by Sue Jones, NRCM energy project director
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (Council). I am Sue Jones, and am the Energy Project Director for the Council. I live in Freeport. The Council is a public interest, nonprofit organization that seeks to protect and conserve Maine’s environment for now and future generations. As part of the Council’s work, we advocate for clean air and energy measures, including those that reduce global warming pollution.
The Council supports LDs 275, 305, 308 and 778 because they support the additional purchase and sale of cleaner cars and their necessary infrastructure development in Maine. Cars and trucks represent the largest source of air and global warming pollution in Maine, and reducing their emissions is necessary in order to reduce costly environmental, economic and public health impacts.
We commend each of the sponsors for their leadership in proposing these important incentives. The following are the Council’s comments on each of the bills:
LD 308: This bill, extending the sunset clause for the use of the existing incentive to build new service stations, is a necessary and worthwhile proposal. It helps to address the classic “chicken and the egg” dilemma that we need incentives to support both infrastructure development and additional sales of cleaner vehicles. We support passage.
The other 3 bills promoting cleaner cars purchase incentives – LDs 275, 305, and 778 – are also all worthy for your consideration. The car market is at a turning point for new technologies with the recent introduction of hybrid and other clean fuel vehicles in the recent few years. As such, with any new technology that is trying to make it into a tough, competitive market such as the car market, cleaner car incentives for all such vehicles will need to be maintained, and even strengthened periodically, at least for the next ten or so years. These three bills all address this necessary task and we thank all of the sponsors for their leadership in proposing them. However, there is some bit of redundancy to them all taken together.
LD 275: This bill proposes a 100% sales tax exemption for purchasers of hybrid, or fuel cell vehicles. This is a worthy and important bill because it would promote additional sales of cleaner cars in Maine that would reduce the amount of air and global warming pollution that we generate in-state. In addition, it would boost our economy, save Mainers’ fuel costs, and keep more of our money in our local economies.
LD 305: This bill builds on LD 275, but also extends the 100% sales tax exemption to vehicles converted to be clean fuel vehicles, and propose a small surcharge on low-mileage vehicles. In regard to the first proposal, the Council suspects that there will be very few conversions made in Maine that will meet the current definition of clean fuel vehicles. Because conversions are typically made to use cleaner fuels, and designed to be driven interchangeably with both cleaner and dirtier fuels, we feel the best and most enforceable way to promote conversions would be to create incentives at refilling stations to use the cleaner fuels.
As to the second part, the Council supports a small surcharge on the sales or lease price of low-mileage vehicles. Many consumers do not yet know that there are comparable vehicles with vastly different mileage ratings. Many also do not know the significant savings that they can make by switching to comparable vehicles that are more efficient and less polluting. Maine’s DEP has significant and recent experience in creating educational and incentive programs that have tried to overcome this dilemma. We support additional incentives like this that help to change consumer behavior in a more positive way that saves fuel, fuel costs, and protects the environment and public health. This is a modest surcharge that sends a reasonable message to consumers – and manufacturers – and that could help support the needs and services of the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality that desperately need a source of funding. (See also DEP’s LD on funding the Air Bureau for more details).
LD 778: This bill builds further on the two previous LDs, but adds an excise tax exemption for the first 3 years of the vehicle’s life. This bonus would create an additional incentive to the sales tax incentive that would create a stronger incentive for the purchase of cleaner vehicles. The Council supports the strongest measures to encourage the additional sales and use of all cleaner vehicles in Maine.
The urgency of immediately addressing the need to reduce global warming pollution in Maine, especially from cars and trucks, should not be underestimated. Buying habits in Maine make it difficult to reduce air and global warming pollution from our cars and trucks in any immediate way. By example, Maine consumers tend to hang onto their old cars and trucks for nearly 2 years longer than the national average. Moreover, 70% of the new cars sales in Maine are for used cars, thereby making it difficult to reduce the total emissions coming from our statewide fleet of vehicles. We support your passing the strongest set of incentives that are reasonable and possible.
The Council believes that helping Maine citizens and businesses transition to purchasing cleaner vehicles is an important and significant role that we can play to reduce global warming pollution and its impacts in Maine.
Global warming is a threat that will have real impacts to Maine. Some of the expected outcomes caused by global warming pollution in Maine include: