By BRETT DAVIS
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The Washington Department of Ecology has decided not to do a cost analysis of adopting California’s prohibition on the sale of new gas-powered vehicles, drawing criticism.
California regulators passed a measure in August requiring all new sales of passenger cars, trucks and SUVs to be powered by electricity or hydrogen by 2035, with one-fifth allowed to be plug-in hybrids. It doesn’t ban the use of gas-powered vehicles or the sale of used vehicles.
In 2020, Washington lawmakers passed legislation – and Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law – directing the Department Ecology to adopt California’s emissions standards as they’re rolled out.
“Because the statute provides no discretion to Ecology in adopting the zero emission vehicle standards, conducting a regulatory analysis on the emission standards would not be appropriate,” Ecology spokesperson Andrew Wineke told The Center Square via email. “This is consistent with rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, RCW 34.05.328, which states, ‘This section does not apply to: …(v) Rules the content of which is explicitly and specifically dictated by statute, including any rules of the department of revenue adopted under the authority of RCW 82.32.762(3).’”
Jason Mercier and Todd Myers, analysts at the free market Washington Policy Center, had some things to say about this decision.
Mr. Mercier questioned the decision on the grounds of a judicial doctrine at the federal and state levels that one legislative body cannot limit or restrict its own power or that of subsequent legislatures.
“It is true current law requires them to adopt,” he said. “It is true that law can be changed by the next Legislature. Why would you blindly implement something without being able to tell lawmakers if the decision to follow California makes sense?”
Mr. Mercier referenced a 2007 Washington State Supreme Court decision, Washington State Farm Bureau Federation v. Christine Gregoire, in which then-Justice Mary Fairhurst, wrote, “It is a fundamental principle of our system of government that the legislature has plenary power to enact laws, except as limited by our state and federal constitutions. Each duly elected legislature is fully vested with this plenary power. No legislature can enact a statute that prevents a future legislature from exercising its law-making power. That which a prior legislature has enacted, the current legislature can amend or repeal.”
Mr. Myers thinks that, analysis or no, the whole process is shot through with politics.
“Estimating the costs of banning EVs by 2035 is a fool’s errand,” he said. “There are so many unknown variables, including the pace of technology development, economic conditions, geopolitical tension that affects supply chains, and other factors we haven’t considered. So, to some extent, any estimate they would develop would be useless.”
Mr. Myers went on to say, “Indeed, any goal evenly divisible by five – 100% by 2035 – is based on politics, not a rational assessment of what is possible. So the basis of the analysis is flawed and irrational to begin with.”
Not that it would matter, in his estimation.
“And what would they do if they found the cost was high?” he asked. “Would the governor change his mind? Of course not. He has already announced Washington will set the goal. To a large extent, any cost-benefit analysis is useless as a decision tool since the decision has been made.”
Inslee announced his support for the plan on social media, tweeting, “This is a critical milestone in our climate fight. Washington set in law a goal for all new car sales to be zero emissions by 2030 and we’re ready to adopt California’s regs by end of this year.”
Mr. Myers retorted, “Politicians love to make promises about the future without any sense of cost or reality.”
Nevertheless, it appears to be full speed ahead on the transition to new electric vehicles in the Evergreen State.
“While the regulations Ecology is proposing set a deadline of 2035 for new, light-duty cars and trucks to meet zero emission standards, our state is working to make that transition as quickly as possible, and a group of state agencies led by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation are developing a plan to accelerate the shift,” Wineke said. “As part of that effort, they are investigating the impacts of switching to zero emission vehicles and the steps needed to successfully make the transition. You can find more information at EV Coordinating Council – Washington State Department of Commerce.”
He also pointed out that Washingtonians can weigh in on the issue.
“We formally proposed the new ZEV [zero-emissions vehicle] regulations (Wednesday), and we are accepting public comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 19,” Mr. Wineke said.
Brett Davis covers the Washington state government for The Center Square.