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Electric Cars Aren’t Zero Emission


The Obama administration, environmentalists, and state officials are all celebrating today’s announcement of final standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance) has placed its attention on how electric vehicles are treated under the standards. The Wall Street Journal bemoans that the standards undercut automaker claims that electric vehicles are zero emission vehicles.

EPA’s final standard still includes a generous incentive program for advanced technology vehicles (electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles.)  The first 200,000 advanced technology vehicles will count as zero emissions for compliance.  But Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance said, “This is supposed to be an incentive, but EPA has its foot on the brakes.”  What is the industry complaining about?

For one thing, EPA essentially closes the door to extending these credits beyond 2016.  EPA also acknowledges the falsehood that electric vehicles aren’t zero emission.  Electric vehicle manufacturers like Nissan have made zero emission claims prominent in their advertising.  But even Nissan’s ad points out that zero emission refers only to tailpipe emissions.

EPA discusses measuring upstream emissions from electric vehicles on a marginal basis – that is it would count emissions from electric power generation that are associated with the electricity used to charge the battery and in turn drive the car.  This ensures that advanced technology vehicles aren’t held responsible for emissions that aren’t related to driving the car, and puts them on equal footing with gasoline powered cars.

Consumers have a right to know that if they choose an advanced technology vehicle that there are greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving those vehicles.  The truth is electric vehicles are powered by electricity from power plants, which are notorious emitters of greenhouse gases.  EPA issued its standards under authority to regulate greenhouse gases to combat climate change, so whether the emissions come from the power plant or from the tailpipe, they must be counted.

Lena Pons is a transportation policy analyst for Public Citizen.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerome permalink
    04/03/2010 5:21 pm

    Electric cars are the common sense approach to stop using gasoline(carbon emmitting fuel of course) Of course the electrical generation process has to be cleaned up as well. And therein lies the beauty of the electric car approach.

    Since elecrical generation is already distributed all over the country and the first world countries of the world it is the natural placed to go green.

    Already we see plans to augment electrical generation facilities with solar and wind farms. As new technologies emerge it makes sense to take advantage of the already existing distribution infastructures of electrical generation.


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