By Luke Tonachel, Natural Resources Defense Council
It’s refreshing to hear leaders in Congress talk of big plans to cut pollution from transportation. When that plan is supported from auto industry workers, environmentalists, and car manufacturers, I’m hopeful that new federal leadership can deliver the policies we need to protect our health from air pollution and avoid the ravages of climate change.
While the administration is undermining public health and increasing our dependence on polluting oil, one hopeful approach at accelerating progress is being proposed by Senators Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, today.
Under their plan car owners would get a rebate for trading in their aging gasoline vehicle for a new U.S.-assembled, cleaner electric vehicle, with added incentives for vehicles built using strong labor standards and parts mainly sourced domestically. This will help us create thousands of high-quality jobs as we build a U.S.-based electric vehicle supply chain from battery production to vehicle assembly. The plan has the support of groups ranging from the UAW to General Motors to NRDC.
Senators estimate that this program would help pull 63 million gas guzzlers off the road and replace them with electric vehicles. Since EV’s are more efficient and less polluting than internal-combustion engines, that would lead to huge reductions in toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Any plan to avert dangerous climate change must dramatically cut emissions from our cars through two fundamental actions: (1) strengthen standards that require gasoline vehicles to be cleaner and more fuel-efficient and (2) shift the gasoline fleet to electric vehicles as rapidly as possible. Transportation is now the largest source of emissions, and it’s time to accelerate progress on both fronts.
But the Trump administration is going in reverse. It is working to roll back clean car standards and has already revoked state authority to implement zero-emission vehicle programs that ensure electric vehicles are available for sale. (We are contesting this move in court and expect to win.)
Automakers currently depend heavily on overseas manufacturing for EV components that we can and should make here. Automakers’ attacks on clean vehicle standards under Trump have sowed uncertainty in the industry, making investment in future vehicles more difficult.
Under the plan unveiled today, the federal government would offer incentives for electric-vehicle manufacturing plants in the U.S. and help build out the millions of charging stations that we will need to ensure those drivers can refuel and go.
While this proposal has broad support, we need to be clear-eyed about the long odds at getting it passed now, given the climate denial in the White House. Enacting this plan into law is going to need to wait for a change in the leadership in Washington.
In the mean-time there are other opportunities for Congress to make progress. First up, lawmakers should make clear their opposition to this administration that rolling back the tailpipe emissions standards and attempting an illegal revocation of states’ authority to set their own standards. These rules are a crucial baseline, and we cannot allow the Trump administration to squander progress now.
Second, there is broad bipartisan support for expanding and reinvigorating the tax credit for electric vehicles. The tax credit has helped spur along this nascent market for EVs. Congress must rework the cap so that those companies selling the most EVs can continue to pass these benefits on to their customers.
We have endorsed a measure from Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee. This bipartisan legislation, the Driving America Forward Act, would lift the cap that now limits the $7,500 tax credit for the first 200,000 EVs each automaker sells. An additional 400,000 vehicles would be eligible for a $7,000 tax credit under this measure. This change would make an important impact on the sale and availability of EVs and we hope Congress finds a way to get it passed.