Electric vehicles charge ahead in statehouses
A Tesla electric car charges at a public charging station in Germany. Electric cars are growing in consumer acceptance and popularity. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
Automakers are planning to put nearly 1 million new electric vehicles on American roads in 2022. Lawmakers are trying to make sure their states are ready.
“We will see a lot more emphasis on electric vehicles in 2022 and 2023,” said Dylan McDowell, deputy director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a collaborative forum for state lawmakers. “This is the start of a really big turning point.”
Across the country, legislatures in blue and red states are considering bills to bolster charging infrastructure, expand consumer incentives, electrify state fleets or mandate charging stations in new buildings. States also will be tasked with deploying billions in new federal funds for charging stations approved in the new infrastructure law, and some legislators say they plan to take an active role in that strategy.
“Every state is involved,” said Marc Geller, a board member and spokesperson for the Electric Vehicle Association, an advocacy group that promotes the adoption of such vehicles. “This is being taken seriously in a way it hasn’t been before, because the trajectory is very clear.”
In the United States, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, making up nearly 30% of the national total. While many states have plans to switch to renewable electricity sources, reducing vehicle emissions—with millions of drivers making personal buying choices about their cars—is much more complicated. But as the private-sector market for electric vehicles matures, many lawmakers see an opportunity.
Electric vehicle sales in the United States doubled in 2021 compared with 2020, and car buyers in 2022 will have twice as many electric models from which to choose. As the market grows quickly, state lawmakers say they’re focused on making sure infrastructure keeps up, and—in what is perhaps the greater challenge—ensuring that electric vehicle benefits aren’t just enjoyed by their wealthiest residents.
State leaders of all political stripes say they want to ensure their states are ready for the electric vehicle transition. Democratic-led states have typically been more aggressive about that transition through government regulation and mandates, such as the stringent emissions standards set out in California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program. Many Republican states have invested in other efforts such as charging infrastructure and conversion of state vehicle fleets.
Still, some Republicans argue that market forces, rather than public investments or mandates, should be left to work. Some GOP-led states have introduced or passed bills to block their local governments from requiring charging stations in certain locations.
‘The inflection point’
Hawaii ranks No. 2 in the nation behind California for electric vehicle adoption, and lawmakers there are especially active in pushing a suite of proposals to strengthen that transition.
“We’re just at the inflection point where we’re about to take off in a huge way,” said Hawaii state Sen. Chris Lee, the Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee. “Our charging capacity has been greatly outstripped by the number of EVs out there. We need a lot more capacity, and quickly.”
Hawaii legislators are looking to build more charging stations for rental cars, which make up a significant portion of the tourism-heavy state’s electric vehicles. They’re planning to use federal funds to create charging hubs. Other proposals would put in place a requirement for charging stations in public parking lots and a new consumer rebate for electric vehicle purchases, with a focus on lower-income communities.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in both Indiana and Wisconsin are backing bills that would allow the owners of charging stations to sell electricity by the kilowatt-hour, rather than by the minute—an allowance previously reserved for regulated utilities. That would benefit drivers of slower-charging vehicles. Sponsors say the bills would allow businesses to play a greater role in providing charging infrastructure.
Democratic lawmakers in Vermont also are considering a broad swath of electric vehicle policies, packaged together in the Transportation Innovation Act. The proposal would increase funding for the state’s consumer incentive programs, create a grant program to fund electric school and transit buses, accelerate timelines for electrifying the state fleet, fund grants for charging stations and require large employers to provide charging stations for their workers.
“Our goal is to show our priorities, and we have a lot of different pieces around EVs,” said state Rep. Rebecca White, a Democrat who helped craft the measure. “It might feel like we’re throwing the kitchen sink at it.”
White said the bill’s 60 cosponsors offered it as their “opening salvo” on a transportation package ahead of negotiations with Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Scott’s office did not respond to an inquiry about his stance on the electric vehicle policies.
Incentives and equity
Many Democratic governors also have put forward electric vehicle proposals as key elements of their 2022 agenda.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has proposed $100 million in funding for a rebate program to help drivers afford electric vehicles. The program would provide a $7,500 rebate for new vehicle purchases, with an additional $5,000 for low-income residents. Used vehicles would qualify for a $5,000 rebate. The program would be capped to exclude residents making more than $250,000, and it would not apply to expensive car models.
“A real focus for the governor is making sure we’re increasing access to electric vehicles and not just subsidizing purchases for people who were already inclined to buy electric vehicles,” said Anna Lising, Inslee’s senior energy adviser.
Inslee’s budget also proposes $23 million to build out charging infrastructure and $33 million to help transit agencies switch to “clean alternative fuel” buses.
“I haven’t seen as much engagement [on electric vehicle policies] as I have this year,” Lising said. “We’re starting to see it shift significantly.”
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing more than $6 billion in investments to speed up electric vehicle adoption. More than $250 million would be targeted to assist low-income consumers, with another $900 million to build chargers in underserved neighborhoods.
“The [state electric vehicle rebate program] has traditionally been more subscribed [to] by wealthier Californians,” Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said in a press call. “In this clean transportation revolution, the next phase is making sure that low-income communities and communities of color are able to take advantage.”
Newsom’s budget also proposes nearly $4 billion to electrify heavy-duty trucks, transit and school buses.
Some Republican governors also are seeking to invest in electric vehicles. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, for example, has promoted investments in electric vehicles and charging stations. The state’s tax credit for electric vehicle purchases expired last year during the pandemic, and state leaders are considering incentive plans to replace it.
“We have to continue to dramatically accelerate the adoption of EVs,” said Ben Grumbles, the state secretary of the environment. “The focus right now is the range of incentives that we can put in place.”
Grumbles said the Hogan administration also is looking to speed up electrification of the state vehicle fleet, as well as school buses.
Maryland Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, a Democrat, has long advocated for electric vehicle adoption, and he thinks his colleagues are increasingly on board.
“There’s a critical mass building of more and more EV bills,” he said.
Fraser-Hidalgo plans to introduce an incentive program, likely a tax credit, to encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles. Another bill would allow school districts to partner with utilities to acquire electric school buses.
“It’s not just climate change, it’s public health,” he said. “We’re taking our kids and sticking them in a cube and filling that cube with diesel fumes.”
Other Republican governors have made efforts to ready their states for the electric vehicle transition, but still think government should play a limited role.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, signed a bill in 2020 requiring the state to craft a master plan for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. In 2021, though, he signed legislation that blocks local governments from requiring their gas stations to add charging stations.
The federal infrastructure package Congress passed last year includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, with $5 billion given directly to the states. Some Republicans oppose the use of government funds to support electric vehicle adoption.
“The vast majority of this bill is brimming with wasteful spending that advances radical Green New Deal policies, including billions of dollars for carbon capture programs, federally subsidized electric vehicle charging stations, and zero-emission bus grants for intercity transit,” U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, wrote in a news release after the bill passed in the House.
But the funding has gotten the attention of even conservative states that have otherwise shown little interest in climate policy.
Missouri, for instance, will receive $99 million to expand electric vehicle charging over five years from the package. Brian Quinn, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the agency plans to collaborate with the Missouri Department of Transportation to deploy chargers along national highways. The state also plans to help schools apply for new federal funding for electric buses. States must provide a 20% match for the funds they receive under the federal charging program.
Michigan expects to receive $110 million of the charging funds.
“The federal resources mark a huge turning point for the state of Michigan,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, said in an interview. “This will get a lot of people over the hump in making the choice to have their next vehicle be an EV. This year is going to be the one that makes the difference.”
Lawmakers in Michigan voted last month to create a $1 billion incentive fund to attract economic investment, including the prospect of a battery plant for electric vehicles. The state has partnered with its Midwestern neighbors to form a coalition focused on a regional network of charging stations, and it also is investing in a workforce development plan to ready residents for jobs in the electric vehicles industry.
In New York, state officials expect to receive $175 million from the feds.
“As more EVs are on the road, the business case for installing charging stations gets better and better,” said Adam Ruder, assistant director for clean transportation with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “We’re trying to get to that point where it becomes a self-sustaining market. This infrastructure money and the other investments we’re making can really help us get there.”
Some New York officials want mandates. State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would require newly constructed buildings to include wiring for electric vehicle chargers in a certain amount of their parking spaces.
“The sooner we start, the more affordable it’s going to be for everybody,” said Justin Flagg, Krueger’s director of environmental policy. “When we get ourselves to that big shift in the makeup of the vehicle fleet and suddenly realize we have to transition all these buildings, we’re going to have to figure something out.”
In Colorado, state Rep. Alex Valdez, a Democrat, is crafting similar legislation that would require a certain percentage of parking spaces in new buildings to be wired for chargers. Valdez, who lives in a Denver high-rise building and drives an electric car, said the bill is informed by his own experience.
“I found out firsthand that these buildings weren’t built with the idea that down the road cars would be powered by electricity,” he said. “This is an opportunity to make sure that we’re doing it right going forward.”
But some mandates have drawn pushback in other states.
Missouri state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican, has proposed a bill that would block cities and counties from requiring their businesses or buildings to install charging stations. Murphy said St. Louis County’s mandate requires any business that wants to resurface its parking lot to spend thousands of dollars on charging stations. His bill would require that governments mandating chargers also provide funds to pay for them.
“There’s no feeling that we should stop the growth of EVs, that’s the future,” Murphy said. “But you can’t put it on the backs of small businesses and churches. If we’re going to make the little guy pay for it, I’m going to champion against it.”
Many states, including those that strongly promote electric vehicles, impose extra fees on the vehicles’ drivers, who don’t pay gasoline taxes. The fees are a way to ensure road funding stays intact as more drivers switch to electric. But electric vehicles advocates are wary of plans to adopt or increase those fees.
“We need to come up with really good policies to ensure we have the revenue to keep roads maintained,” said Geller with the Electric Vehicle Association. “But early in the [transition] process is not the time to impose such additional fees that only make a prospective purchaser think twice.”
Some states are exploring a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, which would charge drivers based on mileage rather than gas consumption. California expanded a pilot program on such fees last year. Other states, including Massachusetts and Minnesota, have bills pending that would create similar programs.
As states accelerate the pace of electric vehicle adoption, their gas tax revenues will start to dwindle, and lawmakers are still trying to determine how to replace that funding. The issue likely will take on greater urgency in future legislative sessions as the transition continues.
This article was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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