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Tina Casey headshot

One State is Conspicuously Absent From New ZEV Action Plan

By Tina Casey

Last fall, eight states on the East and West coasts joined to form the Multi-State ZEV (zero emission vehicles) action plan, to kickstart the market for "the cleanest cars in the nation." While that's only eight out of 50 states, together they account for a whopping one-fourth of the new car sales in the entire country. However, if you look at a map of the U.S. you will see an interesting gap in the lineup.

The two West Coast partners are the contiguous states of Oregon and California, which makes sense when you take California's long history of clean car leadership into consideration, combined with the West Coast's mobilization for EVs (electric vehicles) over the past couple of years.

The gap occurs on the East Coast. Working downwards from Vermont, you have continuity through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, but then you have to leap over non-participants New Jersey and Delaware to get down to the southernmost East Coast partner in the ZEV Action Plan, Maryland. Delaware we kind of get, but wait, what happened to car-happy New Jersey?

Garden State green gets the blues

The omission of Delaware is actually a bit odd, but we'll save that for a future post and focus our attention on New Jersey for now (disclosure: familiar ground, since it's my home state).

New Jersey is one of two states (Maine is the other) that have apparently agreed in principle to the ZEV Action Plan but did not sign the actual memorandum of understanding to join in. Concerns have been growing that this half-hearted participation may hinder, rather than help, the growth of a national market for ZEVs.

The "Garden State gap" in the ZEV Action Plan is actually consistent from a political perspective, given New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's history with multistate clean tech partnerships.

Early in his first term Gov. Christie pulled New Jersey out of the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite projections that this cap-and-trade agreement to reduce carbon pollution would create new jobs, improve public health and contribute to utility bill savings for consumers in the participating states.

Gov. Christie also quashed a major job-creating mass transportation initiative, the "ARC" project, which was years along in the planning stages when he took office. The ARC project would have created an additional commuter railway tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that although New Jersey joined  other East Coast states to coordinate the development of the massive Atlantic coast offshore wind resources with the Department of the Interior back in June 2010, it's now four years later and the offshore wind industry in New Jersey has gone nowhere.

Meanwhile, the U.S. wind industry has become a job-creating machine in other states, even deep in "red" oil-identified Texas as well as Iowa and other heartland states.

The Obama administration has picked up the ball, fortunately. Last month, the Energy Department announced that it will provide a total of $141 million in seed money to kickstart the offshore wind industry in New Jersey, as well as Oregon and Virginia. The goal is to have projects in the three states up and running by 2017.

If you're starting to notice a pattern of blocking clean energy development in New Jersey, it's no secret who Christie is running defense for. Way back in September 2011, Mother Jones released audio of a Christie speech at a seminar hosted by the fossil fuel-invested Koch brothers. Here's a snippet from the report:

Before long, seminar attendees were roaring with laughter as Christie regaled them over dessert, telling them how, in his first weeks in office, he'd exercised extraordinary executive powers to impound billions of dollars in planned spending. ("The good news for all of you and for me," he said, "is that the governorship in New Jersey is the most powerful constitutional governorship in America.")

To clarify, the context of the above snip had to do with state spending on education and social safety net programs, but that "you and me" reference covers far more ground than that, considering the Koch brothers' all-in approach to their fossil fuel holdings.

The ZEV action plan

Okay, so now that we know what New Jersey is missing out on , let's see what the eight ZEV Action Plan collaborators have gotten themselves into.

The eight states coordinated release of the ZEV Action Plan last week, so we'll take the California Air Resources Board (ARB) as a representative announcement. You can also view a .pdf of the ZEV Action Plan itself through the office of the Governor of Maryland.

The ZEV Action Plan outlines 11 "Key Actions" that the partners will undertake to develop the growing market for zero-emission vehicles, leading to the goal of putting 3.3 million ZEVs on the road.

Those partners, by the way, also include the auto industry and other stakeholders along with state governments.

Many of the steps have to do with creating uniform standards for codes, standards, data collection, signage, as well as streamlining processes for installing public charging stations.

Another area of focus is to encourage fleet owners to buy ZEVs, an effort that is already well under way thanks to the Obama administration's Clean Fleets initiative.

The Obama administration's Workplace Charging initiative also comes into play as a means of motivating ZEV purchases.

Image: Courtesy of California Air Resources Board

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Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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