales requirement phases in.

Concerns about what that shrinking supply would do to car prices pushed some who said they support electric vehicles to caution over unintended side effects.

"Point number one is we're all-in on EVs. Point number two is something that I think we have to acknowledge. New Jersey and all the other (Advanced Clean Cars II) states will be a 100% EV sales market when consumers want to buy only EVs, not when government mandates it," said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

"How about we get to 10% or 15% EV sales in this state before we mandate 35% by 2027, 65% by 2030 or 100% by 2035?" he said.

For supporters, the doomsaying was part of a familiar pattern, one they said they have reason to doubt.

"Every time, industry comes in and claims that this is the end of the world, it's going to make everybody poorer," said Bill Beren, transportation chair for the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter. "Instead, what we've seen repeatedly over time is that industries adapt, new technologies come online, and we learn to live with the changes, and we live longer because pollution has been reduced. I think the same thing is the case with Advanced Clean Cars."

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.