Maine auto dealers and truck-dependent groups say they’re worried about the timeline of a proposed new rule for selling more electric and low-emissions heavy-duty vehicles in the state. 

The state is taking public comments on whether to adopt California’s “clean trucks rule” as part of the Maine climate action plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% over 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. 

This rule, which several other states in New England and beyond are also considering implementing, would require truck manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of low- and zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in Maine starting in model year 2025. 

Manufacturers would incur penalties for selling diesel trucks and accrue credits for selling electric alternatives through 2035. Transportation is Maine’s top source of planet-warming pollution, and state regulators say this rule would take a big chunk out of those emissions.

But industry groups, speaking at a Board of Environmental Protection hearing Thursday, said they were surprised the state jumped to proposing this rule after discussing the issue while writing the climate plan over the past two years. 

Opponents saw a range of obstacles to implementing the change as quickly as the state has proposed — from strain on the electric grid and lack of charging infrastructure, especially in rural areas, to sparse electric truck options and the effect of Maine’s cold climate on battery ranges.

Maine Automobile Dealers Association president Thomas Brown noted that model-year 2025 vehicles are put on sale in early 2024 and built in 2023, putting the rule on a tight timeline. 

“This is not a five-year advance or a four-year advance — this is closing in less than two years,” Brown said. “Dealerships do not have electrified options for vehicles in this ... range at this time and there is little expectation that they will have them in 2024, meaning 2025 model year.” 

Kevin Roche, the CEO of ecomaine, spoke in support of the rule. He said they’ve been searching for an electric truck for trash pickup for years — but they feel adopting this rule, along with other states, would push sellers to offer more options.

“There's obviously some supply chain issues out there — that's part of the problem,” he said. “But I think really I do think that is temporary.”

Anya Fetcher leads Environment Maine and also spoke in support of the rule, saying it would encourage electrification of not just trucks, but school buses, matching efforts Maine has already started taking to decarbonize passenger and light-duty vehicles. 

“We need technology-forcing regulations in the medium- and heavy-duty sectors,” Fetcher said.  “We cannot afford to wait to institute policies to fight climate change.” 

Randy Hutchins sells trucks for O’Connor Auto Park in Portland and worries he’ll lose business to neighboring states like New Hampshire that don’t have this kind of rule if Maine implements it before federal requirements have caught up. 

“The manufacturers are not the ones that will pay the price for this,” he said. “I’ll have no choice, and they’ll ship them to me. I won’t have a customer base for them, but the business owner will take the brunt of this.” 

Like other opponents, Hutchins emphasized his support for addressing climate change but questioned whether electric vehicles would ever be feasible in his sector. He argued that truck-makers are already making progress on selling more efficient fossil fuel-powered vehicles. 

But climate action supporters like Barry Woods of Maine-based renewable energy company ReVision said the state should bet on more electric trucks being available in the near term.

“We have an opportunity across a whole variety of vehicle classes to wean ourselves from gasoline- and petroleum-based fuel products,” Woods said. “We did not have that choice 10 years ago. We have that choice today.”

The rule is proposed as a minor technical change, but BEP members said they felt, in hindsight, it may have merited a more in-depth stakeholder process or involvement by the legislature. 

The state is accepting public comments on the clean trucks proposal through Nov. 15.