The Baker administration says a 5-year-old program that gives tax rebates to people who buy electric vehicles served its purpose, to the point where accelerated demand and lack of funding from the Legislature will end the program Sept. 30.
But environmental groups, which are keeping their eyes on state efforts to curtail car and truck emissions and increase the number of zero-emission vehicles by 2025, say ending the program is a “huge lost opportunity.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said recently that he supports the rebate program and has approved legislation making more plug-in charging stations available. But it’s the Legislature that must fund the program, which has paid out 14,473 rebates since 2014, totaling nearly $30 million, according to the state Department of Energy Resources. The Baker administration asked for more money in the next fiscal year budget for the program, but lawmakers didn’t approve it, opting instead to consider several proposals to extend the program beyond Sept. 30.
Rep. Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, said the rebate program “has been extremely successful, so it would be very disappointing to see it go away.”
The question before lawmakers seems to be how to fund it. One source under study would be creation of a regional “cap-and-invest” program involving Massachusetts and eight other states. Money from that program could be funneled into the electric vehicle rebate program and other emissions-reduction efforts.
Massachusetts was among states that committed to ramping up the market for zero-emission vehicles in 2013. But the Association of Global Automakers says the Bay State is only 7.5% of the way toward its 2025 sales requirement of 300,000 zero-emission vehicles.
The argument could be made that the increased sales of Tesla, Toyota and other electric vehicles are making the market more competitive and the vehicles more mainstream. Tesla brought out the lower-priced Model 3, which sells for about $35,000, to try to meet the demand for zero-emission cars. And the seemingly ubiquitous Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid and all-electric models have proven popular in the state. It’s likely many people in the market for a vehicle that won’t contribute to climate change every time you turn on the ignition won’t be dissuaded by lack of a $1,500 rebate.
Environmental groups would argue the rebate program does encourage consumers to consider electric vehicles and puts the issue into the public spotlight where it should be.
“Now is the time to take bold action to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and make them accessible to everyone, not gut crucial programs like the MOR-EV rebate program,” Gina Coplon Newfield of the Sierra Club said recently. “We are in the midst of a climate crisis and transportation is the biggest source of emissions” in the state and across the country.
“Supporting financial incentives for people to be able to go electric must be treated as a priority,” she said.
Amy Laura Cahn, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program, told State House News Service, “Eliminating the program without providing alternatives takes away needed resources and threatens to set us back in reaching our climate goals.”
The question, as is so often the case on Beacon Hill, is where the money comes from to continue the rebate program. The governor says he supports it, the Legislature is still considering ideas for continuing it, and environmental groups believe these incentives are essential in the efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
It appears the only things holding back funding to help people “go electric” are inertia and leadership. Someone on Beacon Hill needs to step up, find the money, and continue this rebate program into 2020.