NJ to Join Clean Car Initiative, as EPA Eases Fuel-Economy Standards

Eight-state initiative hopes to have more than 3 million zero-emission vehicles on road by 2025

electric vehicle
It looks like New Jersey is lining up with other states to fight the Trump administration over its steps to weaken tough rules to reduce carbon pollution from cars.

Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday announced New Jersey would join eight other states in a cooperative effort to bolster the sale of zero-emission vehicles, a multistate program targeted to curbing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector.

His action to join the clean-car initiative follows a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, as well as an indication that the Trump administration will challenge California’s ability to set tougher air pollution standards for vehicles.

The latter issue is significant to New Jersey because it is one of 12 states that have agreed to require that California’s cleaner cars be sold here. Clean-energy advocates view the program as crucial to the state’s goal of reducing air pollution, including emissions contributing to climate change.

Sisterhood is powerful

“We know we can’t win this fight alone, so we are joining with our sister states in efforts to deploy clean vehicles to advance the health of our communities and tackle the largest source of air pollution in our state,’’ Murphy said in a press release.

By signing a Memorandum of Understanding, New Jersey will join other states including New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maryland, and California in a concerted effort to implement a comprehensive zero-emission vehicle program.

“The Trump administration is deliberately weakening our efforts to battle climate change, when we, in New Jersey, are strengthening our resources to fight it,’’ said Catherine McCabe, acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Murphy’s stance is sharply in contrast to his predecessor’s, who spurned regional collaborations with other states to fight climate change, but has been advocated by environmentalists, lawmakers, and former Govs. Tom Kean and Jim Florio, all of whom urged the state to join the regional compact.

The organization, known at the Multi-State ZEV Task Force, is working to achieve a collective target of at least 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road in the eight-state region by 2025. If New Jersey joins the effort, it would up the target by another 330,000 vehicles.

Righting a wrong

Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition promoting electric vehicles in New Jersey, was not surprised by the governor’s decision to join the regional effort. “New Jersey was noticeably absent from this program,’’ Frank said. “He kind of righted a wrong here.’’

The federal agency’s decision to weaken emission standards made little sense to Frank. “It’s not where the technology is taking us or where consumers want to go,’’ she said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, applauded Murphy for standing up to Trump’s move to weaken air pollution rules. “Signing this MOU sends a very clear signal to the auto industry and White House: We will work with other states and move forward with electric vehicles,’’ he said.

In an action plan developed by the multistate task force, it encourages states to take a number of steps, including adopting incentives to boost ownership of ZEVs, increase their numbers in public fleets, and promote infrastructure investment by public and private entities.

New Jersey is sitting on a pot of money that could help fund some of those initiatives as a result of two settlements with Volkswagen stemming from the company’s cheating on diesel emissions from vehicles. About $140 million is available from those two settlements, although not all the money is expected to be allocated for electric vehicles.