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Ecology celebrates Zero Emissions Day!

Today, Sept. 21, 2022, is the last day of summer. What better way to mark the occasion than to celebrate something else this date symbolizes — Zero Emissions Day!

Originating in 2008, Zero Emissions Day focuses attention on protecting the environment by raising awareness about air pollution and how it contributes to global warming. As a national leader in environmental policy, we're excited to honor this day and the work Washington is doing to reduce these harmful emissions in Washington. 

Under a 2020 law, Washington is required to slash statewide greenhouse gas emissions 95% by 2050. With transportation responsible for nearly half of the annual greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner cars and trucks are essential to meeting this limit. That’s why a suite of new climate policies passed by the state Legislature includes our recently proposed Clean Vehicles rule. Similar to California’s newly adopted Clean Cars ll rule, the Washington rule requires that by 2035, all new vehicles sold here must meet zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standards.

Yes, the "ZEV-olution" is upon us!

A ZEV is one that releases no tailpipe air pollution. Currently, there are two types: battery electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Most of us are familiar with EVs. In fact, over the past three years, EV sales in the state increased from 4% to 11.5% of all vehicles. In July 2022, there was another big milestone — more than 100,000 EVs registered and driving on state roadways! These numbers put Washington ahead of the national curve on electrifying the transportation sector, and they show just how ready Washingtonians are to do their part to address climate change.

Incentives to speed transition

That said, the up-front costs of many EV models makes ownership challenging for many buyers. So, to accelerate the transition from cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels, Washington and the federal government offer incentives. New ZEVs purchased in Washington for up to $45,000 and used ZEVs purchased for up to $30,000 are fully or partially exempt from state sales taxes. And, starting in 2023, the federal Inflation Reduction Act (passed in August) will offer consumers a tax credit of up to $4,000 toward the purchase of a used ZEV and up to $7,500 towards the cost of a new ZEV. 

On this Zero Emissions Day, you might be pondering if making the jump to a ZEV is right for you. One thing to consider is that the cost of running a ZEV over its lifetime is several thousand dollars less than the cost of running a gas-powered car. Another thing to weigh is the distance you travel in a traditional, combustion engine vehicle. If you are traveling more than 1,000 miles a month, you are probably someone who can save some money — and help the environment — by making the switch.

“Individuals with a high dependency on gasoline are those we want to prioritize getting into a zero-emissions vehicle,” said Matthew Metz, founder and co-executive director of Seattle-based Coltura, which is wusing data to develop strategies for converting the biggest gasoline users to EVs first.

As well as adding more EVs to the Washington market, investment in electrification infrastructure, particularly in overburdened communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, will play an important role in electrifying transportation. That’s why Washington’s new Clean Fuel Standard requires electric utility companies to invest 30% of credit revenue into charging stations and other infrastructure in these communities.

Additionally, the Climate Commitment Act requires at least 35% of auction proceeds be used for projects that directly benefit vulnerable populations. Combined with opportunities outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, equitable access to EVs and charging stations is rapidly taking hold.

Reason for hope

Many people feel challenged by the enormity of climate change. However, there's optimism as the state enters a new era in transportation. 

“If you look back 100 years ago, horses were a main mode of transportation; there were thousands of people employed in New York City to clean up horse poop from the street,” Neal Boudette, an auto industry reporter with The New York Times, said in a recent podcast. “Then, when cars came along, the entire infrastructure around managing this horse-based transportation went away! So it’s not just a matter of industry making some electric vehicles and people buying them — you need a lot of changes on the ground to happen. The electrification of the automobile is a massive change, and we’ve only sort of scratched the surface on where that’s going to take us.”