A new report from Gov. Janet Mills’ administration recommended new strategies to accelerate electric vehicle use, but it foreshadowed difficult conversations by saying Maine needs more money to meet ambitious climate goals.
The new clean transportation roadmap, required under an executive order by the Democratic governor in April, says Maine has made progress since 2019 by increasing battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 90 percent to 5,577 vehicles and public charging stations by 65 percent to 265 locations.
But more work needs to be done and thorny political questions about how to generate more money for the initiatives must be answered before decreasing the amount of fossil-fuel emissions in Maine’s transportation sector, which produces more than half of those emissions. The state needs 219,000 light-duty EVs on the road by 2030 to meet a goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent.
The roadmap comes after a national study released in February concluded that Maine needed to accelerate its plans to get more electric vehicles on the road as the state relies heavily on the emerging vehicles to meet its climate goals. That same month, President Joe Biden made electric vehicles the centerpiece of his climate plan with a goal to convert about 645,000 postal trucks and passenger vehicles to all-electric and incentivize American companies to build a network of 500,000 charging stations.
The Mills administration said the state has limited funding to reach its goals, including only $19 million to expand charging infrastructure through 2025 through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. If the state alone funded new charging stations, it would need $7.7 million next year and $17.6 million in 2025, and it falls short on having those amounts.
Meeting overall clean energy goals also requires regional cooperation, experts said, and that has been hard to come by. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker recently pulled out of the Transportation Climate Initiative, a multi-state pact to reduce carbon emissions, citing a lack of buy-in among other states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, according to WBUR.
The pact is currently “frozen by political inertia throughout New England,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director of the Acadia Center, which was spearheading that project, which Mills never actively joined amid concerns that any funding solution could fall hard on rural Mainers.
“The clean transportation roadmap is a good start, but it will need political, technology and financial capital to move it forward in the right direction,” Marks said.
The Mills administration’s plan could still be controversial. The report opens the door to new funding methods that could be politically unpalatable, noting the state could generate more money to fund key initiatives by increasing the gas tax or adding a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, though it does not endorse any particular one.
Tackling transportation energy issues is important to Maine, Marks said. It is among the top 10 states in money spent per capita on energy, with the highest proportion going to transportation. The volatility in gasoline and diesel fuel prices due to global, national and regional constraints brings additional economic uncertainty to Mainers, he said.
Maine spends more than $4 billion annually to import fossil fuels, Dan Burgess, director of the governor’s energy office, said.
“The clean transportation roadmap offers options for how Maine can keep more of that money at home and create long-term climate and economic benefits to the state,” Burgess said.