Equity Must Be Central To Transportation Electrification

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This week Senator Joe Manchin (D-Coal) issued remarks on the Build Back Better Act that renewed hope in its passage in 2022. “I think that the climate thing is one that we probably can come to agreement much easier than anything else,” Manchin told reporters. The $555 billion Act contains clean energy tax incentives that are necessary to meet President Joe Biden’s target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions this decade by at least 50% from 2005 levels. Transportation electrification is central to those goals.

It is critical that US power brokers focus policy decisions and investment opportunities on creating EV charging infrastructure that makes driving EVs practical for people from all walks of life. If the US is going to authentically transition its transportation sector to electric, everyone — regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic region — must be able to comfortably rely on charging systems in place.

Equity must be central to transportation electrification.

Why Transportation Electrification Must Address Equity Considerations

The shift to cleaner transportation emissions has already begun.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in 2021 new and stricter limits on pollution from automobile tailpipes that would require passenger vehicles to travel an average of 55 miles per gallon of gasoline by 2026, from just under 38 miles per gallon today. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide would thus be prevented from reaching the atmosphere.
  • ICCT data indicates that, in the US, an EV produces between 60-68% fewer emissions than a traditional ICE vehicle over its lifetime of use, even when taking into account the emissions associated with battery production and the reality that the US energy grid still relies primarily on fossil fuels for electricity generation.
  • Ongoing research into battery recycling will further reduce the carbon intensity of producing EV’s; so, too, will the introduction of more renewable energy sources.

Transportation electrification equity needs be front and center when determining infrastructure funding and programs. According to the US Department of Transportation’s 2020 Year-in-Review:

  • Households spent an average of $9,826 on transportation.
  • Rural households spent more on transportation than urban households (20.0 and 15.7% of total expenditures, respectively).
  • Households in the bottom fifth spent more of their after tax income on transportation than those in the top fifth (28.8 and 9.5% of total expenditures, respectively).

A recent New York Times editorial stated, “Climate change is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” That unequal distribution of climate effects means that persons most vulnerable to effects of climate change have the least control over the warming of the planet, since they emit far less carbon dioxide.

Across the US, the transportation sector is the leading source of greenhouse emissions and air pollution that harms public health, but the detrimental effects associated with air pollution are not distributed equally. Transportation-related air pollution has a wide range of impacts on human health, such as increased cancer risk, lung and heart ailments, asthma, diabetes, and premature death. Transportation electrification will contribute to cleaner air for these (and all) communities and will save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs for people in the US.

Increased EV Production, Battery Solutions, & Decentralization of the Grid

This week, Ford Motor Company said it is planning to nearly double production of the F-150 Lightning™ pickup at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn to 150,000 trucks per year to meet high demand for the first all-electric version of the popular F-Series. Ford has acknowledged that the US car market is ready to align EV sales with the global market.

Volkswagen released a statement last month that its EVs will be part of a “universal and seamless eco-system for charging.” The company’s new charging solutions for home and mobile charging and bidirectional charging “is decisive for accelerating the ramp-up of the electric mobility campaign. Charging must become simpler and easier to integrate into daily activities,” explained a Volkswagen spokesperson.

Nathaniel Bullard at Bloomberg Green argues that, if hundreds of millions of vehicles become participants in the power market in the coming years, they will play a significant role in the decentralization of the power and transport systems. “Millions of solar generation systems and battery systems will be individually owned,” Bullard describes, “participating in power markets that only a few decades ago were the exclusive province of large utilities and state-owned and state-regulated companies.”

A blend of decentralization of assets along with entities that will serve command and control functions will introduce much innovation alongside new energy business models. The US Solar Energy Industries Association says we have an historic opportunity to uplift every American community by growing the clean energy economy, but we need bold infrastructure investments to support it with technology solutions and a 21st century electric grid.

EV Charging Enhancements

The ecosystem of EV products and networks is still quite nascent, and lack access to information, hands-on experiences, and infrastructure can make entry into this market challenging for people. The CleanTechnica EV Charging & Chargers 101 Report” is an efficient starting place to learn more.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Electrify the South are now members of the National EV Charging Initiative, which supports federal action on a national charging network for light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles. The Initiative:

  • acknowledges that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act commits $7.5 billion to deploy charging infrastructure, and the pending Build Back Better bill would add financial incentives for EV adoption
  • recognizes that manufacturers’ investments in electric drive technology are producing results, with dozens of models of electric cars, trucks, and buses with bigger batteries and longer range coming to market
  • admits that a significant challenge remains — deploying sufficient charging infrastructure to assure consumers and fleet operators that they can meet all their driving needs when they go electric
  • is working to mobilize to address financing challenges, leverage progress to date, and unlock public and private capital to scale infrastructure deployment

Final Thoughts about Transportation Electrification

Did you know that 30 states already have clean energy standards? Transportation electrification is an important mechanism to reach clean energy goals. In order to encourage the production and use of electric vehicles, however, the US must harness not only market forces but also work to coalesce policy support at the federal and state government levels.

Transportation electrification offers a fast and safe way to confront the climate crisis by vastly reducing carbon emissions, improving quality of life by reducing air pollution, and creating economic opportunities. These results can be impactful and provide much-needed benefits to historically underserved communities, who suffer the majority of effects of historical pollution patterns.

It is all our responsibility to influence this transition; moreover, we must consider equity components at every juncture in order to address past injustices and introduce the strongest system in place in our electric transportation future.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, 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 Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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