Op-ed: No time to waste in state’s urgent transition to zero-emission vehicles

The following op-ed by NYLCV President Julie Tighe, appeared in Crain’s New York Business, available here.

New York’s environmental movement is at a critical juncture. In order to meet the ambitious goals established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state must take action.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has made strides by advancing large-scale renewable energy projects throughout the state. New Yorkers began to realize the benefits of these projects in December as the first offshore wind turbines began powering homes on Long Island with clean, renewable energy. However, clean power generation is only one part of the solution. The state must also reduce carbon emissions in economic sectors such as transportation.

One of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in New York is the transportation sector – accounting for nearly one-third of the state’s total emissions. Confronting this sector is key to addressing the climate crisis and serves as a critical step toward creating a cleaner, greener New York. To be successful, we need to sell many more electric vehicles and begin transitioning vehicles with combustion engines, especially trucks and buses, to renewable fuels.

Unfortunately, traditional auto dealers have not done their part to help the state meet its goal of getting 850,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. In fact, we are nowhere near meeting it, while California is exceeding its transition goals. The biggest difference between the two states’ approach toward ZEVs is that California currently allows electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to consumers throughout the state while New York only allows for five “direct sales” locations, which are mostly located downstate. Unfortunately, the New York State legislature continues to oppose legislation that would allow for the expansion of new “direct sales” locations out of concern of its impact on traditional auto-dealers.

Recently Sen. Pete Harckham introduced legislation that offers a compromise. The bill would require the state to track the sale of ZEVs in New York. Various state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Department of Transportation, would be required to provide regular reports on the sales of new zero-emission vehicles by car dealers in the state. These reports would begin in December 2024 and continue bi-annually until December 2034. If the initial report shows that less than 35% of vehicle sales in 2026 will be zero-emission vehicles, the Department of Motor Vehicles must issue up to ten registration certificates for entities that manufacture or assemble ZEVs without franchised dealers in New York.

The legislation is a well-crafted solution. It gives traditional auto dealers the opportunity to help the state meet its goals and only changes the status quo if New York continues to fall behind. Further, in a time of economic uncertainty, Harckham’s plan has no impact on state taxpayers, making it an economically responsible approach to an environmental challenge. The bill’s focus on actionable data will provide legislators with concrete metrics to adjust policy while ensuring that environmental strategies are rooted in reality and effectiveness.

The New York League of Conservation Voters, along with other like-minded environmental groups, are urging the legislature to pass this bill. It’s time for New York to take the driver’s seat in the journey towards a cleaner, greener and sustainable future.