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Benefits of Electric Vehicles Overlook Agricultural Areas

January 13, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Benefits of Electric Vehicles Overlook Agricultural Areas
An electric vehicle charger in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Automotive industry officials told a congressional panel Wednesday that reaching President Joe Biden’s goal of switching the U.S. transportation sector to electric vehicles is likely to be a trade-off of one set of problems for another.

Electric vehicles produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions but their costs could be beyond the ability to pay for most Americans, particularly in rural areas, according to some of the industry experts. 

Others industry experts disagreed, saying global warming leaves no better option.

Members of the House Agriculture Committee generally acknowledged they were reluctant to jump into alternatives to internal combustion engines until they were certain electric vehicles offered a better choice.

“Congress should not be choosing winners and losers,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.

He wanted the economics of supply and demand to help make the decision on appropriate solutions to tailpipe emissions. The transportation sector contributes about 29% of U.S. greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Industry figures show electric vehicle purchases rose for the fifth straight year in 2021 but still make up only 4% of new automobile sales.

Biden wants to wean U.S. consumers off of internal combustion engines by requiring that half of all new auto sales be electric vehicles by 2030. His hotly contested Build Back Better Act pending in Congress includes a tax credit for anyone who purchases an electric vehicle.

Last month, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced plans for a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation. The office is supposed to allocate $7.5 billion to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. 

Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the conservative public policy foundation the Manhattan Institute, warned the Agriculture Committee that electric vehicles reduce emissions but the materials needed to make their batteries are in short supply. China and Russia control much of the market for the lithium, nickel and other minerals. 

Installing hundreds of thousands of battery charging stations would create other costly obstacles, he said. Recharging the vehicles would average about half an hour instead of the roughly five minutes needed to refuel with gasoline.

A better option might be more efficient engines and cleaner-burning fuels, Mills said.

“It would be a very fast way of doing it much, much cheaper,” Mills said.

Lawmakers said the challenges are most acute in rural areas, where few charging stations would be available and the costs of electrified tractors, trucks and other equipment could be prohibitive.

“These are our vital producers of food, fiber and so many other areas that we’re working on,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., who chairs the Agriculture Committee.

About 1,500 electric vehicle charging stations are installed in his home state of Georgia, Scott said. Of those, 1,110 are in the Atlanta area.

In rural Georgia, “good luck” trying to find a charging station, he said.

Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, recommended ethanol derived from corn as a middle ground option to benefit rural residents but also to reduce carbon emissions.

Ethanol additives to gasoline can reduce carbon emissions by half, he said. More ethanol also would expand corn markets for farmers.

He agreed electric vehicles provide environmental benefits but said they are impractical as the only means of transportation for all Americans anytime soon.

“It would take decades to turn over the fleet” to electric vehicles, Cooper said.

Tom can be reached at [email protected]

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