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Electric vehicle infrastructure putting us on a path away from oil dependence

05/27/2010

Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Last week, President Obama announced in a Rose Garden ceremony his plans for cutting oil dependence.  Part of the announcement was support of initiatives to bolster infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Today, House and Senate leaders announced plans to introduce bills that would provide additional funding for electric vehicle infrastructure.  While the House and Senate versions of the bill are still different, the core concept is to encourage the deployment of electric vehicles by providing local governments with funding to build out infrastructure to deploy the vehicles.  Building infrastructure to support alternative fuels has been a challenge in the past.

As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, the environmental benefit of electric vehicles depends on the electricity that is used.  Since electricity in different parts of the country comes from different sources, and electric vehicle is “cleaner” in a greenhouse gas emissions sense in some places than others.  Since the plans would require local governments to submit plans, infrastructure investments can be made in places where the electric grid is cleanest, producing the biggest greenhouse gas benefit from switching to electric vehicles.

Encouraging electric vehicle deployment is an important step towards cutting oil consumption. While reports suggest that maybe the latest effort to staunch the oil leak at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the impacts of the explosion there are far from over. There is renewed interest in quickly finding a path away from oil.

But pushing for more electric vehicle deployment puts pressure on the Obama administration to answer some key questions in how it will treat electric vehicles.  In the standards just finalized through model year 2016 for light duty vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will count each manufacturer’s first 200,000 electric vehicles as if they had zero greenhouse gas emissions.  Last week’s announcement puts EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on a short timeline to set forth its policy recommendations for model year 2017 and beyond – so how the agencies will count emissions after 2016 is a question that needs to be answered now.

If we are to push for better vehicles that put us on the path to cut both oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA must account for greenhouse gas emissions from electricity.

Public Citizen will continue to closely watch and make recommendations for the most accurate greenhouse gas emission accounting as these questions come up in the coming months.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst at Public Citizen.

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