The Sierra Club, with the help of Plug In America, FORTH, and the Electrification Coalition, has updated its nationwide EV model policy toolkit and reminds us just what is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the US: the transportation sector, which is 92% dependent on oil.
While contributing to our climate crisis, emissions from vehicles that are powered by fossil fuels are continuing to make our air unsafe to breathe. “Too many people for too long, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, have borne the brunt of air pollution and a lack of access to clean and accessible transportation options,” noted the Sierra Club in its report.
That last line hit home for me. I didn’t have a car growing up and often took the city bus, (general Shreveport slang for the bus system). We only had one terminal for transfers and there were times when all the buses left at once (multiple times in the day). If you’d just missed your bus while running to the station, you’d be greeted by the thick clouds of exhaust from around 13 or so buses. That’s just my own experience, but there are many more like it. Many transit systems across the country still use diesel buses. They should switch to electricity soon.
The Sierra Club notes that electrifying transportation is a solution that makes sense on many regards — it will combat our climate crisis, improve air quality, improve public health, and strengthen our energy security.
A Quick Look At The Report
Policies To Encourage and Enable Vehicle Purchase
In this section, the Sierra Club detailed the policies that encourage and enable the sales of EVs. So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have adopted low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards. California and 10 other states have also adopted zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standards. However, Trump’s administration rolled back the federal clean car standard and revoked the California waiver that allows for the LEV and ZEV programs. Many states are challenging these rollbacks in court.
Adoption of both the LEV and ZEV standards increases not only the availability and inventory of the vehicles, but it gives consumers a variety to choose from which makes these clean vehicles easier to purchase without having to go out of state.
Other policies listed in this section are direct-sales legislation, vehicle rebates, tax credits, sales-tax exemptions, used EV incentives, public and private fleet incentives, HOV lane access, and zero- and low-interest loans for consumers. Fleets play a vital role in pushing towards the electrification — both public and private. They also offer an opportunity for early EV adoption — giving the operator a chance to experience an EV versus their own personal vehicle that is most likely a fossil fuel vehicle.
Policies to Electrify Light-Duty Vehicle and Bus Fleets
Executive orders for fleets and beyond, transit bus fleet upgrade commitments, school bus electrification policies and pilots, and the VW settlement funds for electrifying school buses and transit buses are all covered in this section.
Regarding executive orders, there are many types — not just Trump’s senseless ones. Mayors and governors have used them to highlight and facilitate the electrification of fleets. In Seattle, city officials discovered that by electrifying their fleet, the city would save $2 million over 10 years — if that meant purchasing 300 Nissan LEAFs instead of hybrids for its passenger vehicles. And it would save more than $3 million compared to gas vehicles.
Policies To Increase Availability Of Charging Infrastructure
If you own a gas car, you have a ton of options when you need to refuel. When people drive electric, they don’t have the same options as gas car drivers do. Corridor programs, such as the Louisiana DC Fast Charging Corridor, that is still a work in progress, or the West Coast Electric Highway as well as other focus on getting access to DC fast chargers along the highway.
Here in Louisiana, Louisiana Clean Fuels is working toward a statewide master plan for our own DC charging network along our local Interstate roads. You can read more about that plan here. Charging infrastructure funding and financing, EV-ready wiring codes and ordinances, EV infrastructure at multi-unit dwellings, right of way charging, streetlight and power pole charting access, and protecting EV-designated parking spots are all included in this section.
EV Utility Investments
When it comes to electrification, utilities can be a great ally to those adopting the change to EVs. State public officials also have important roles when it comes to authorizing legislation. Also, utilities can help mitigate DC fast charging. PGE in California, for example, has a subscription-based on the throughput of chargers plus strong time-of-use rates.
Utility marketing, education, and outreach programs help teach consumers while building market awareness about electric transportation. And in many states, regulators have approved programs for investor-owned electric utilities that support the adoption of EVs. These include investments in EV charging infrastructure and installing thousands of charging stations, as well as investing money in EV outreach and education.
Public utility programs and using VW settlement funds to grow EV charging networks are also touched upon in this section.
Evaluating Vehicle Registration Fees
Before 2017, fewer than 10 states had EV registration fees. Now, 26 states have set their own EV fees and the highest is set at $248 annually — it’s like the states don’t want you to switch to safer, cleaner vehicles. “These fees are an impediment to widespread EV adoption and add to the already higher upfront cost of EVs,” The Sierra Club said in its report.
There are several reasons why annual registrations are wrong solutions today. They have been shown to be punitive — EV drivers are being punished for owning an EV. They are often forced to pay double and even triple the rates of what drivers of gas vehicles pay in gas taxes. Instead of penalizing drivers for switching to EVs, we need to incentivize the switch. These fees prevent low-income and underserved communities from considering an EV.
EV registration fees don’t solve our transportation funding shortfalls. States that have enacted these fees have huge shortfalls in revenues for transportation. In addition, a Consumer Reports analysis showed that EV fees will not make a dent in declining revenues. They only generate 0.04% of the current state highway funding.
One final reason why this is senseless is that all drivers should be paying equally. While the gas tax is only a part of the revenues collected by states for building and maintaining roads, EV drivers already contribute to these funds through other streams. In many states, EV drivers are paying even more taxes on the electricity they use to charge their vehicles.
This is not the entire report, which you can read and explore for yourself here. Our policymakers across each of the governments (state, local, federal) have a lot of work to do when it comes to helping Americans and supporting us in making that switch to electric. There has been a lot of success, but as with all things, there is room for many improvements.
Electric vehicles are a major win for everyone, the environment, and businesses — and even national security. If the right mix of policies can be implemented fairly, they can help keep one of our largest and historically most successful industrial sectors from decaying — while increasing and retaining jobs. Further, widespread EV adoption will benefit our electrical grid especially financially. It just makes sense to support EVs, because they support us.