Gov. Wes Moore and state environmental officials announced Monday that Maryland will adopt rules to phase out the sale of new, gas-powered cars by 2035, calling for a seismic shift in the state’s vehicle market in an effort to curb climate change.

The move follows a wave of states that have recently instituted the same deadline, which was first charted by California three years ago. Maryland is required by law to mirror California’s vehicle emissions standards, but former Gov. Larry Hogan’s Republican administration delayed adoption of the stringent gas vehicles ban before leaving office.

At an announcement at the Maryland Department of the Environment’s offices in Baltimore, Moore touted the 2035 target as a major step forward in Maryland’s climate change strategy, which aims to slash the state greenhouse gas emissions 60% — compared to 2006 levels — by 2031, and to achieve net-carbon neutrality by 2045. Former Gov. Larry Hogan’s Republican administration “pumped the brakes” on regulation to phase out gas-powered cars, Moore said, “but today we’re getting rolling again.”

“This new regulation puts us on the fast-track to meet our very aggressive climate goals,” the first-term Democrat said, flanked by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and representatives from the state’s environmental agency, climate advocacy groups and a large manufacturer of electric vehicle chargers.

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The rule was unanimously recommended for approval Monday by the state Air Quality Control Advisory Council, and Maryland environmental regulators expect it will be adopted this fall. It includes a series of benchmarks that car manufacturers must meet over the next decade and a half to achieve the long-term goal. Of cars sold to Maryland dealers in model year 2027 — or just three years from now — 43% must have zero emissions. That share steadily increases every year until the 100% requirement goes into effect in model year 2035.

Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, Maryland has the option to either stick with federal vehicular emissions standards or adopt the more stringent policy modeled by California, said Chris Hoagland, director of air and radiation for MDE.

The transportation sector accounts for the single largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland, according to a 2020 emissions inventory by environmental regulators. In total, the state contributed about 57 million metric tons in climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Between 2027 and 2040, the rule would result in a reduction of 76.7 million metric tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide from cars and power plant sources, the environment department estimated Monday. Meeting the state’s targets will require a major transformation of the local vehicle market, resulting in the sale of 1.68 million fewer new, gas-powered vehicles by the 2035 deadline, the agency said.

It’s a change that has sparked lawsuits from auto dealer groups in at least one other state that has adopted the California standard.

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Peter Kitzmiller of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association said Maryland’s car dealers are generally accepting of the Moore administration’s decision and noted that the industry is already investing heavily in a future of electric cars.

While the 2035 deadline is likely to get the most fanfare, Kitzmiller stressed that the more immediate goal of electrifying over 40% of the market share for new vehicle sales within the next three years is the pressing challenge. In three years, the state’s auto sector is going to have to expand electric vehicles sales tenfold from current levels to hit that benchmark.

“In the car industry, that’s a big, big, big move,” Kitzmiller said. As the state nears the regulatory deadlines, “I think there’s gonna have to be some flexibility,” he added.

Monday’s announcement was also lauded by environmental groups in Maryland. Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, praised the move as an important step for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, supporting consumers and sending a message to auto manufacturers that Maryland is committed to growing the electric vehicle market.

“I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and I dream of a day like today,” she said.

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Moore stressed the importance of a transition to electric vehicles that doesn’t leave behind low-income residents of Maryland. Existing state and federal tax credits, rebates and grants, in addition to pending legislation in the General Assembly, will help Marylanders affordably move away from gas-powered cars, the governor said.

Maryland House Republicans, meanwhile, blasted Moore’s move, arguing that the policy was designed for California’s economy, transportation landscape and electric grid, not Maryland’s. Most electric vehicles remain prohibitively expensive to large swaths of the population, they noted.

“Maryland will likely be the only state in the region moving forward with this radical environmental policy,” said House Minority Leader Jason Buckel. “Our state does not exist in a vacuum, and these policies will do little-to-nothing to impact emissions in our region. All it will do is put more stress on the household budgets of Marylanders. It is completely irresponsible.”

Achieving widespread adoption of EVs will also require huge growth in the infrastructure needed for the cars to run, and Blink Charging President Brendan Jones said at Monday’s announcements that his company intends to ramp up its output of electric charging stations dramatically to help pave the way. The company is currently producing about 20,000 chargers annually at its Bowie facility, a total it aims to scale up to 50,000 within the next 36 months, he said.

Monday’s announcement comes after Maryland lawmakers had already set benchmarks for the state government to electrify the entirety of its fleet. Under legislation passed last year, 100% of the state’s fleet of passenger cars must be electric by 2030, while its “light-duty” vehicles must all be electric by 2036.

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On display outside the Montgomery Park facility on Monday were a small fleet of new EVs, the kind that Marylanders will have to buy in mass quantities to make the state’s transition possible.

Following his announcement, Moore climbed into a yellow, electric Ford Mustang and took it for a lap around the parking lot.

adam.willis@thebaltimorebanner.com

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government. 

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