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The transition to electric automobiles in Massachusetts is lagging

Although Massachusetts is nowhere near the number of electric cars required to meet climate targets, a top Baker administration representative said Thursday that she wants to “push” for financing in a new bill to increase charging choices and other necessary infrastructure.

Kathleen Theoharides, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs joined Governor Charlie Baker to help unveil a $9.7 billion multi-year borrowing legislation for transportation infrastructure, which she said includes funding for charging infrastructure, assisting businesses in transitioning to electric vehicles, and school bus electrification, among other things.

She later became part of The Nature Conservancy for one hour-long look back at her time as Secretary of State under Baker, when she stated that public investment and private sector advances could help bend the trajectory of electric vehicle sales higher.

With about 36,000 electric cars on the road in Massachusetts, the number of zero-emission trucks and cars far outnumbers the 1 million vehicle target set by the government to cut carbon emissions by 45% below 1990 levels by the year 2030.

“We clearly believe the pandemic had an impact on this, even though we were already behind,” Theoharides told Deb Markowitz of The Nature Conservancy.

Beginning in 2035, Massachusetts will require all new passenger automobiles sold to be zero-emission vehicles, in accordance with California’s approved emission regulations and the Massachusetts Clean Air Act’s requirement to adopt the Golden State’s emission standards.

While electric car sales have stalled owing to pricing and other considerations, Theoharides said the auto industry has reacted by providing consumers with more options, such as Ford’s electric pickup trucks and other manufacturers’ larger SUVs for families.

“Consumer choice is at an all-time high,” she remarked. “We believe the market is heading in a much more straightforward way. Battery life is also greatly improving.”

The state is looking at methods to increase charging capability to city streets as well as parking garages to address “range anxiety” issues that make drivers anxious about running out of energy on longer excursions, according to Theoharides.

“We believe the curve is one of those usual clean energy curves that starts slowly and then accelerates,” she added. “However, we have our task cut out for us to ensure it accelerates.”

Theoharides spoke with The Nature Conservancy about her career progression, how the COVID-19 outbreak drove her to focus on unanticipated topics like ensuring safe park access, and the significance of finding dedicated climate resiliency financing.

She stated that one of her greatest regrets was not being able to complete the regional Transportation Climate Initiative. The collapse of the multi-state cooperation to cut carbon dioxide emissions from transportation was “disappointing,” according to Theoharides, who ascribed it in part to COVID-19 pandemic and the infusion of federal relief monies, which made the revenue available from TCI less appealing to state leaders.

“You can’t force a politician to do something he or she doesn’t believe in,” Theoharides remarked. Critics of the regional compact claim that governments are hesitant to join because it will likely raise gas costs.

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