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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Chris Corry: Even subsidized, Washington’s electric vehicle objectives won’t be met

By Chris Corry

If a car is sold across the border in Idaho, should Washington’s car dealerships be held accountable for what kind of car was sold?

It’s an absurd question, but statute interpretation by one agency makes it a necessary one.

Let me explain.

Washington state has outsourced its zero-emission vehicle standards to California, literally adopting them by reference in the Washington Administrative Code. The ultimate mandate is that 100% of all new vehicles sold by 2035 must be electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

To get to that goal, the requirements start ramping up almost immediately. In 2026, for example, regulations require EVs and PHEVs to account for 35% of sales of new vehicles.

Using the state’s estimates, in order to reach that 35% in 2026, about 20.5% of new vehicle sales needed to be EV/PHEV in 2023. According to data released by the Department of Ecology, only 18.8% met the qualifications (but even this number is problematic).

Looking at 2024, first quarter new vehicle registrations were at 19%, not nearly on pace to meet the 2024 goal of 27.4%. To meet the goal, 30% of all vehicles sold for the rest of the year would need to be EV/PHEV, a highly unlikely scenario despite the significant new subsidy introduced by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The state’s projection suggests that the subsidy will result in the addition of 8,767 electric vehicles to the roads. If we presume these vehicles would have been gasoline-powered without the subsidy – a dubious presumption – then for the remainder of the year, EVs or PHEVs would need to account for 27% of all new vehicle sales. This assumes the entire $45 million incentive allocation be used within 2024, which implies additional substantial subsidies would be required to meet targets next year.

There’s also a discrepancy that raises concerns. There is a significant variance between the state’s reported figure – 18.8% of new cars sold in 2023 being EVs or PHEVs, a statistic derived from third-party sources – and the actual registration data showing 17.8%.

The electric vehicle mandate in Washington integrates California’s benchmarks and regulations by specific reference. Staff members from the California Air Resources Board made clear their zero-emission vehicle mandate applies only to vehicles sold within California’s borders. This mandate excludes the resale of pre-owned vehicles and those initially sold in other states and later brought into California.

Washington State Department of Ecology holds a different stance. It asserts that new vehicles acquired from outside Washington contribute to the state’s ZEV objectives. According to the Department of Ecology, “new vehicles that are newly purchased out of state and brought to Washington are counted toward manufacturers’ sales requirements under Washington’s Zero Emission Vehicle standard.” This interpretation appears at odds with California’s regulations and may be deemed unlawful.

State legislation mandates the Department of Ecology establish regulations that align with California’s motor vehicle emission standards, including the zero-emission vehicle program. These rules are to be updated periodically to remain in sync with California’s standards. Given that California’s regulations exclude vehicles acquired outside its jurisdiction, extending the scope to encompass new vehicles purchased out of state deviates from the law.

The implications of this discrepancy are significant. Automobile dealerships in Washington would be held responsible for vehicles bought in Idaho and then imported into Washington. Counting these out-of-state purchases toward the state’s targets would present a more challenging and expensive scenario for meeting the goals.

The EV mandate in Washington is needlessly costly and restricting. Based on the state’s projections, it appears unlikely the target, which is a mere two years ahead, will be achieved – even with the substantial infusion of taxpayer funds aimed at bolstering EV sales.

This is only the latest example of Washington state settling instead for expensive, headline-grabbing initiatives that project accomplishment without achieving it. Our state deserves better.

Chris Corry is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center and lives with his wife and children in Yakima. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.