To encourage more electric vehicles, Illinois should adopt California emission standards

The more states adopt higher standards on auto emissions, the sooner our nation will move away from vehicles that emit climate-warming gases.

SHARE To encourage more electric vehicles, Illinois should adopt California emission standards

A row of 2021 Bolt electric vehicles sits at a Chevrolet dealership in this photograph taken in Englewood, Colorado.

AP file photo

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he wants to put more electric cars on Illinois roads. He is missing an opportunity to jump-start that effort.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have joined California in setting higher standards for auto emissions than those required by federal law. Illinois should join them and also become part of a coalition of states that is pushing more stringent standards for big trucks. Illinois would be cementing its emerging status as a leader in producing electric vehicles.

Rivian Automotive, a startup in downstate Normal, is close to producing electric vehicles in a former Mitsubishi Motors plant, leading Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to declare on Thursday that Illinois is poised to be the electric vehicle Silicon Valley of the 21st century.

Then, on Friday, the Lion Electric Co. announced the nation’s biggest zero-emission bus and truck factory in the United States will break ground in Joliet in the second half of this year, creating 745 jobs and producing up to 20,000 vehicles a year.

By adopting California’s standards, which encourage the manufacture of zero-emission vehicles, Illinois would be helping to build the market for those vehicles. To meet the California standards, manufacturers would have to sell a greater percentage each year of vehicles with low or zero tailpipe emissions, including electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

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If states that comprise more than half of the nation’s population were all to adopt California’s emission standards, automakers would have a strong incentive to design and manufacture more zero-emission cars and fewer gas-guzzling autos with internal combustion engines. If Minnesota and New Mexico, which are going through a rule-making process to adopt the standards, actually do so, the states adopting standards modeled on California’s would represent 38.1% of the nation’s population. Illinois could bring that percentage up to 42%, according to the Illinois Environmental Council.

To join the other states, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will have to propose these more stringent clean car standards to the Illinois Pollution Control Board. If the board signs on, the standards then will have to be approved by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

We understand why Illinois didn’t get around to this any sooner. A Trump administration rule in 2019 sought to bar states from setting their own rules on greenhouse gases, zero emissions and fuel economy. With a rule like that in place, trying to adopt stricter standards didn’t seem like a practical priority. But on April 22, the Biden administration said it was moving to revoke that rule. The U.S. Department of Transportation is accepting public comment on the change for one month.

Getting more electric vehicles on the roads would go a long way toward helping President Joe Biden reach his goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Transportation is now the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

In a proposed clean energy bill, Pritzker is pushing for a $4,000-per-car subsidy to encourage electric car sales. He has set a goal of a million electric cars on Illinois roads by 2030, nearly a seventh of the state’s fleet. On April 29, the governor revised a former Gov. Bruce Rauner-era plan on distributing Illinois’ share of a multibillion-dollar Volkswagen settlement for violating the federal Clean Air Act, setting aside $88.6 million for electric vehicles and infrastructure. Charging stations in downtown parking garages already are a common sight.

All these steps will help get more electric vehicles on the roads. Adopting emissions standards that become more stringent each year, based on California’s, would do even more, and further encourage construction of infrastructure for charging up electric vehicles.

Illinois consumers also would see the wider range of electric vehicles on showroom floors that residents of California see now. And they would be able to buy cleaner versions of gasoline-powered cars. As it stands now, automakers sell more environmentally friendly versions of the exact same cars in California than they do in Illinois, pointed out Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter.

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Opponents say states with cleaner air than California’s have no need to crack down on tailpipe emissions. Because it suffers from high levels of air pollution, California was granted a waiver under the federal 1970 Clean Air Act to keep its tougher standards. But greenhouse gases dangerously warm the planet regardless of which state they originate from, whether California, Illinois or Florida. And gasoline-powered vehicles spew out other pollutants, as well, that foul the air of our state.

With more than 279 million passenger vehicles now on U.S. roads, it won’t be easy to transition to a fleet without internal combustion engines. Cars last longer than they used to. Even if, starting today, every new vehicle driven off a dealer’s lot were electric, it would take an estimated 16 years to make a full transition.

Illinois should do all it can to push that transition along as quickly as reasonably possible. It’s good for the planet — and good for our state’s economy.

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