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Strong State Policies Are Still Needed for EV Growth

A new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked states according to their public policies encouraging the growth of electric vehicles. California took the top spot, followed by New York.

an electric vehicle plugged into a charging station
Shutterstock/ALDECA studio
Reasonably effective public policies to expand the use of electric cars exist in a majority of states, with a handful leading the country in nudging drivers away from gas-burning options.

A new report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked California in the No. 1 spot in terms of its statewide aims and policies to grow EV adoption. The Golden State is followed by New York, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Oregon and New Jersey. Twenty states — namely in the South — were not ranked in the report because they did not earn at least 15 percent of the total points awarded by the ACEEE’s scorecard. 

“State policy is a critical component for transportation electrification,” Bryan Howard, lead author of the report and state policy director at ACEEE, said in a Wednesday webinar with reporters to release the study’s findings. Howard noted policies to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction levels, modernize transportation and broaden equity in transportation often happens at the state level, making state government particularly poised to influence change. 

“In addition, the last four years have shown the states can fill a void in federal leadership, while serving as a model for other levels of government,” Howard added, making a not-so-veiled reference to the steps a number of states — like California — have taken to push back on efforts to limit regulations on the fossils fuels industry by the Trump administration. 

California’s place at the top of the rankings to expand EV ownership is the result of the long game the state has been playing in this sector, said Patty Monahan, a member of the California Energy Commission, in her comments Wednesday.

“The state has been signaling to the auto industry for over 30 years that they need to electrify. And now what we’re seeing is progress not just in California, but across the states, and across the globe,” said Monahan, ticking off policy actions to require automakers to sell a minimum number of EVs in the state, programs to help low-income residents purchase used EVs and changes to trucking rules that will transition heavy-duty trucks to electric versions in the coming decades.  

“What we’re trying to do is signal to the private sector … you’re going to make money by electrifying transportation. And we’re just trying to jumpstart those investments with public dollars,” said Monahan. 

This ranking aside, another recent study by Next 10, a nonprofit dedicated to studying greenhouse gas emissions in California, found the state is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2030. Emissions increased slightly in 2018, compared to 2017, the study found. The transportation sector, however, did show modest improvement in reducing climate-warming emissions. Transportation still accounts for 40.9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California, according to Next 10. The transportation sector is responsible for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, nationwide. 

Electric vehicles still account for only about 2 percent of the cars on the road in the United States, which means transitioning the car industry to zero-emission autos still has significant room for growth.

For its part, the auto industry seems to be moving firmly toward EVs. General Motors recently announced it plans to sell only EVs by 2035. European automaker Volkswagen says it will offer an electric version of each of its models by 2030.

And even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, electric vehicle sales in California in 2020 were “higher than they’ve ever been,” said Monahan. 

“We’re seeing this play out not just in California, but globally,” she added.  


Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.