Theoharides Hopes $9.7 Bil Bill Will Create More Traction
Massachusetts is not even remotely close to the number of electric vehicles on its roads needed to meet climate goals, but a top Baker administration official said Thursday she intends to “fight” for funding in a new bill to expand charging options and other needed infrastructure.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides joined Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday to help roll out a $9.7 billion multi-year borrowing bill for transportation infrastructure that she said includes money for charging infrastructure, helping companies transition fleets to electric vehicles, school bus electrification and more.
She later joined the The Nature Conservancy for an hour-long lookback at her years as secretary in the Baker administration where she said public investment and advances in the private market should help bend the curve of electric vehicle sales upward.
With around 36,000 electric vehicles on the road in Massachusetts, the proliferation of these zero-emission cars and trucks significantly trails the 1 million vehicle benchmark officials have used as necessary to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
“We absolutely believe that the pandemic had influence on this although we were already behind,” Theoharides told The Nature Conservancy Vice President Deb Markowitz.
Massachusetts will require that all new passenger vehicles sold beginning in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles, in line with standards being finalized by California and in keeping with the Massachusetts Clean Air Act to follow the Golden State’s emission standards.
While electric vehicle sales have slowed due to price and other factors, Theoharides said the car industry has responded by giving consumers increased choice with offerings like electric pickup trucks from Ford and larger SUVs for families from other manufacturers.
“Consumer choice is going through the roof,” she said. “We think the market is moving in a much easier direction. Battery life is also going up significantly.”
To address “range anxiety” concerns that make drivers nervous about running out of charge on longer trips, Theoharides said the state is looking at ways to expand charging capacity to city streets and parking garages.
“We think the curve is one of those typical clean energy curves that starts off slow and then goes up, but we have our work cut out for us to make sure it does go up,” she said.
With The Nature Conservancy, Theoharides discussed her career evolution, how the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to focus on unexpected things like maintaining safe access to parks, and the importance of finding dedicated funding for climate resiliency.
One of her biggest regrets, she said, was not being able to bring the regional Transportation Climate Initiative to fruition. Theoharides called it “disappointing” that the multi-state collaborative to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fell apart, which she attributed in large part to COVID-19 and the influx of federal relief dollars that made the revenue possible from TCI less attractive to state leaders.
“You can’t make a political leader do something they don’t have the confidence to do,” Theoharides said.
Opponents of the regional compact said states were not eager to sign on because of the likelihood that it would drive up gas prices.