Power surge

A new law will mandate that all new cars sold in New York State must be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, with most trucks following suit by 2045. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law to ban the sale of vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 2035.

It’s an ambitious plan, part of the state’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades. The state Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019.

This mandates that the state obtain at least 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, New York must achieve zero-emission energy by 2040 and lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% when 2050 rolls around.

The bill signed by Hochul on Sept. 8 will require cars to electric in 14 years and trucks to follow suit in 24 years.

“Gov. Kathy Hochul today announced new actions to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from the transportation sector. The governor signed legislation (A4302/S2758), setting a goal for all new passenger cars and trucks sold in New York state to be zero emissions by 2035. In addition, the governor directed the Department of Environmental Conservation to release a proposed regulation that would significantly reduce air pollution from trucks. If adopted, the regulation would accelerate zero-emission truck sales, resulting in improved air quality statewide and in particular those communities disproportionately impacted by transportation-related pollution,” according to a news release issued Sept. 8 by Hochul’s office. “Under the new law, new off-road vehicles and equipment sold in New York are targeted to be zero-emissions by 2035 and new medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045. The law also requires the development of a zero-emissions vehicle development strategy by 2023, which will be led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to expedite the implementation of the state policies and programs necessary to achieve the law’s new goals.”

This move is prompting some municipalities in WesternNew York to take stock of the vehicles they’ll need to replace in the near future. Communities also must determine how many charging stations they’ll need to install to meet the demand resulting from this law.

As a matter of fact, up to 12 electric vehicles visited Mount Morris on Saturday as part of a special ride and drive event.

It’s good for public officials to start having these conversations. They don’t want to be caught off-guard when the mandates take place.

Given the threats we’re facing from climate change, New York has taken bold steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Obviously, it’s important for governments on all levels to adopt effective measures that will address the problems.

But while it sounds progressive, mandating electric vehicles raises other questions. The cars themselves will produce zero emissions — fantastic!

However, what about their sources of energy? Will New York figure out how to cut its reliance on carbon-based power by the time it requires zero-emission vehicles?

The state is putting a lot of emphasis on wind and solar projects to generate a sufficient supply of energy for regions needing the most power. In the process of carrying this out, though, the north country is being pressured to host many of these facilities.

What commitment does New York have to using hydroelectric power? Many have questioned the state’s desire to take advantage of what Northern New York has to offer with this energy source after recently signing a deal with Hydro-Québec, a Canadian company, to provide power for New York City.

Nuclear power also must be part of the energy solution for the state. But the closure of Indian Point power plant earlier this year reveals the challenges being confronted by this industry.

Another major concern with the state’s mandate that new vehicles be emission free is if residents will actually comply with an order from Albany to buy specific cars. While the law doesn’t directly compel people to purchase electric vehicles (they could still obtain used cars with combustible engines), we have to believe this is a sign of things to come.

No government should force constituents to purchase an item they don’t want. This practice must be left to the free market. Once residents recognize the advantage of using emission-zero vehicles, they’ll start buying them in larger quantities — bypassing the need for a government mandate.

In addition, how will this law affect interstate travel by New Yorkers? Electric vehicles are beneficial for moving around communities, particularly those with an adequate number of charging stations.

But visiting other states could become problematic for New York residents with electric cars. Will these people get jammed up if the state they’re in doesn’t have enough charging stations or facilities with the charging capacity they require?

Will New Yorkers be inclined to buy their new vehicles in other states to get around this problem? What effect will this have on sales tax revenue from car dealerships? Will Albany eventually decree that gas stations must be phased out?

Strongly encouraging the use of electric vehicles without compelling it would be a better policy from the state government. While doing this, New York should find ways to create more charging stations. Officials also need to study the economic effects these mandates will have in the near future.

Moving away from fossil fuels is key to reversing the disturbing trends of climate change. However, questions linger about how the state will achieve the objectives it has set forth. We need some answers on these issues before putting implementing these changes.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1