Chris Herb
Chris Herb, president and CEO of Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, speaks during a Nov. 13, 2023 press conference Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Representatives for fuel sellers and Connecticut’s trucking industry accelerated their opposition Monday to a regulatory proposal to discontinue the sale of new exclusively gas-powered vehicles by 2035, urging a legislative review panel to reject the regulations later this month.

The proposal, which is headed for a Nov. 28 vote of the bipartisan Regulation Review Committee, would phase out the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035 under a state law tying Connecticut’s emissions standards to those of California.

Members of the committee, which is unusual in that it is made up of seven Democrats and seven Republicans, have been under mounting pressure by both proponents and critics of the change as the expected vote draws near.

Associations representing two key industries — fossil fuel sellers and motor transport companies — made a case for rejecting the regulations during a Monday press conference held alongside a truck stop in Hartford where the faint smell of propane hung in the air. 

“Consumer choice should win the day here and a reasonable approach to energy policy should win the day,” Chris Herb, president and CEO of Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, said. “On behalf of thousands of local Connecticut businesses and consumers, we’re asking that the Regulations Review Committee vote ‘no’ on these California-based regulations.”

Under the regulation, Connecticut would join several other states including its neighbors Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island in requiring auto dealers to sell an increasing share of low-emission vehicles beginning in 2027 before phasing out sales of new gas-powered cars entirely in 2035.

A related proposal also requires manufacturers of medium and heavy-duty trucks to sell an increasingly larger percentage of electric vehicles. On Monday, John Blair, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said that electric trucks are far pricier than their diesel counterparts, making the change would be cost-prohibitive for trucking companies.

Blair and Herb urged state lawmakers to consider adopting less-stringent regulations authored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

John Blair, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“I don’t take any great pleasure having to oppose these regs, but these particular regs… are too much too fast for our industry,” Blair said. “We’re not against going in this direction. We have many members that want to go the electrification route, it’s just that these particular regs are too much for us.” 

The regulations have been backed by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, particularly the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which submitted the proposal to the legislative panel for review. 

In a statement Monday, the agency’s spokesperson Paul Copleman noted that state lawmakers had already voted to adopt the standards through the bipartisan 2004 law linking Connecticut with California. 

“Connecticut suffers from some of the worst air quality in the United States, and pollution from cars and trucks are among the biggest contributors,” Copleman said. “The proposed vehicle emissions standards, which the Connecticut Legislature already authorized, will greatly benefit Connecticut residents from both a health and economic standpoint.”

But although the Regulation Review Committee is charged with checking regulatory proposals for compliance with state law, members of the panel have been under pressure from associations and advocates on both sides of the issue.

Republicans lawmakers have so far expressed uniform opposition to the regulation and requests for comment left with several Democrats on the panel went unanswered Monday. However, one Democratic lawmaker on the committee, Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague, has publicly expressed concerns about the change. 

In an interview Monday, Rep. Lucy Dathan, a New Canaan Democrat who co-chairs the Regs Review panel, said it was too soon to say whether there was adequate support on the committee to approve the regulations. She noted that some members on the Democratic side of the committee had asked questions of the agency.

“I’m feeling positive but there might be technical questions and things like that,” Dathan said.

Herb told reporters that his organization was working with a 15-group coalition of associations opposed to the regulation including industries ranging from lumber to beer wholesalers. 

Meanwhile, environmental advocates have sought for the last several months to shore up support for the regulation among members of the committee. 

Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said her members have attempted to dispel misinformation about the regulations including a misperception that they would force residents to get rid of their existing gas-powered vehicles. 

“The Regs Review Committee needs to do what it’s been charged to do and get out of the political wedge issue and do the right thing for the Connecticut public, for the air we breathe and the planet we’ve got to live on,” Brown said. “Get past this political battle and do the right thing for the public because that’s going to be their legacy.”