May 17—An environmental advocacy group has called on Pennsylvania to speed up the transition from gasoline-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles to protect future generations from climate change.
"We are in the midst of a climate crisis," Flora Cardoni, field director of PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, a statewide nonprofit environmental advocacy group, said in a recent webinar.
The group released the findings of a study, Pennsylvania Zero-Emission Vehicles, ZEV: a Program for Clean Cars in the Commonwealth.
"As our study shows, by putting the pedal to the metal in promoting the transition to electric vehicles, Pennsylvania can dramatically reduce its climate pollution," Cardoni said. "This is crucial to help our health."
The automotive industry in Pennsylvania is committed to producing enough electric vehicles during the next decade to meet the demands of the consumers.
The petroleum industry remains confident that natural gas and oil will remain as the primary source of transportation energy, noting today's engines are running on cleaner fuels and lower emissions that are competitive with electric vehicles.
The Penn Environment study called for reducing climate pollution by 18 million metric tons by taking 4 million gasoline-fueled cars off the road in Pennsylvania.
Cardoni said the group is advocating for 100% renewable energy by 2050.
The study concluded that adopting a ZEV program that calls for 100% zero emissions in light-duty vehicle sales by 2035 will produce large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the pollutants that trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Light-duty vehicles include cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks.
The ZEV program would require Pennsylvania to set a timeframe to require automakers to increase the sale of electric vehicles.
In February, Gov. Tom Wolf put Pennsylvania on the path to adopting the ZEV program, directing the Department of Environmental Protection to begin drafting a rule requiring automakers to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles.
To make the transition, the state has to provide sufficient electric charging stations for the cars.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell directed the Bureau of Air Quality to develop a proposal for a ZEV requirement, reviewing California's ZEV requirements.
In 2008, Pennsylvania incorporated by reference California emission standards in Pennsylvania's Clean Vehicle program but did not include a ZEV component, according to Jamar Thrasher, DEP spokesperson.
The federal Clean Air Act allows states to adopt identical emission standards set by California or default to vehicles that meet federal emission standards.
California is the nation's leader in the development of programs for automakers to reduce emissions.
The California Air Resource Board is updating its ZEV with a new proposal called Advanced Clean Cars 2.
Thrasher said the Pennsylvania bureau is examining what California is proposing as part of the process of developing its ZEV requirements.
The Roadmap report
Meanwhile, the state DEP released the status of electric vehicles in a report, Pennsylvania Electric Vehicle Roadmap: 2021 Update.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in the report's introduction that transportation decisions affect Pennsylvania today and tomorrow.
McDonnell said government officials, business owners, school administrators, community leaders or consumers can turn in the direction of healthier air quality by switching to electric vehicles.
He said there are 12 million vehicles registered in Pennsylvania.
McDonnell said in the DEP report that combustion engine vehicles generate 47% of nitrogen oxides in the air statewide.
"This affects the health of children; older people; people with lung diseases, such as asthma and emphysema; and those who are active outside," McDonnell said in the Roadmap report.
McDonnell wrote that the electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and will result in Pennsylvanians breathing better.
The report states that DEP is funding 850 level 2 charging places, which are charging stations that are located at businesses and public locations. Those chargers typically provide 10 to 25 miles of driving range per hour.
DEP is also funding 25 fast charging stations, which are installed on highways and interchanges. A car, van or pickup truck will get 100 to 250 miles of driving range in 30 minutes from a fast charging station.
The DEP roadmap provides a plan for the transition:
— Establish an electric vehicle sales goal.
— Expand and improve consumer electric vehicle rebates.
— Conduct public outreach and education.
— Implement electric rate structures that encourage electric vehicles.
The asthma issue
During the webinar, state Rep. Darisha Parker, a Philadelphia Democrat, said she has asthma and this is the worst year for asthma.
Parker said she is concerned about the pollution plaguing children, especially people of color.
Dr. Gabriel Cisneros, pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke at the webinar from his electric vehicle.
The academy recommends transitioning away from fossil fuel to electric vehicles to save thousands of lives.
"Air pollution is a known contributor to asthma in children," Cisneros said.
According to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, about 1 in 7 children in Pennsylvania suffer from asthma.
Sarah Olexsak, manager of transportation electrification at Duquesne Light, an electric company in western Pennsylvania, said customers are interested in buying electric vehicles, but there aren't enough available to purchase in the state.
"By adopting the ZEV program here in the commonwealth, we can realize increased consumer choice and empower more Pennsylvanians to experience the benefits of electric mobility," Olexsak said.
The auto and truck dealers in Pennsylvania are excited to get on board with manufacturing more electric vehicles to meet the demands of customers, said Melanie Stine, spokeswoman for the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Automotive Association, a nonprofit agency that represents 1,000 new car and truck dealers.
As of March, there were 16,924 all-electric vehicles registered in Pennsylvania and 46,401 hybrid vehicles registered, according to PennDOT records.
"Manufacturers are committed to making the next decade the era of the electric vehicle, and Pennsylvania's dealers are excited to provide customers with the products and technology they want," Stine said. "As range improves and the charging infrastructure is built, we anticipate more customers will be willing to embrace making the move to electric vehicles."
Overall, sales of all-electric and hybrid vehicles total jumped 81% nationally in the first quarter of 2021, accounting for 7.8% of the total market and up from 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020, Stine said.
While EV sales are increasing, hybrid sales are increasing faster. There are 13 EV models available at franchise dealerships and more than 60 different hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles available in the U.S.
At least one auto manufacturer, Volvo, plans to be selling only electric cars by 2030.
Fossil fuels still formidable
The petroleum industry is confident that natural gas and oil will remain the primary source of transportation energy.
Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, said the institute supports technology that reduces emissions and meets the consumers' needs.
"Even by the most aggressive estimates of EV market penetration in the transportation sector, it is clear that the primary sources of transportation energy will continue to be natural gas and oil," Wissman said.
The International Energy Association, based in Paris, projected that natural gas and oil will provide close to half the world's energy needs in 2040, and 62% of the world's transportation demand.
Wissman said modern engines running on cleaner fuels and hybrid technology offer emission reductions that are competitive with today's electric vehicles, especially when considering the vehicles' manufacturing, operation, and disposal stages.
"Ensuring Pennsylvania's ability to drive future generations of lower emissions vehicles requires a balanced approach that protects consumer choice and supports innovative technologies, including those using natural gas and oil," Wissman said.