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Clean Transport

Florida Republicans Reject Cities’ Efforts To Convert Gas Stations

Yet another southeastern US state, Tennessee, is embracing an electric vehicle future and welcoming investments in zero emissions technologies. What’s the difference between the 2 states?

President Biden’s announcement about electrifying the US was hailed by many as a long overdue step toward zero emissions and mitigating the climate crisis. In Florida, however, legislators aren’t quite so keen to embrace the transition away from fossil fuels. In fact, Florida legislation now forbids cities from requiring gas stations to add electric vehicle charging stations.

Clearly, any Florida meddling with the petroleum industry is verboten, and that includes the end of the supply chain — gasoline and diesel pumping.

The legacy automotive industry is being dragged into the transition to electric vehicles. While it took a decade for the all-electric realization to kick in, more than 100 models will be available for consumer purchase by the end of 2021. Partially, that’s due to stricter CAFE standards — one of the transportation emissions measures under federal scrutiny.

Today, 80% of direct current fast charging and Level 2 charging stations — the fastest way to charge an EV — are located at the following facility types, according to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center: hotels and apartment buildings, car dealerships, shopping centers, and parking lots. The need for DC fast-charging centers is imminent for audiences anywhere from lower-income customers, fleets, and condo residents who don’t have a garage with 120-volt or 240-volt outlets.

Gas stations would be ideal sites for charging. But not in Florida.

The Legislation, the Lobbyists, the Liars

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was delighted to sign the gas station regulation preemption legislation. HB 839, which went into effect during June 2021, “protects” gas stations and comparable infrastructure from cities that are looking over policy options to encourage clean energy, including charging infrastructure. Doncha love the language twist? Why does a billion-dollar industry need a law that “protects” it?

Oh, yeah — the fossil fuel industry supports DeSantis’ and others’ candidacies when they’re up for reelection.

FloridaInstead of allowing cities to use local knowledge to drive decision-making, the Florida Department of Transportation will fund fast-charging stations on highways across the state. But those funds aren’t coming from taxpayers. Nope. Florida is using money from Volkswagen’s dieselgate settlement — spending $8.6 million, to be exact. Plans include adding 34 fast-charging stations along Interstate 95, Interstate 4, Interstate 75, Interstate 275, and Interstate 295.

But when it needs to seem noble and forward-looking, Florida can point to the EV expenditures — just without mentioning the VW slush fund source.

During committee hearings, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Fabricio, said the bill was necessary. He referenced a Tampa City Council resolution that would have a set a goal for the city to move to 100% clean energy by 2030. Fabricio stated emphatically that a decade isn’t enough time to make such changes. “We can’t simply eliminate the sale of petroleum, and that’s what this bill seeks to do.” At least he was honest about his POV — even if he’s totally ill-informed.

DeSantis, too, was all smiles in his subterfuge. “As electric cars become more prevalent on our roads and highways, the development of these charging stations is essential to the success of our ever-evolving transportation system.”

Just don’t make fossil fuel-based businesses adapt and help in the cause — that’s all. Under the new law, local governments can still regulate things like zoning, building codes, and necessary transportation issues.

Interestingly, the state awarded 27 contracts to set up the stations based on hurricane evacuation routes. Little information is available as to what type of battery storage — if any — would be part of the design to offset power outages, such as are indicative of major Florida hurricane scenarios.

A first version of the bill included provisions that would have prevented local governments from prohibiting natural gas fracking, would have nullified solar-promoting ordinances, and would have eliminated county authority over pipelines along roadways. It seems that — when it suits them — Florida’s conservative legislators do believe that centralized government should stay out of the way.

Southeast US EV Manufacturing

Of course, Florida doesn’t have Big Auto manufacturing in its state, so its influence is more provincial. Tennessee, on the other hand, is the southeastern US leader in electric vehicle manufacturing. Nearly 20,000 Tennesseans are employed by companies with EV operations, which expect to produce more than 200,000 EVs by 2028.

That state is embracing more EV automakers as part of its mission to ramp up supply chains for electric-powered vehicles in the region. Since 2013, Tennessee is the home of more than 152,000 electric vehicles and more than $6.2 billion in related capital investment, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Our friends over at the Oakridger have provided a fine outline of EV-related investments in Tennessee. Let’s check it out.

  • Ford Motor Company announced a $5.6 billion investment to create a massive industrial campus about 50 miles northeast of Memphis that will produce a new generation of electric trucks and electric vehicle batteries. It marked the biggest — but not the first — major investment in the electric vehicle industry in Tennessee.
  • In Spring Hill, General Motors has invested more than $4.3 billion during the last 18 months to manufacture electric cars and the batteries that charge them.
  • In Clarksville, Tennessee’s fifth-largest city, a 9-digit industrial investment is coming, part of the electric-powered automotive movement. US owned-and-operated Microvast Power Solutions selected Clarksville as the site where it will manufacture electric vehicle batteries, primarily for commercial vehicles.
  • In East Tennessee, Japan-based DENSO invested $1 billion in Maryville five years ago to create and expand more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs.
  • Chattanooga has experienced a sizable EV investment by Gestamp of $94.7 million. Sese Industrial Services will build a 300,000 square-foot Axle Assembly plant in Chattanooga, where components for the Volkswagen electric vehicle line will be manufactured. Also in Chattanooga is Volkswagen’s first North American EV manufacturing facility. The project, first announced in early 2019, marks a $800 million investment. It will create 1000 jobs in Hamilton County.
  • GM will invest $2 billion in the Cadillac Lyriq, the electric luxury SUV, at the Spring Hill plant. GM says it will stop selling gas-powered, light-duty trucks and sports utility vehicles by 2035. (Are you listening, Rep. Fabricio?)
  • The Nissan factory in Smyrna now builds the Maxima, LEAF, Pathfinder, Rogue, INFINITI QX60, and Murano brands.
  • In February, state officials announced that Axle Manufacturing company will move new operations to Tennessee, resulting in an investment of $42 million, as well as 240 jobs.

Final Thoughts about Florida, EVs, & Renewables

Early this year Florida’s Energy Office released an electric vehicle road map that outlined plans to deal with expected rapid EV growth. Mind you: this is in a state without tax incentives for drivers or executive action for manufacturers.

Florida currently has 60,000 EVs on the road and is projected to double its EV numbers in the next 10 years. State agencies, advocacy groups, and electric vehicle drivers are preparing for this growth. Each of those constituent groups, however, seems to attribute the upcoming workload to another sector.

Isn’t it time for Florida’s powers-that-be to step up and wave goodbye to the fossil fuel industry? Its citizens, too, could use a little enlightenment about the power and place of EVs in the next decade. Florida is ideal for renewables — if only its leaders would pave the way.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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