Cleaner Cars for PA

Pennsylvania recently announced plans to join the Zero-Emission Vehicle program, which reduces transportation emissions by requiring automakers to deploy clean, emission-free vehicles. Transitioning to electric vehicles will improve air quality and public health while helping the commonwealth reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to meet its climate goals.

Transportation is one of Pennsylvania’s leading sources of the air pollution that harms our health and contributes to global warming. One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and more than a third of the nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to harmful ozone smog come from highway vehicles.

To cut carbon pollution, clean our air and end our dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, Pennsylvania must begin a rapid transition to clean, zero-emission electric vehicles.

Since 1990, the Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program has been one of states’ most effective tools for spurring the development and adoption of electric and other clean vehicles. The ZEV program sets sales requirements for automakers, requiring them to sell a steadily increasing percentage of zero-emission and near-zero-emission vehicles over time.

By adopting the ZEV program with a strong 100% electric vehicle sales goal, Pennsylvania can cut carbon pollution from light-duty cars and trucks by 75% by 2050 versus today’s levels, or by nearly two-thirds compared to a business-as-usual scenario with limited electrification after 2026.

In February 2021, Governor Tom Wolf put Pennsylvania on the path to adopting the ZEV program, directing the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality to begin drafting a rule requiring automakers to sell a certain percentage of EVs. Pennsylvania would join 13 other states in adopting the Zero-Emission Vehicle program if it were the next to do so.

Transportation is a major source of pollution in Pennsylvania.

  • Transportation produced 24% of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gases in 2017, with motor gasoline use in light-duty vehicles accounting for the majority of transportation emissions.
  • Vehicles are also big contributors to poor air quality. Highway vehicles produced more than one-third of Pennsylvania’s emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides in 2017, as well as nearly 5% of primary emissions of small particle pollution. Air pollution from smog and small particle matter has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular damage, worsened mental health and increased cancer risk.
  • A 2020 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that 4,800 Pennsylvanians died prematurely due to exposure to air pollution in 2018 – the highest per capita rate of premature death of any state in the country.

Clean electric vehicles are ready to roll in Pennsylvania.

  • There are 19 models of all-electric light-duty vehicles available in the U.S. as of early 2021. Dozens more models – including pickups and SUVs – are on the way in the next several years.
    • Forty new all-electric light-duty models are expected in the U.S. by 2023, including a growing array of electric pickups and SUVs. Almost 100 models should be available by the end of 2024.
    • GM announced it intends to sell only electric light-duty vehicles by 2035, and Volvo committed to doing so by 2030.
  • The past decade has seen dramatic declines in the cost of electric vehicle batteries and dramatic increases in vehicle range – making EVs an increasingly attractive option for Pennsylvanians.
    • The median EV model sold in 2020 traveled 250 miles on a charge – more than three times as far as the median EV sold in 2011.
    • The price of lithium-ion batteries fell by 89% between 2010 and 2020. By 2023, average battery pack prices are predicted to fall to around $100/kWh – a price point at which the sticker price of EVs will become competitive with conventional vehicles.
    • The total cost of ownership of EVs is already lower than gasoline powered vehicles. EVs typically save users between $6,000 and $10,000 over the lifetime of the vehicles due to lower fuel and maintenance costs.
  • Electric vehicles running off of Pennsylvania’s existing grid produce less than a third of the carbon dioxide per mile of conventional gasoline vehicles. EVs will only become cleaner as more renewable energy comes onto the grid.

The ZEV program is a proven tool for accelerating the deployment of clean electric vehicles.

  • Part of the Advanced Clean Cars Program (which includes the Low-Emission Vehicle program Pennsylvania adopted in 2001), the ZEV program requires car manufacturers to sell electric vehicles and other advanced vehicles in states that have adopted the program.
  • The ZEV program currently requires automakers to obtain credits corresponding to their production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. By 2025, electric vehicles could comprise up to 8% of light-duty vehicle sales in states with the program.
  • Reflecting the maturity of electric vehicle technology and the urgent need for climate action, the ZEV program will become even more ambitious after 2025, with California having announced its intention to move to 100% sales of zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2035.

Adopting the Zero-Emission Vehicle program will cut carbon pollution and help clear Pennsylvania’s air.

  • A ZEV program that drives the transition to 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicle sales by 2035 will produce large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The program would lead to 75% lower carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks in 2050 compared to 2020.
    • These 2050 emissions would be 63% lower under the ZEV policy scenario than the business-as-usual scenario. (See Figure ES-1.)
    • The program will lead to a 17.8 million metric ton reduction in carbon emissions from Pennsylvania light-duty vehicles in 2050 alone. This represents about 8% of the emissions reductions required to meet Pennsylvania’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

Figure ES-1. Carbon dioxide emissions in Pennsylvania from light-duty cars and trucks under business-as-usual reference case and ZEV policy case

  • A transition to electric vehicles will also help to clear Pennsylvania’s air. According to the state’s 2019 Electric Vehicle Roadmap, a rapid transition to EVs would lead to reduced emissions of key air pollutants from light-duty vehicles by 2033, including:
    • A 27% reduction in emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides;
    • A 15% reduction in emissions of small particulates (PM2.5);
    • A 27% reduction in volatile organic compound emissions;
    • A 25% reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions.
  • The emission reductions delivered by electric vehicles would even greater if the commonwealth transitions to an electricity grid powered by clean, renewable energy.

Pennsylvania should move to adopt the Zero-Emission Vehicle program and other policies to accelerate the introduction of clean electric vehicles.

In addition to adopting the ZEV program proposed by the governor, Pennsylvania should implement other policies to accelerate electric vehicle deployment, including:

  • Expanding Governor Wolf’s climate change executive order with more ambitious ZEV targets for the state fleet, including 50% ZEVs by 2030 and 100% ZEVs by 2035.
  • Increasing rebates for ZEV purchases.
  • Adopting EV-ready building code amendments to ensure that new homes and commercial buildings are equipped for EV charging.
  • Passing a planning bill to support and expand EV infrastructure.
  • Developing education and outreach efforts for consumers and dealers to raise awareness of EV technology and available incentives.
  • Providing technical assistance and resources for fleet managers looking to electrify their fleets.
  • Collaborating with utilities to ensure that EVs are integrated in a way that optimizes the grid.
  • Joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program and collaborating with neighboring states on reducing transportation emissions.

Adrian Pforzheimer

Policy Analyst

Tony Dutzik

Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.