Possible? Washington State Mandates Electric Cars by 2030


If your car burns gasoline, or your truck burns diesel, our state government wants make sure you will never to buy another one like it. It is not ready to do this yet, but it has declared its intentions. The mind of the state has been thinking of the ways it can cajole, bribe, and manipulate you to scrap your petroleum-powered vehicle and buy a plug-in electric. It’s hard to see how this will work.

One state policy to promote EVs is already in effect. The state requires oil refiners to bid at auction for the right to emit carbon dioxide. By doing this, it has squeezed the refiners for more than $1 billion. As a direct result, Washington now has the second-highest gasoline prices in the lower 48 states after California, which has a similar regime. In October, the average price of regular gas in Washington, according to the AAA, was $4.70 a gallon. In Montana, by contrast, it was $3.76.

You’re paying an extra dollar a gallon right now. And that’s just a start. Our Democratic-dominated government is following California, whose Democratic government has mandated that, by 2035, all sales of new cars will be plug-in electrics. Olympia has one-upped Sacramento and set our goal at 2030 — six years from now.

The Washington Department of Commerce has put out a Draft Transportation Electrification Strategy that outlines how to do this. You can read the report here.

The report was put together by a private consulting team. You might think that such a team would include people from the auto industry, the electric-utility industry, the financial industry, the trucking industry (because the Strategy includes medium and heavy trucks),  such local companies as the truck builder PACCAR, as well as colleges of engineering and technology.

Our state has chosen a different team. It begins with Denver-based RMI (“our mission is to transform the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all”), and adds three Seattle organizations: Cascadia Consulting Group (“a certified small, woman-owned consulting firm working to foster sustainability”), Northwest Energy Coalition (mainly environmental groups) and Front and Centered (“We seek a just transition away from an extraction-based economy to one centered on ecological restoration, community resilience, and social equity, fueled by regenerative resources and cooperative work, governed by deep democracy, and a culture of caring and sacredness.”)

The report written by these consultants covers everything from cars to heavy trucks.     Start with “light-duty vehicles” (cars and pickups). In Washington, electrics and plug-in hybrids currently amount to 2 percent of light-duty vehicles on the road. The electrics’ share of new vehicles is higher: 16 percent in the first five months of 2023. That’s an impressive trend, but still only one-sixth of total sales.

With today’s policies, including the intentionally high gasoline prices, the consultants estimate that EVs will have half the new-car-and-pickup market by 2030. That would be impressive — but the state aims for 100 percent. Its assignment to the consultants was, in effect, “Tell us how to get there.”

Already, EV buyers get a $7,500 federal subsidy. The most common buyers are families with two or more cars who buy an EV for tooling around town — in other words, the well-off. The consultants estimate that to push the EV share of new-vehicle sales in 2030 closer to 100 percent, it would have to pay an additional $6,000 to $9,000 to buyers of sedans and $11,000 to $13,000 to buyers of SUVs and pickups.

And that subsidy wouldn’t do it all. “For the small tail of last adopters,” the consultants admit, “there really is no price that would make them want an EV if a gasoline or diesel alternative still exists.” Even if EVs were given away free, the consultants say, some Washington residents would not accept them.

The other problem is that the state won’t have the money to offer $6,000 to $13,000 to every new-vehicle buyer.  The consultants say subsidies must be “well-targeted to have maximum impact for minimum public cost.” (In other words, not every buyer will get the state’s money.) The consultants want low-income people — people receiving LIHEAP, TANF, SNAP benefits — to benefit most, but low-income people don’t buy new cars. The “targeted” subsidies would likely go to people almost able to buy an EV. Again, that would mean that lower-income people would be paying in taxes for grants enjoyed by people above them.

Another problem is that most low-to-medium-income Americans buy used cars. Last year, used cars made up 81 percent of title changes in Washington. A goal of 100 percent EVs in the new-car market implies a flooding of the used-car market with internal-combustion-engine cars. Once again, the kind of car you drive will become a marker of your social class even more than it does now.

Subsidies won’t be limited to the vehicle. The state wants to promote home chargers — typically 240 volts. To fill an EV battery to 80 percent of capacity on a 240-volt circuit takes 4-10 hours. Some owners may buy a direct-current fast charger, which could reduce their wait time to 20-60 minutes, but one of those typically costs more than the car. The state’s consultants say its all-EV goal will require subsidies for chargers. Once again, these would partly be paid for by the hoi polloi with internal-combustion engines.

The state also wants to push the adoption of EV trucks. It’s plan isn’t as aggressive as the one for cars, but it’s visionary nonetheless. “There is no zero-emission truck market in Washington,” says the Washington Trucking Association. “Despite its good intentions, the government cannot mandate products and markets into existence on the scale proposed here. This heavy-handed approach ignores market realities and limitations and assumes that there will be sufficient zero-emission trucks for companies to purchase on a scale that is currently impossible and further assumes that the trucks will meet the needs of the industry. Put bluntly, wishful thinking is not a strategy.”

The state’s report has some other questionable assumptions. For instance, there is an implied assumption that EVs are a zero-emission technology. They do have zero emissions at the tailpipe — and the consultants are careful to say it in those words. Zero emissions at the tailpipe is a good thing, particularly where the EVs operate. But the overall environmental cost of using an EV, which are what matter for the planet, depend on where the electricity comes from. In Washington, EVs mostly run on zero-emission power from dams, which is the kind of electric power we have. And that’s another good thing.

But an all-EV car and pickup market by 2030 implies a huge increase in the local use of electric power. We don’t have the power plants to do that. Our utilities will have to buy the power on the market. Whether it’s “clean” power will depend on who they buy it from. It a safe bet, though, that it will be expensive power, because our utilities won’t be the only ones bidding for it.

The lifetime emissions of an EV also depend on what the vehicle is made of. Ordinary cars are mostly made of steel, which creates some emissions. But making steel is relatively simple compared with the mining and refining of copper, aluminum, nickel, lithium, manganese, and rare earths such as neodymium. An EV battery typically costs at least $10,000, mostly because of the exotic ingredients. Mining and refining the ingredients requires more labor, and more electric power, than making steel.

Further, the labor and electricity won’t be American. Most of the world’s rare earths come from China, which is also the largest producer of aluminum. Making aluminum requires more electric power than making steel. China gets two-thirds of its electric power from coal. When you buy an electric car in Seattle, you may be paying for coal burned on the other side of the Pacific.

The world’s biggest producer of nickel is Indonesia; of copper, Chile; of manganese, South Africa; of lithium, Australia, followed by China. A huge increase in EV production worldwide will require an expansion of open-pit mining, and also of smelting. We wouldn’t allow that here, but if the world transitions to EVs, the increase in mining will happen somewhere else. And to do that, minerals prices will have to go up, which implies that batteries will cost more.

The consultants’ report does mention the materials problem. It doesn’t have much to say about it, because there is not much the state of Washington can do about it. It’s a problem that might be solved in the future and might not. We don’t know.

Now for the most fundamental question: Does any of this matter? The consultants’ report leaves unsaid whether the state’s EV policy will matter for the global climate. It does say that to meet the state’s carbon-dioxide goals, mandating EVs will not be enough. Local government will have to do many other things. It says the state should build more bike lanes and subsidize electric scooters. It says the state should penalize driving by imposing road tolls and “parking policies” — i.e., getting rid of free parking. It suggests that the state spend less on roads, which implies building no more of them. The consultants’ report also calls for more growth management, a strategy that King County has been following for more than 30 years, and has brought us million-dollar houses and $2,000-a-month studio apartments (another policy that benefits the well-off).

Imagine that our state does all these things, we all comply, and we get to net-zero emissions by 2050. Washington has 7.739 million people. That’s one tenth of 1 percent of humanity. Our share of global greenhouse gas emissions, based on the U.S. share, is probably closer to triple that figure — say, 3 tenths of 1 percent of the global total. Imagine that with all the subsidized EVs, the $5 gasoline, the free scooters, the battery-powered trucks, etc., we manage to hammer this three-tenths of 1 percent down to zero.

What difference would it make?

I know, we’re not supposed to ask that awkward question. Climate change is a crisis! We’ve got to do our share! All right — but it’s a global problem. A collective global problem. Our share needs to be part of a plan agreed to by the governments of the United States, Canada, the U.K, the E.U., Japan, South Korea, India, China, and Brazil, if not the whole United Nations. In short, the world cannot be saved from Olympia, Washington.

I recall the Democratic presidential debates of 2019. There on the stage was our leader, Jay Inslee, running for president. Inslee said he had a plan to save the world from climate change. At one point, the moderator asked him if he thought his plan could save Miami from being flooded by the rising seas. Inslee began with a rehearsed answer, checked himself, and said, “Yes.” And I thought, “Really?”

Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey was a business reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 1980s and 1990s and from 2000 to his retirement in 2013 was an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times. He is the author of The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression, and is at work on a history of Seattle in the 1930s. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Anne.


  1. Truly this is one of the best columns I’ve ever read. It’s detailed, fact based and informative. It shows Washington’s misguided policies are more about appearance than actually reducing greenhouse emissions and it favors the rich, again.

  2. Full conversion by 2030 does seem like an unrealistic timeline. Still, the shift does appear to be picking up some steam.

  3. Thank you sooo very much for this fact based and common sense column:…… all sales of new cars will be plug-in electrics……and set our goal at 2030 — six years from now.”
    My career was in the electric industry. During surplus power years our utilities salivated at the prospect of “electrics.” Probably rethinking that now as hydro is used for fish and gas ct’s are paying for CO2 emissions.
    I am a lifelong Democrat but cannot support our State’s goal. It and other decisions have pulled me to endorse and vote for Senator Mullett.

  4. Why do the ‘laws of physics’ have to be showstoppers for the great Woketopia? Why, oh, why? Google the term ‘energy density’ and then do the math, all those battery-powered vehicles will be mostly useless outside their 15-minute city niche.

  5. ” . . . mostly useless outside their 15-minute city niche . . . .”

    Right you are! Mine always runs out of power after about 15 miles and that 15-mile-long extension cord gets me back home again. What a uselessly woke thing.

  6. I have a comment on my own article. Specifically on the statement about utilities buying power on the market: “Whether it’s ‘clean’ power will depend on who they buy it from.” Thinking about that, I’m not so sure that’s really true. Correct me if I’m wrong, but unlike, say, oil, in which you can trace a specific cargo back to its producer, it’s my understanding that with electricity, it doesn’t work that way. Transmission lines are used by many utilities. I think of it like a tank of water in which producers pour some in and users take some out. If you’re a user, you pay a specific producer for the amount you take out, so in a commercial sense, you’re buying that producer’s power. But in a scientific sense, you’re taking electrons out of a common pool. They’re just electrons. To claim that your electrons are “clean” is applying a political label that makes you feel good, but really your electrons are the same as everyone else’s.

    • The term ‘clean power’ as applied to electricity differentiates electricity that’s produced by something like hydro (like in Wash) vs diesel generators (like Hawaii). To your point, if / when Washington has to purchase additional electricity it won’t know whether the extra juice is ‘clean’ or not. Gasp!

  7. Then watch, one car per family as there will not be enough chargers, no driving at night to conserve the power grid, and when the battery goes to shit you might as well buy a new car as the battery costs 25-30k. Then with everything going to apartments nowadays where do they charge there cars..hmm

  8. It wouldn’t be too soon to start thinking about people live in apartments and have cars. There’s a sort of officially accepted fiction that it doesn’t happen – that apartment dwellers often don’t have cars, or else it wouldn’t have made so much sense to drop the on site parking requirements.

    While they were just overloading street parking, that was fine, just the usual externalization of cost that comes with industry deregulation, but as those people start switching to electric, those parking garage spots are going to be part of what makes it work. It’s one thing to upgrade the power in an existing garage, another thing to add on a garage.

  9. Good article Bruce

    And also, when an EV’s battery goes into thermal overload, you’ve a toxic nightmare fire that shoots out jets of fire and produces both toxic (career ending type toxic for Fire Fighters), gasses and flammable explosive gases. The battery materials on fire also make their own oxygen making the fire almost impossible to put out. The Freemantle Highway, a Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO) car carrier ship, transporting cars some of which were EV’s, caught fire off the coast of the Netherlands. It burned for 8 days belching out toxic fumes due to the EV’s on board. The incident was downplayed in the media.

    Experts say that EV’s don’t catch fire any more than ICE cars, but think of this new type of fire in a parking garage, or on a ferry. It would be disastrous. Clearly the aspirations to implement an electrified economy, have out paced the development of safety policy and safety practices. In Norway, one of the ferry carriers has already banned EV”s. Expect more carriers to do the same.

    Another big issue is the massive increase of the raw materials required to build an electrified economy? The immense amounts of copper, lithium, and the suite of rare earth minerals. And machines wear out.

    We need to dig. And dig big. And we need to refine. It takes about 15 years to bring n new mine on line.

    According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), we should be seeing a huge increase in mining by not 10%, 20%, or 50%, but by hundreds of percentage points. Where are the new mines? And where will the refinement of the ore be done? China?
    We aren’t seeing even 10% of the required increase of investment in that sector. It’s delusional to think that “Net Zero” can happen by 2035, or even 2050. It would require the largest expansion in mining in human history.

    And as Bruce mentions the State doesn’t even mention a materials problem.

    The State of Washington needs to acknowledge these issues if there’s any hope of making a reasonable plan. The current plans are nothing but fantasy.

  10. All excellent points. None of them get to the MAIN point — how ARE we (collectively, globally, locally) going to halt climate change, except by getting off fossil fuels? Our grandkids and great-grandkids aren’t going to thank us for continuing to burn gasoline and diesel. Really, they’re not. They’re going to ask us why we didn’t do more to solve the many knotty problems of the transition off fossil fuels. My next vehicle will be an EV; and I’ll push for / vote for policies that support and enable that choice for all.

    • No argument with your MAIN point, Warren, but the question remains as to the best policies to deal with this issue. All of the domestic cars in the USA comprise less than 20% of our carbon footprint. The EPA stats for Transportation, which includes ships, trains, planes, etc is only 29% of our US carbon footprint. Meantime, coal power plants produce more global greenhouse gas emissions than any other single source. The EPA cites coal combustion as more carbon-intensive than burning natural gas or petroleum. We have about 200 coal plants and are slowly decommissioning our inventory. China has 3092 coal plants and is building more. India has about 300 and is building more. Unfortunately, they’re not the only nations expanding coal burning. Almost half of US coal production is being exported to Europe and Asia.

      My take is that the priorities are misplaced. You hear very little about our efforts to curb coal burning across the planet. Instead, we’re focused on forcing everyone to buy an EV, right now!, when domestic cars are a marginal percentage of the actual problem. Worse, the policies and timelines demanding this are unrealistic, as Bruce has richly detailed. We can signal our virtue by purchasing an EV, and voting for the misplaced policies that are bringing substantial pain on the middle & lower classes, but please don’t suggest that any of that has much effect on the MAIN problem.

  11. There are many p.h.d. climatologists and physicists that don’t agree that man made climate change is a serious threat to our planet. Excessive man made climate change only exists in computer models.

    • There may be many, but investigation has shown that nearly all have ties to the fossil fuel industry and thus have a vested interest in denial rather than fact. In any case, 1) they constitute a tiny, tiny minority of climate scientists and 2) we can see the physical evidence of climate catastrophe increasing every year. Looking away makes it no less real.

  12. Since it has mostly all been said, all I will say is that’s what happens when you have one party in charge of everything and they’re on a mission. Never mind if it is doable or makes sense, never mind that the electric power isn’t there or that it may crash the economy, we are going to do it! Yeah, and the ferries will be electric as well. If we ever get one.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.