New Study: PA electric vehicle program expansion could lead to 18-million-ton yearly reduction in state’s climate pollution

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Emissions reductions equal to taking nearly 3.9 million cars off the road

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania could reduce its climate pollution by 18 million metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking nearly 4 million gas-powered vehicles off the road —  by expanding its clean cars program to include a Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) program, according to a new study released Thursday.  This report comes out just after the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed the Keystone State embrace a ZEV program. 

The study, Pennsylvania Zero-Emission Vehicles: a Program for Clean Cars in the Commonwealth, was released by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and found that adopting a ZEV program that calls for 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicle sales by 2035 will produce large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the pollutants that trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments. 

The ZEV program sets sales requirements for automakers, requiring them to sell a steadily increasing percentage of zero-emission and near-zero-emission vehicles over time, and is part of a suite of clean vehicles policies known as the Advanced Clean Cars Program.

“Clean electric vehicles are ready to roll in Pennsylvania,” said Flora Cardoni, field director for the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “As our study shows, by putting the pedal to the metal in promoting the transition to electric vehicles, Pennsylvania can dramatically reduce its climate pollution.”

One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and more than a third of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that contribute to harmful ozone smog come from highway vehicles. 

Pennsylvania Zero-Emission Vehicles showed that Pennsylvania’s participation in a strong ZEV program would lead to 75 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks in 2050 compared to 2020.  

According to the state’s 2019 Electric Vehicle Roadmap, a rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs) would lead to reduced emissions of key air pollutants from light-duty vehicles by 2033, including a 27 percent drop in both smog-forming NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a 25 percent decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions, and a 15 percent reduction in emissions of small particles. 

In February 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf put Pennsylvania on the path to adopting the ZEV program, directing DEP to begin drafting a rule requiring automakers to sell a certain percentage of EVs. Pennsylvania would join 13 other states in adopting the ZEV program if it were the next to do so.

PennEnvironment was joined by stakeholders and experts for a virtual news conference to release today’s report. 

“Duquesne Light is focused on reducing the barriers to electric vehicle adoption for our customers,” said Sarah Olexsak, Manager of Transportation Electrification at Duquesne Light. “By adopting the Zero-Emission Vehicle program here in the Commonwealth, we can realize increased consumer choice and empower more Pennsylvanians to experience the benefits of electric mobility.”

“Air pollution is a known contributor to asthma in children. According to a report from the PA Department of Health, about 1 in 7 children in PA suffer from asthma. And among Black non-Hispanic children the prevalence is nearly 1 in 3,” noted  Dr. Gabriel Cisneros, a pediatrician with Children’s Community Pediatrics and co-chair of the PA AAP Advocacy Committee. “As stated in our 2021 PA AAP Policy Blueprint for Children, transitioning to zero emission vehicles would protect thousands of people from pollution-related illness and premature death and save billions in health care costs.”

In addition to adopting the ZEV program proposed by the governor, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s new study recommended that the state should implement other policies to accelerate electric vehicle deployment, including: 

  • Expanding Gov. Wolf’s climate change executive order with more ambitious ZEV targets for the state fleet, including 50 percent ZEVs by 2030 and 100 percent ZEVs by 2035.

  • Increasing rebates for ZEV purchases.  Developing education and outreach efforts for consumers and dealers to raise awareness of EV technology and available incentives.

  • Adopting EV-ready building code amendments to ensure that new homes and commercial buildings are equipped for EV charging, and passing a planning bill to support and expand EV infrastructure.

  • Providing technical assistance and resources for fleet managers looking to electrify their fleets.

  • Collaborating with utilities to ensure that EVs are integrated in a way that optimizes the grid.

  • Joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program and collaborating with neighboring states on reducing transportation emissions.

“We owe it to our children and future generations to take the steps necessary to address climate change,” added Cardoni. “Promoting electric vehicles is a commonsense and simple policy that helps us achieve that goal.”

Note: A recording of the news conference can be viewed in its entirety on PennEnvironment’s Facebook pageThe report and a two-page fact sheet can both be viewed and downloaded on PennEnvironment’s website.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit