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Should the ‘California Way’ be the ‘Delaware Way’?

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director

If you haven’t yet heard, Delaware’s Division of Air Quality (housed in DNREC) is now considering regulations to ban new internal combustion vehicles by 2035.  Following the lead of the State of California, only new electric vehicles can be sold in Delaware, although it does not explicitly ban fossil fuel-based cars.  Why would we want to do this?

According to an executive order signed by Governor Newsom of California, this is part of his draconian attempt to fight climate change. Remember that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant; it is a life-affirming gas that is needed by vegetation to thrive on our planet.  Carbon dioxide concentrations have been rising over the last thirty years and, except for selected areas of deforestation and urbanization, satellites have shown that a majority of the planet has become noticeably greener. The planet is becoming warmer, but carbon dioxide is merely a bit player in this manifestation of climate change. And no definitive trends exist in flood or drought frequencies, the frequency, intensity, or landfall potential of tropical cyclones, or the increase in the rate of sea-level rise.

Moreover, electric vehicles are not green. The batteries on which they run require extensive environmental degradation, particularly in China and Africa, to extract them from the earth. Their production requires much energy to produce, which is usually obtained from the combustion of fossil fuels. At present, the batteries cannot be recycled and thus they litter landfills. And most of the electricity produced, distributed through the grid, and used to recharge the batteries comes from the combustion of fossil fuels.

In Delaware, the stated reason why DNREC proposes to adopt the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations is to comply with EPAs ozone standard.  Tropospheric ozone (ozone near the surface) is a pollutant that damages vegetation and makes breathing difficult, particularly for those with asthma. But New Castle County currently complies with the EPA standard, although it is lumped in with the Philadelphia SMSA which does not.

Even left-leaning news outlets are questioning the wisdom of the California regulations.  The New York Times raises the concern that success depends on how well consumers take to electric cars and their limitations, and how rapidly auto manufacturers can solve the problems associated with mass production of electric vehicles.

Used vehicles are exempt, which could cause Delaware (or California) to become like Cuba where old used cars fill the highways.

The 1959 Cuban Revolution and the subsequent import embargo that Castro placed on foreign car imports and their parts stalled automobile development. Thus, Cuban streets were filled with 1950s vintage cars for decades afterwards.  After 2035, will Delaware look like Cuba did?

Both the Associated Press and The Washington Post notes these limitations but go on to argue that infrastructure issues can create further difficulties. Although California has 80,000 charging stations (the most in the country), they will need to increase that by a factor of 15 to refuel all of the new electric vehicles—Delaware will need many more as well.  Rural areas are more of a challenge; thus, Kent and Sussex Counties will lag behind.

Moreover, to accommodate these new electric vehicles, a more robust energy grid, an enhanced supply chain of materials such as lithium for batteries, and the availability and affordability of vehicles for all income levels are prerequisites.

It is premature to consider these regulations as the California ban on internal combustion engines has been challenged in court by 17 states, mostly in the Midwest.  The Missouri State Attorney General commented, “If California can set restrictive ‘gas emissions’ standards, manufacturing becomes astronomically expensive, and those additional costs are passed onto consumers, many of which are Missourians.”  If Delaware adopts such standards, expect consumer costs to skyrocket since the cost of transportation affects virtually everything that consumers purchase.

Given all of these challenges, it is highly premature to pursue a policy that will radically change our transportation, supply chain, and manufacturing network, and that will cause state taxes to rise astronomically to accommodate this policy.  If we make it more expensive for businesses to operate in Delaware, they are likely to move to another state, taking their jobs with them.  Since carbon dioxide is a life-affirming gas and that electric batteries are not green and require much energy, largely fossil-fuel based, to produce, this is not a viable economic and environmental choice.

Thus, a better solution would be to study the arguments of both sides of the existing litigation and wait to see the outcome in the courts. In the meantime, we must weigh the costs of this repressive policy in light of the adverse economic impacts that the policy is likely to have.  The correct path forward is to hold off on pushing this into State policy until more information and the court decision can be brought to bear.  Moreover, the state needs buy-in from its citizens rather than hurriedly enact this policy through a DNREC edict.