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All-electric cars in Costa Rica, Image courtesy of Mario Duran Ortiz


The Politics Of Electric Cars In America

Electric cars are becoming a partisan battlefield as some politicians seek to demonize them as a tool of “woke” capitalism.

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Electric cars are different than conventional cars powered by infernal combustion engines. That is troublesome to some. People who make their living by manufacturing, selling, and repairing conventional cars risk losing money as their carefully created business models get disrupted. Just as wheelwrights and blacksmiths saw their livelihoods interrupted when the transition from Conestoga wagons to automobiles took place, so too will those who rely on building cars that utilize the time-honored technology of exploding fossil fuels in confined spaces suffer life-altering changes.

In theory, the heart and soul of capitalism is the notion of creative destruction. The wonders of Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” lead inevitably to new companies that use capital more efficiently displacing older companies that cannot adapt to changes in the marketplace. Think Kodak, Nokia, PanAm, Studebaker, or Bell telephone. The list of companies that have passed from the scene is long and about to grow longer, unless those dinosaur companies can do something to stay the inexorable march of progress.

One method that has proven quite effective is to bribe lawmakers to pass laws that protect them from the new kids on the block. Car dealers are particularly adept at this. The Supreme Court calls it free speech, but it is little more than racketeering. Statistically, buying favors from the government — a process known politely as lobbying — often leads to a staggering return on investment. Who wouldn’t spend $10 million to get a $1 billion payoff? You’d be crazy not to make that deal.

Electric Cars Get Smacked Down In DeSantistan

In this year’s session of the Florida legislature, a bill known as SB284 sailed through with little opposition. It made one small but significant change to how the state decides what vehicles it buys. Previously, the state purchasing agency was required to select cars with the best available fuel economy. The new law changed that to prioritize cars with the lowest lifetime cost of ownership.

There are many factors that go into computing the cost of ownership of a vehicle — purchase price, depreciation, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and the cost of fuel being the primary ones. The new law would make Florida more like corporate fleet managers, who figure total cost of ownership down to the hundredth of a penny per mile. When you have a fleet of a few hundred or a few thousand vehicles, those fractions of a cent can add up to real money.

Electric cars start off at a disadvantage because they cost more to buy, but over the years, the cost of “fuel” is much less. They also tend to cost less to maintain. There are no oil and filter changes, no spark plugs to renew, no multi-speed transmissions to repair, fewer brake pads and rotors to replace, and no mufflers to wear out. [Editor’s note: Also, having done many of these analyses, a huge factor is resale value/depreciation, and that’s a huge assumption, so the fleets can adjust the assumption to whatever they prefer. And they will probably favor gas cars more than they should.]

According to the Miami Herald, SB284 was sponsored by a Republican, senator Jason Brodeur, who said when the bill was filed that it would address “an outdated and ineffective way of evaluating vehicle performance and financial benefits. This legislation doesn’t establish any mandates or consumer obligations, but it certainly does create opportunity. Conservatives have always been solutions-oriented and savings-focused, and this legislation will give public officials the freedom to make investments in vehicles that are in the best long-term interests of taxpayers.”

SB284 was endorsed by two groups often at odds politically — the Sierra Club and the Florida Natural Gas Association. Estimates suggested it could have saved hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. It passed nearly unanimously, only to be vetoed without explanation by Ron DeSantis.

Michael Weiss of Advanced Energy United, a trade group promoting clean transportation that supported the bill, said in a statement, “This veto is a baffling decision that will cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars. The Florida Legislature saw the clear economic and taxpayer benefits of a modern and efficient state fleet, but Gov. DeSantis somehow didn’t get the memo.”

His group estimated the bill could have saved Floridians $277 million over 15 years if the entire fleet of cars were converted to electric vehicles. “This veto is out of step with the interests of Florida families and the leaders they sent to the Legislature. It’s perplexing why the governor would drop the ball on this opportunity to save taxpayers money.”

DeSantis has declined to offer an explanation for his unexpected veto, but the Miami Herald notes that it came shortly after a disgraced former president told a crowd of fawning sycophants that, if re-elected, he would dismantle the Inflation Reduction Act and all the clean energy and transportation initiatives of the Biden administration, sending America back to the Stone Age if that’s what it takes to make it great again.

DeSantis, who is himself a candidate for the presidency, can’t allow himself to be seen as weak on electric cars when his nemesis is taking up cudgels against the EV revolution. My old Irish grandmother would call this “cutting off your nose to spite your face,” but such is the mentality of the right-wing lunatic fringe that DeSantis wishes to cozy up to. Be careful what you wish for, Ronnie. You just might get it.

Electric Cars In Georgia

Just north of DeSantistan this week, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who certified his own election when he was secretary of state for the Peach State, was also taking potshots at Biden and the IRA. The flood of investments flowing to red states like Georgia as a result of the Biden policies — even though not one Republican voted in favor of them — has not earned the Democrats an era of good feeling.

Kemp was strutting around last week at a groundbreaking ceremony for Anovion, a company that plans to make graphite for the batteries of electric cars. Despite the fact that Anovion got $117 million from the federal government to help build its factory, Kemp snarled to reporters, “Georgia’s electric mobility boom is taking place because our state is second to none for companies looking to invest, relocate, expand, and innovate — not because the federal government continues to put their thumb on the scale, favoring a few companies over the industry as a whole.”

Just what put a bee in Kemp’s bonnet is unclear. The Inflation Reduction Act plays no favorites. Those who meet its requirements get the benefits, no questions asked. It is mildly astonishing how the IRA has funneled a tsunami of cash to primarily Republican controlled states and gotten slapped in the face repeatedly by way of a thank you. According to the Associated Press, to date, 40 electric vehicle related projects with a total investment of $22.7 billion have flowed to Georgia since Biden took office, adding 28,400 jobs to the state’s economy.

Of course, Georgia has two Democratic senators, a fact that rankles the Georgia crackers to no end. Kemp would like nothing more than to see one or both lose their next election, to be replaced by the ineffable Marjorie Taylor Greene who astonished the world recently by revealing the awful truth that the television in her home is a two-way device that secretly spies on her.

Senator Jon Ossoff told the AP, “It is bizarre to attend a groundbreaking and launch a political attack on the very policy that made the groundbreaking possible. The governor is throwing a panicked political tantrum over the success of federal manufacturing policies in his own state.”

The Takeaway

And so the beat goes on, as Republicans try to please their corporate masters by opposing anything and everything that will change America for the better. In Texas, the legislature has approved $10 billion to build new methane gas-fired generating plants while restricting support for renewables — this at a time when renewables are keeping the lights on during the longest heat spell in the the state’s history. With modern-day Republicans, it’s all about political power and “winning.” Governing never enters their minds.

The implications for electric cars are clear. They are becoming a political flash point and that could significantly delay or even derail the EV revolution. As always, think before you vote. The Earth can’t wait for MAGA Madness to run its course.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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