The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
With President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team ramping up, a list of the incoming administration’s priorities have started to roll out. As someone who supported Joe Biden’s campaign for president and cares about the environment, I am grateful that at the top of the list is a climate change initiative that will put the U.S. on the path to net zero emissions by 2050 and includes $1.7 trillion investment in clean energy and green jobs. One of the first actions anticipated by the new Biden administration is reversing President Trump’s roll back of Obama’s vehicle emissions standards. This will likely spur production of more electric vehicles (EVs) and encourage the establishment of new programs to build more EV chargers.
As the U.S. looks to reduce transportation emissions, EVs are a common solution presented. But in reality, there are a few huge burdens to transitioning to EVs that our policymakers should take into account.
Surprisingly, EVs can actually cause more pollution than traditional gas powered vehicles, particularly in places where the electrical grid used to fuel these cars are overly reliant on fossil fuels. In addition to addressing carbon emissions, pollution is a serious issue that policymakers need to consider when developing climate change policies.
Poor air quality results in negative health care outcomes, particularly for communities of color and low-income families. While some might assume switching to EVs would help improve this problem, this study shows that it could actually make it worse. In Wisconsin, “improving air quality has the potential of preventing 1,910 premature deaths in the state as well as 650 respiratory emergency room visits.”
Therefore, we should not look to electric vehicles as a “zero carbon emissions” silver bullet to reduce carbon emissions, particularly before the electrical grid’s reliance on fossil fuels is addressed.
Additionally, in Wisconsin, consumer demand for EVs has remained low. Less than one percent of vehicles on the road in the state are electric. Regardless of this lack of demand, we can expect policymakers to continue pushing for the construction of additional EV chargers, and how elected officials incentivize this construction is critical, as certain policies could result in less charging stations in the long-term, while also hurting low-income families.
Some states, in order to encourage EV charging station development, have allowed utility companies to construct and operate charging stations using fees they collect from their current electric customers. This is the wrong approach for two reasons.
The “utility model” makes it much more difficult for private companies to compete in this marketplace. Utility companies have a built in set of customers (many of whom have no choice but to use their services) that they can charge an additional fee each month to fund EV charger construction. Private businesses, on the other hand, have to raise the capital themselves to invest in EV charging stations. This unfair competition will discourage the private sector from investing, and without the private sector, we will have less charging stations overall.
Additionally, it is unfair to charge low-income families an additional fee on their electric bill so utility companies can build and operate EV chargers that these families will receive no benefit from. Not only are EV’s less than one percent of cars on the road in the state, they are also more expensive than traditional gas-powered cars, and are therefore even less likely to be owned by working-class families. Yet these families will still be required to pay for the EV charging stations that the utility builds and operates.
As President-elect Biden and his team continue to develop and roll out their climate change initiatives, we can expect a push for EVs and EV charging stations to be a component of their plan. Hopefully, they keep in mind the need to decarbonize our electrical grid first, or risk promoting EVs that produce more pollution than traditional cars. They should also support free market competition to construct and operate EV chargers, which will result in more chargers at a cheaper price for consumers, and will not add an unfair burden on low-income families across the country.
–Maniaci lives in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.