New Hampshire lags behind other states in dealing with greenhouse gases from vehicles

Kylie Valluzzi

Granite State News Collaborative

Published: 04-02-2024 1:26 PM

Emissions from motor vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse emissions in New Hampshire, according to the 2024 Priority Climate Action Plan.

Yet New Hampshire, unlike every other New England state, has not adopted California’s low-emissions vehicle standards. Legislators rejected establishing those standards in 2023, and they show little interest in adopting them now.

Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of New Hampshire’s greenhouse emissions, a primary cause of global warming. CO2 accounted for 92% of those emissions in 2019, a total of 15.8 million metric tons — and 46.5% of that came from cars and trucks. Vehicle emissions are also the biggest contributor to ground-level ozone, another greenhouse gas, which is created by a chemical reaction of nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds and ultraviolet light, according to a report from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. More than 63 percent of nitrous oxides and nearly one-third of volatile organic compounds are produced by vehicle emissions.

If heat-trapping emissions like those continue at the current rate, New Hampshire’s climate is likely to be more like South Carolina’s by 2050, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Nationally in 2019, transportation accounted for 33% of greenhouse gas emissions, and so could be one of the biggest parts of the solution to the climate crisis. But while other states have acted with urgency, New Hampshire has lagged, even though 45.9% of N.H. greenhouse gases were caused by transportation.

What are California’s low-emissions vehicle standards?

California has unique authority to set its own emission standards because it adopted vehicle regulations that preceded the federal Clean Air Act of 1970, prompted by air-quality problems related largely to motor vehicles. Although states other than California are not permitted to develop their own emissions standards, Section 177 of the federal Clean Air Act authorizes other states to adopt California’s standards that are tougher than federal requirements.

So far, 12 states have adopted California’s standards – every New England state except New Hampshire, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Has NH considered adopting CALEV?

When it comes to CALEV legislation in the Northeast, “we’re the donut hole,” said state Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord. She was the primary sponsor of House Bill 92, which last year came within 25 votes of being passed by the N.H. House of Representatives.

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The bill would have set “innovative vehicle emissions standards” under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act.

According to the introduction to HB92, vehicles sold in New Hampshire already comply with the California emissions standards because federal and California standards have been harmonized through 2025. However, consumers cannot benefit from the eight-year, 80,000-mile extended warranty provisions of the California standards because New Hampshire has not formally adopted the standards. The extended warranty would cover emissions-related component repairs — such as catalytic converters, transmission control modules, powertrain control modules and/or engine control units — for vehicles up to eight years old or up to 80,000 miles, whichever came first.

And, the introduction states, New Hampshire car dealers cannot obtain some types of vehicles because manufacturers allocate them only to CALEV states, thus limiting consumer choice of these vehicles. Further, the bill states, adopting California’s standards would allow New Hampshire to benefit from reduced emissions after 2025, when the federal and California emissions standards will no longer be in alignment.

The bill, introduced in December 2022, came within 25 votes of passing in the House but met strong Republican opposition and ultimately failed, 194-171, in March 2023. Republicans made up 187 of the nays; the others were six Democrats and one independent.

House Republicans contacted for this report did not comment on their decision to turn down the bill. But in a statement issued following the March 9, 2023 vote, Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Rockingham, called the bill “extremist legislation.”

“We should let the free market dictate which cars consumers purchase,” he said.

During that March 9 House session, Thomas said, “We don’t need this amendment. For one thing, it’s not ready, it’s redundant; we have a lot of studies out there already to provide the same information. Please, we don’t need this amendment.”

Rep. McWilliams said members of the N.H. Automobile Dealers Association overwhelmingly want to join CALEV standards because now it’s difficult for them to get electric vehicles and hybrids to sell — those cars are going to surrounding states that have already adopted CALEV standards. Manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors are moving in the direction of EVs, and dealers want to stay abreast of market changes, she said.

However, Dan Bennett, president of the N.H. Automobile Dealers Association, wouldn’t go so far as to endorse HB92. Rather, he said, ”NHADA believes that incentivizing behavior, especially given the natural market demand for hybrid and fully-electric vehicles, would be more impactful on lowering emissions without creating new government mandates.”

Beyond the ranks of car dealers, some companies already offer rebates that help make electric vehicles more affordable. The New Hampshire Electric Co-Op, for example, offers an incentive to ratepayers for installing up to two Level 2 or larger charging stations at their homes – they usually cost between $400 and $700. While the incentive is up to $300 per charging station and $600 per customer, the installation costs can be considerably higher, depending on the age of the home, available amps and location of the charger in relation to the circuit box.

In addition, EV buyers may qualify for a federal tax break of up to $7,500 if they buy a new, qualified plug-in EV or fuel cell electric vehicle.

What’s going on in other states?

Nearby states that have adopted California’s regulations report economic benefits from adopting the CALEV standards.

For instance, Vermont adopted CALEV standards in 1996. According to Drive Electric Vermont, a statewide public-private partnership of policymakers, industry leaders and citizens working to accelerate transportation electrification, $1.1 billion was spent in Vermont on taxable gasoline and diesel sales in 2010. Had that travel had been powered by electricity, the cost would have been $275 million, saving over $800 million in one year, according to the organization’s website. [???? Does that mean that if all of the travel had been electric, there still would have been $275 million in gasoline and diesel sales? I can’t find the info from Drive Electric]

“Those funds and a large portion of the electricity cost would have remained in Vermont and with consumers,” the website reads.

Going electric also keeps money in consumers’ pockets, studies say. On average, rural Vermont drivers saved $519 in 2018 by switching from gasoline to electricity, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. And according to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the average total cost of ownership over 10 years for an electric all-wheel-drive SUV crossover is $3,300 cheaper than the gasoline version of the same vehicle.

As of January 2024, there were 12,754 EVs in the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles registration database, up 44% from 2023. In 2019, there were 2,985 EVs registered in the database.

Future of transportation emissions in New Hampshire

In another effort to encourage Granite Staters to buy electric, Rep. McWilliams introduced HB1472 in February of this year, a “cash on the hood” program that would give point-of-sale rebates to EV buyers. The bill, which would dedicate $3 million from proceeds from the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency Fund, has been postponed indefinitely.

“It’s about making the marketplace a little bit more financially viable for people who would consider switching,” she said of her proposals. “We get to decide as legislators what (the market) direction is and we get to create incentives and occasionally roadblocks, in this case mostly incentives, to direct the market.”

As for HB92, Rep. McWilliams says she will likely propose a similar bill in the future. In the meantime, she urges N.H. residents to call their representatives, call their senators, and have a conversation about where the market’s going.

“Talk about it,” she said, “because I think a lot of times these things get swept under the rug and there are a lot of platitudes that you hear during election years — a ‘let the market decide’ attitude.”

Climate Action Plan, revisited

Last August, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services received a $3 million grant from the EPA to update the state’s 2009 Climate Action Plan. The agency plans to use the existing plan “as a framework to start and will focus on actionable measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with an eye toward desired grant opportunities,” according to the agency’s website.

On March 1, the state identified priority projects within the Climate Action Plan. Consistent with 2009 findings, the transportation sector is still the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and those emissions have remained relatively constant for the past two decades.

In its effort to reduce those emissions, New Hampshire is prioritizing the deployment of electric charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, providing incentives for consumers to buy electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and supporting expansion of public transportation options.

Unlike the 2009 Climate Action Plan, the new plan does not mention adopting CALEV standards.

“I don’t believe we have 10 years to wait for this transition to happen,” McWilliams said. “I think that we’re in a climate emergency now, and so these decisions that we make as policymakers need to be bold and they need to actually have impacts on our local air emissions and market direction.”