The legislature’s evenly divided Regulations Review Committee will meet on Nov. 28 to vote on a contentious proposal that would phase out the sale of new gas powered vehicles by 2035 and it was unclear this week whether the panel had the votes to approve the regulations.
Unlike most committees, which are weighted in favor of the legislature’s majority Democrats, Regulations Review is made up of seven Democrats and seven Republicans and is led by a bipartisan pair of co-chairs: Rep. Lucy Dathan, D-New Canaan, and Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.
Shared control of the panel rarely results in partisan disputes, as the committee goes about its task of reviewing proposed regulations for compliance with state law. But that’s unlikely to be the case next month as the group considers regulations that would phase out sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035 as a result of a state law tying Connecticut’s emissions standards to those of California.
“This is becoming a wedge issue, which is disappointing,” Dathan said in an interview Friday. “If you think of, not just the climate aspects, but also the public health aspects. We have so many people in our state suffering from asthmatic issues.”
Legislative Republicans signaled their opposition to the proposal from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection back in August, when they held a press conference to voice concerns that Connecticut lacked the infrastructure to transition to electric vehicles.
They argued that requiring such a shift went beyond what lawmakers envisioned in 2004 when they tied Connecticut’s emissions standards to those of California.
Kissel did not return requests for comment left Friday morning. However, during a meeting of the panel on Tuesday, he expressed reservations about a different set of air quality regulations proposed by DEEP and encouraged the agency’s staff to attend next month’s meeting in person.
“I do believe that the members are very interested in these proposed regulations and they will have deep and interesting and complicated questions and it will behoove all of us if we have members of the appropriate agency and department here in the Legislative Office Building,” Kissel said.
The committee has the power to ask agencies to revise their regulations or it could reject them with a majority vote of members present. If every Republican eventually opposes the proposal, they would need at least one Democrat to join them in order to reject he regulation.
At least one Democrat has voiced concerns about the proposal. Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said Friday she was unsure how she would vote when the regulations come before the committee next month.
Osten worried both about the general lack of availability of EV charging stations in eastern Connecticut and the impact the transition would have on farmers, who rely on medium and heavy duty vehicles.
“I’m talking to people about it,” Osten said. “I want to know, what is going to happen when I have farmers tell me they can’t buy electric vehicles to plough the fields, when they’re picking up hay and corn, how is that going to work? Are we going to price them out of business?”
Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for the Energy and Environmental Protection Department, said the new standards would benefit Connecticut from both a health and economic standpoint. He said the agency had been engaged with lawmakers to answer their questions ahead of the November meeting.
“We look forward to continuing to do so over the next several weeks while the standards are up for consideration by the Committee,” he said in a statement. “DEEP has also created a webpage with information about the proposed standards, benefits to Connecticut residents, and answers to frequently asked questions, available here: Connecticut’s Proposed Emissions Standards for Cars and Trucks.”
Asked Friday whether she expected the committee to approve the regulations, Dathan said it was too soon to say.
She credited members of her committee with “doing their homework” and DEEP for convening meetings with members to answer their questions. She hoped those conversations would clear up misconceptions about the policy and reinforce the idea that auto manufacturers and other states were already in the process of shifting to alternatives to internal combustion engines.
“At the end of day, these rules that we’re talking about don’t require anyone to buy an EV or take away a car or truck that people already own and it does not regulate these vehicles,” she said. “There’s a lot of misinformation going on and it’s important to get accurate information out there.”