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Is President Biden’s Plan To Electrify US Transportation “Illegal?”

The Heritage Foundation claims that the Administration is circumventing the legislative branch by moving to force people into using electric vehicles. Is there merit to this argument?

A written commentary this month issued from the Heritage Foundation — that famous Koch Industries climate denial front group — shows how very nervous many in the right wing are getting about electric vehicles (EVs) in the US. The article is really quite fun to deconstruct, as it attacks the premises that US transportation needs to decarbonize, that EVs make economic sense for consumers, and that Congressional legislation can usher in transformative changes for the citizenry.

Let’s go to it.

The Heritage Foundation’s argumentation invites the reader into the article with a series of faulty premises, called Key Takeaways.

Faulty premise #1: “President Joe Biden is circumventing the legislative branch by moving to force people into using electric vehicles.”

The American Bar Association notes that executive orders are issued by the President of the United States, acting in their capacity as head of the executive branch, directing a federal official or administrative agency to engage in a course of action or refrain from a course of action. The American Presidency Project tracks presidential orders. Donald Trump issued 220 executive orders, and Joe Biden has 104 orders as of this writing. (Neither have enacted as many executive orders as FDR with 3721.)

Conservatives say that Democratic presidents use executive orders to achieve results they fail to get through Congress. In contrast, when Trump signed executive orders, the Heritage Foundation described the actions as positive “at a time when our country needs leadership.”

Excuse the aphorism, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. All executive orders “force” systemic change.

Faulty premise #2: “Manufacturers that don’t sell enough EVs have to buy credits or pay fines, increasing the price of all nonelectric cars.”

Some of this statement is true, and the rest is little more than wordplay. Recent data suggests passenger electric vehicles may be poised for exponential growth over the next decade. They’re still early in a projected trajectory, with some rising expansion occurring but not yet at top speed. Yes, at this moment in time, EVs sales are a minority percentage of overall vehicle sales. But global plugin vehicle registrations were up 51% in September, 2022 compared to September, 2021, reaching a record 1,040,000 units. This is the first time ever the world has reached one million plugin vehicle registrations in a month. Year to date, the plugin vehicle share grew to 13% (9.3% BEV).

And, yes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this year reinstated a sharp increase in penalties for automakers whose vehicles do not meet fuel efficiency requirements for model years 2019 and beyond. EVs have zero emissions, so they are clearly the easiest mechanism for carmakers to meet fuel efficiency requirements — of course, they could also build vehicles that get better mileage in the short term, for example, deemphasizing the behemoths that provide such substantial auto industry profitability.

Faulty premise #3: “Congress should use every means possible — whether through oversight, appropriations, or legislation — to expose and rein in the Biden administration’s power grab.”

What’s called a “power grab” here by the Heritage Foundation is contradicted by the US Department of Energy (DOE): “All forms of electric vehicles can help improve fuel economy, lower fuel costs, and reduce emissions.”

In recent years, the Heritage Foundation has received funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. The Koch dynasty has donated millions of dollars to Donors Trust through the Knowledge and Progress Fund and other vehicles. It’s clear that the Kochs resist car and truck standards “that can be met only by electrification of at least 17% of the new fleet.” The Heritage Foundation calls those standards “illegal.”

The sentiment to “use every means possible” to keep fossil fuels viable in the transportation sector is the same effort that resonated with lobbyists at COP27. There were more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at the climate conference, a saturation of more than 25% from last year and outnumbering any one frontline community affected by the climate crisis.

The answer is that Big Oil donors are desperate to extend the life of transportation fossil fuels — hence, their fabulous wealth streams — as long as possible. It seems a power grab is in the eyes of the beholder.

Misstatements, Exaggeration, & Plain Old Falsehoods: EVs & US Transportation

Is it really true that “the vast majority of people don’t support phasing out and eventually banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars?” Maybe “support” is the wrong word. “Understand” may be closer to the actual reactions of individuals surveyed. 35% of people in the US now say they plan to buy or lease an EV or are seriously considering doing so. Is that a “vast majority?” No, the concession is acknowledged. The numbers, however, are consistently stronger with every passing year.

We at CleanTechnica have been adamant that people need to learn about the use, cost, maintenance, and zero emissions of all-electric transportation. When more people are informed about the power and place of EVs, fewer will want to cling to their internal combustion engines (ICEs). Dealers have a crucial role in this educational process and need to step up their proverbial games.

The Brookings Institute reminds us that, as gasoline prices fluctuate in 2022, the roughly 2 million owners of EVs have been spared the pain at the pump. Another point the Brookings Institute makes is that “increasing the ownership and production of EVs presents a strategic opportunity to not only insulate the public from price spikes in oil but also boost the clean manufacturing workforce and decarbonize the transportation sector — the largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States.” Reducing climate pollution through transportation emissions is crucial for the next generations who will follow us.

Perhaps the culmination to the Heritage Foundation article is the most informative. “The regulations coming out of the EPA and the Transportation Department are the most expensive in US history,” the article says. “They are designed to remake, not to regulate, our energy systems.” Again, word choice is so crucial in rhetoric. “Remake” has a harsh, derogatory tone. “Regulate” is softer, inherent with a sense that transitions will be slow, methodical, easier to accommodate.

A springtime editorial in The American Conservative magazine noted if automakers “build the EV right, they will come.” These writers prefer a transition to EVs spread over many upcoming years as automakers figure out nuances to manufacturing, supply chains, pricing, range, and catalog shifts.

Perhaps a September article out of the Nasdaq helps reluctant conservative consumers to come to terms with their driving future. The “rapid growth of the electric vehicle industry” indicates “no signs of slowing.” They acknowledge that, while we’re in the “midst of the EV revolution,” the industry behind it has further progress to make ahead. “The best way to make electric transportation attainable to the masses,” they conclude, “is for manufacturers to prioritize the greater impact of EVs than maximizing profits.”

Hmm.

Despite the Heritage Foundation’s moaning and groaning, the for-profit influence of right wing think tanks and advocacy organizations promotes the policies and personnel for a new Republican right. United in favor of economic nationalism, the group is in shock from the recent midterm elections. The wrath at the Biden administration for being able to wield power to move the all-electric vehicle movement forward is just one symptom of their deep churning miscalculation about the climate crisis and other issues.

 
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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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