Biden proposes ambitious electric vehicle plan

Could help Mass. efforts to up sales of zero emission vehicles

THE BIDEN administration announced a series of policy measures on Thursday designed to accelerate the country’s embrace of electric vehicles, a move that should make it easier for states like Massachusetts to meet their climate change goals.

The White House said it plans to increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and place new restrictions on tailpipe emissions, moves that should incentivize customers to give electric vehicles a shot. Biden also signed a legally non-binding executive order setting a target of having half of all vehicles sold in 2030 be zero emission vehicles.

Zero emission vehicles currently account for about 2 percent of new vehicle sales, but automakers pledged to sharply increase that amount on the condition that an infrastructure bill making its way through Congress provide money for a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and tax credits to make it cheaper for consumers to buy the vehicles.

Representatives from Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler-parent Stellantis joined Biden at his press conference and pledged to achieve sales targets of 40 to 50 percent zero emission vehicles by 2030. Eligible vehicles include electric, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which also have a gasoline-engine.

The Biden plan could be a big lift for Massachusetts, which wants to reduce overall emissions 50 percent by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Transportation accounts for 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, more than any other sector.  More than half of the transportation emissions come from cars and light-duty trucks; the rest comes from heavier trucks, trains, boats, and aircraft.

It’s always been a bit unclear how the state was going to accomplish its ambitious goals for zero emissions vehicles. The state’s 2030 plan envisions 750,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by the end of the decade, up from roughly 30,000 currently.

Biden’s plan would incentivize drivers to make the switch by making gas-powered vehicles more expensive. It would also offer drivers financial incentives to purchase zero-emission vehicles and address one of the chief concerns with them – ther ability to refuel easily – by constructing a national network of charging stations.

By 2030, the state wants zero emission vehicles to account for half of all light duty vehicle purchases. By 2035, only zero-emission light-duty vehicles will be sold in Massachusetts under the current plan.

The Baker administration has been pinning a lot of its hopes for reducing transportation emissions on the Transportation Climate Initiative, which would charge fuel dealers for the allowances they need to sell their product in Massachusetts. The number of allowances would be ratcheted downward over time and the money raised from the sale of the allowances would go for programs to reduce emissions, including a charging station network.

The Transportation Climate Initiative started out as a regional effort, but so far only Massachusetts and Washington, DC, have committed to the program. The Biden plan may lessen the need for the Transportation Climate Initiative.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Baker administration officials could not be reached for comment.

Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, told the New England Council on Thursday that he didn’t see the benefit of the Transportation Climate Initiative. He said it would be more efficient for the state to just hike its gasoline tax if it needs revenues for addressing climate change.

“I feel good about the direction we are going without the need to raise taxes, and certainly not a regressive carbon tax,” he said.