Kelly and Candelora
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and House Minority Leader Vin Candelora brief reporters on Sept. 26, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

House and Senate Republicans urged the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee Wednesday to refrain from approving a planned phase-out of new gas-powered car sales so that the issue may be considered by the broader General Assembly next year.

The argument, made during a late afternoon press conference in the Legislative Office Building, was the latest step in an ongoing effort to build opposition to regulations up for review in the committee on Nov. 28. 

The panel, made up of an even number of Democrats and Republicans, is expected to vote on regulations requiring car manufacturers to sell an increasing share of zero-emission vehicles until 2035, when new gas-powered vehicle sales would be discontinued entirely.

Since this summer, Republicans have called the proposal unrealistic and argued that state policymakers have failed to plan for the infrastructure upgrades necessary to support a widespread transition to electric vehicles. During Wednesday’s event, they called on the committee to defer any decision to the entire legislature.

“We are asking this Regulations Review Committee to invoke that ability and send these regulations to the General Assembly,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. “That’s all we’re asking today. Let’s have that debate next session.”

The move would be unusual for the committee, which typically reviews proposed regulations for compliance with state law. 

In this case, the regs stem from a bipartisan 2004 law, which tied Connecticut’s emissions standards to those of California, the state where the 2035 phase-out originated, and a more partisan 2022 requiring progressively more stringent emissions standards for trucks. 

If adopted, Connecticut would join several other states including its neighbors Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island in embracing the California standards while critics argue the state should instead choose to adopt less-stringent regulations authored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

Although Connecticut’s regulation review panel is somewhat unaccustomed to political controversy, in this case it remains unclear whether there’s enough support on the panel to approve the proposal. 

While a tie vote of the committee would eventually amount to an approval, one Democratic lawmaker on the committee, Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague, has publicly been skeptical of the change. Several other Democrats on the committee did not return requests for comment on the issue this week. 

Members of the committee have been under pressure to reject the proposal by Republicans, who have been hosting a series of community forums on the issue, as well as representatives of several industries including fuel sellers and motor transport companies. 

Meanwhile, environmental advocates and the Democratic co-chairs of several legislative committees have lobbied the panel to approve the regulations.

“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,” leaders of committees on energy, transportation, and the environment wrote last month.

This week, Rep. Lucy Dathan, a New Canaan Democrat who co-chairs the Regs Review panel and who supports the regulations, said she was “feeling positive” about the coming vote while acknowledging there were questions among members of her party.

“We’re still working through it. I know there’s a few concerns,” Dathan said.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, a Stratford Republican who serves on the review panel, said he believed the committee was closely divided on the issue. 

“What we’re trying to do is educate Connecticut on what the real facts here are and to make sure that everyone on Reg Review makes an informed decision based on the facts and what’s before them,” Kelly said. 

Candelora urged Democrats on the review panel to speak publicly on how they planned to vote on Nov. 28. 

“Come out and state your position on how you’re going to vote and then listen to what people have to say in response,” Candelora said. “I suspect a ‘yes’ vote is going to have a very interesting public response.”