Lawmakers advance measure to make Utah’s electric vehicle fees highest in nation

An electric charging station on Library Square in Salt Lake City (KCPW)

(KCPW News) A proposal to significantly increase the registration fees on electric vehicles in Utah cleared a legislative committee on Monday.

House Bill 209 by Lehi Republican Rep. Kay Christofferson would more than double the fees on electric vehicles from $120 to $300 annually, and more than quadruple the fees on plug-in hybrids, which would see a yearly fee increase from $52 to $260. That would put Utah’s EV fees higher than any other state in the nation.

The idea behind the proposal is that while fees on the purchase of gasoline pay for road maintenance in Utah, electric vehicle owners don’t pay for the very simple reason that they don’t buy gas.

“We’re just trying to create parity here, with the funds that everybody pays so that everyone can pay for the same impact that they have on the roads of the State of Utah,” said Sen. Wayne Harper who is the senate floor sponsor of the measure, and who spoke on behalf of Rep. Christofferson who is battling COVID-19.

But, Josh Craft government and corporate relations manager with Utah Clean Energy told the committee that a region with some of the worst air quality in the nation shouldn’t be making the purchase of electric cars more expensive.

“Electric vehicles are critical to air quality in our state [but] they are still a very small share of the vehicles that we have – about 2% of new car sales and a much smaller portion of [cars] on the road,” Craft said.

“We need balance that effect of raising fees, which…can deter customers from purchasing electric vehicles,” he added.

Much of the public commentary over the bill focused on the link between air quality and emissions from gas powered vehicles.

David Bennett, an electric vehicle owner who spoke via a virtual link, said that the discussion around “parity” between gasoline-powered and alternative fuel vehicles was missing the point.

“While, yes, I agree this is a road usage tax, we cannot ignore the environmental impact of dis-incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles,” Bennett said.

“In fact we want to do just the contrary – we want to incentive the population to go ahead and purchase these vehicles and help clean up our air.”

In 2019, Utah created an alternative fee program for electric vehicle owners called the Road Usage Charge program (RUC) that lets vehicle owners pay a fee based on how far they drive each year. On Monday, Sen. Harper said the proposed fee increase was a way to push more electric vehicle drivers into that program.

Utah Clean Energy and some members of the Transportation Committee said that before raising fees on the vehicles, lawmakers should wait until further data is available about the success of that program and the impact of electric vehicles on Utah roads – the Utah Department of Transportation is expected to release a report on the RUC program sometime this year.

Those arguments did not sway a majority and the committee voted to advance the bill with a favorable recommendation on a 6 to 4 vote.

HB209 will next be heard in front of the full Utah House.

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