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R.I. to adopt California’s clean car rules; new cars imported must be zero emissions by 2035

The move to adopt the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks standards comes as Rhode Island seeks to meet its binding emission reduction targets in the Act on Climate

A man stands next to a Volkswagen VW ID.7 electric car before the annual general meeting of German carmaker Volkswagen in Berlin on May 10, 2023.TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island will adopt standards requiring that all new cars imported for sale in Rhode Island be zero emissions by 2035, putting the state on a path to easing many gas-powered cars off the road, the McKee administration announced Wednesday.

The move to adopt the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks standards comes as Rhode Island seeks to meet its binding emission reduction targets in the Act on Climate, which Governor Dan McKee signed in 2021. That law requires Rhode Island to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; transportation causes about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.


“The Act on Climate put us on the clock for meeting major carbon reduction mandates, and it’s clear to me that Rhode Island will only meet the mandates by addressing the transportation sector head-on,” McKee said in a news release. “Implementing the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks policy will help us do exactly that, minimize smog across the state but especially in environmental justice communities, and ensure adequate customer choice on electric vehicles in the future.”

The regulations are being put in place by the state Department of Environmental Management, which will have a public listening session on May 18 about the rulemaking process. The final rule is set for adoption by January 2024, the DEM said.

The rules will be on the manufacturing side, not the buying or driving side. So in theory, someone could buy a gas-powered car from another state without such rules and register and drive it in Rhode Island.

But supporters said the move would help Rhode Island get its fair share of electric vehicles as carmakers shift toward making more and more of them.

“They see the writing on the wall,” Terrence Gray, the director of the state Department of Environmental Management, said at a press briefing.


The rules are projected to save $60.7 million from avoided hospitalizations and ER visits by 2040, according to Allison Archambault, supervising air quality specialist at DEM. Tailpipe emissions from gas-powered cars contribute to asthma and other breathing problems.

“It’s not just about the the effects on climate, it’s also about the effects on the health of our communities, and especially in communities of color, communities that are already overburdened in other ways,” Democratic state Senaator Alana DiMario said at the briefing.

The standards were developed in California, whose earlier clean cars rules Rhode Island had already joined. According to the McKee administration, Rhode Island is now joining Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Oregon, New York, and Massachusetts in taking up the successor Advanced Clean Cars II standards, with Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey moving toward adoption.

Eligible zero-emission vehicles, according to the McKee administration, include battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrid vehicles can be, in part, powered by gasoline, but must have certain electric ranges.

Under California’s rules that Rhode Island aims to adopt, gasoline cars will still be able to be driven and sold used after 2035, but all new passenger trucks, cars, and SUVs will have to be zero emissions.

California requires a ramp-up from 35 percent of zero-emission vehicle sales by 2026 to 100 percent in 2035; Rhode Island will follow those standards year by year.

“We need to do this for the health of our communities for generations to come,” said Democratic state Representative Terri Cortvriend. “This is just one piece of what needs to be done to reduce our emissions and meet those goals.”


This article has been updated with additional information about the clean car rules.

Brian Amaral can be reached at Follow him @bamaral44.