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Why US states should adopt California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Program

7 December 2021, 14:03 UTC 3 min read

For years, EV100 members have been leading the way to widespread electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Yet they still face a number of barriers to accelerating the automotive market transformation. In this year’s Progress and Insights Report, EV100 members cite an uncertain and underdeveloped policy landscape for EVs as one of the top five barriers to EV adoption. A majority of EV100 members are also calling on governments at all levels to implement phase-out targets for internal combustion engine vehicles, already implemented in California and considered by over a dozen other states.  

As the federal government remains quiet on EV regulation and gears up for new incentives, states are taking leadership by enacting state-level policies to advance EV uptake. We are particularly enthusiastic about the trend toward zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates, such as the measure included in California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program, which will stimulate EV supply and accelerate widespread EV adoption.

Map of the US

California’s Advanced Clean Cars regulations include low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards and a ZEV program rule, which have been adopted in some capacity by a total of sixteen states to date, commonly referred to as “177 States.” California’s ZEV program mandates that a certain percentage of new vehicles for sale produce zero tailpipe emissions, with increasing percentages of ZEVs required as model years increase. This type of requirement stimulates the supply of ZEVs within a state -- identified as a key driver in the recent EV100 position paper Key Policies to Drive the Electric Vehicle Transition in the US, as ZEV mandates translate phase out targets into manufacturer requirements. 

For nearly a decade, California has been the only state with the ability to set tailpipe emission standards that are stricter than the federal government’s, a unique power granted via waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other states are then allowed to adopt California’s stricter emission standards without seeking EPA approval of their own under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, hence the “177 States” nickname. 

So far a total of fourteen states have adopted California’s LEV and ZEV requirements, while two other states, Delaware and Pennsylvania, have only adopted the LEV standards. In 2021 alone, Virginia, Minnesota, and most recently Nevada approved clean car programs including both LEV and ZEV regulations. In each state, these regulations were ushered across the line with the support of diverse stakeholder groups such as the Nevada Clean Cars Coalition, representing environmental groups, nonprofits, local governments, and businesses such as EV100 member Siemens.  

Other states are on track to follow suit and adopt comprehensive clean car regulations: New Mexico recently released a draft clean cars rule, and Pennsylvania recently proposed a draft amendment for a ZEV program to enhance its Pennsylvania Clean Vehicles Program, which currently only includes LEV standards.  

Since January 2020, EV100 has been hard at work on advancing federal EV policy. Now turning to states on transportation policy, more state governments should adopt California’s ZEV program. Particular state policies of interest include getting Pennsylvania’s ZEV program rule across the line and encouraging North Carolina to start a clean cars rulemaking process. North Carolina currently has not adopted California’s ZEV program nor LEV standards, and would be a strategic next state to engage to adopt both these mandates. Recently the state has placed a heavy focus on reducing emissions from its transportation sector with plans such as the NC ZEV Plan and NC Motor Fleet ZEV Plan, along with Governor Cooper’s 2018 Executive Order calling for a 40% reduction of statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increasing the number of registered ZEVs to 80,000 by 2025. These commitments would be enhanced with a clean cars rule.

“We’re excited to see states such as Virginia, Minnesota, and Nevada adopt ZEV programs, and are eager to see the number of ‘177 States’ grow even more. As more states adopt ZEV regulations, more pressure is put on the federal government to implement ambitious EV targets and take action.”

Vartan Badalian, EV100 Program and Public Policy Manager at the Climate Group

Climate Group’s EV100 is in the unique position of being able to leverage member business presence at the state level by amplifying the voices of companies. Over the coming months, we plan to align with other policy advocacy groups to advance ZEV program adoption in states across the country.