Members of the public question Sen. Jeff Gordon during a forum on proposed emissions regulations Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

In legislative districts across Connecticut, Republican lawmakers are hosting informational forums on proposed regulations that would phase out the sale of new gas powered vehicles by 2035 ahead of a vote in a bipartisan regulation review panel expected later this month.

With events scheduled in Vernon, Bristol, Southington, and Plainville, among other towns, Senate and House Republicans have sought to muster public opposition to a coming vote of the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee, which will consider on Nov. 28 new emissions standards, phasing out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035.

Flyers for the events feature the words “A Ban With No Plan.” Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, repeated versions of that phrase throughout the first event, held Thursday night at Tolland Public Library.

“My big concern is, I’m not opposed to electric vehicles, what I’m opposed to is a mandate that has no realistic plan,” Gordon told more than a dozen people gathered in a small conference room. “We’re 11 years away from the mandate really hitting hard, which is not a lot of time when you talk about state government trying to plan and prepare.”

While the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection put the regulations before the evenly divided review committee, the proposal implements clean air standards adopted in California as a result of a bipartisan 2004 law tying Connecticut’s standards to those of the West Coast state. 

Republicans, who have so far been unanimously opposed to the change, have argued that the shift went beyond what legislators envisioned when they linked Connecticut’s standards to California and that such a transition ought to be considered by the broader legislature.

A tie vote of the evenly divided review committee would eventually result in the regulations going into effect. Even so, it’s not clear that supporters have adequate votes on the 14-member panel to pass it. 

Republicans would need just one Democrat on the committee to reject the proposal and at least one, Sprague Democrat Sen. Cathy Osten, has publicly voiced concerns about the regulations and said last month she was unsure of how she would vote.

Over the past few weeks, DEEP representatives have been discussing the proposal with lawmakers on the committee.

Meanwhile, the Democratic co-chairs of three legislative committees on energy, transportation, and the environment issued a statement in late October urging members of the Regulations Review Committee to adopt the standards. 

“As we see our region and the auto industry moving in this direction, we will continue to partner over the next twelve years with fellow legislators and the administration on additional policies to help make this a smooth transition – this timeline allows plenty of opportunity for Connecticut to do this right and plenty of time to adjust benchmarks if unforeseen obstacles arise,” the co-chairs wrote. 

In an interview last month, Rep. Lucy Dathan, a New Canaan Democrat who co-chairs the Regs Review panel, called the proposal a “wedge issue” on a typically agreeable committee, tasked with ensuring that regulation proposals comply with state law. 

Dathan said she hoped ongoing dialogue would clear up misconceptions about the policy prior to the Nov. 28 vote. 

“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.”

jeff gordon
Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, addresses a forum at Tolland Public Library Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

During Thursday night’s event in Tolland, members of the public questioned the practicality of relying on electric-powered vehicles, which they said could be rendered useless in the event of trouble with the electric grid.

While Gordon stressed the importance of state government adequately preparing for a transition to electric vehicles, one man asked why the state needed to mandate the change at all.

“I do not want the government telling me what I can or can not do when it comes to driving the vehicle,” he said.

Another resident said the automobile market only transitioned away from large, inefficient cars when gas prices made them impractical. He suggested consumers may need to be nudged toward adopting electric cars.

“I don’t really see this happening without some kind of push,” he said. 

In response to a question from the audience, Gordon suggested residents reach out to Democrats on the Regulation Review Committee in an effort to persuade them to vote against the regulations.

“I don’t want to put any of them on the spot but they are on the spot because they’re on the committee,” Gordon said. “Yes, you can reach out to all of them if you want. Again, we can get you their contact info…. Government works best when it listens to people.”