Senate Plans for Transition to Electric Vehicles
WASHINGTON — A Senate panel tried to chart a course Tuesday for the United States to transition to electric vehicles while acknowledging major cost and regulatory obstacles lie ahead.
There are too few stations to recharge electric vehicle batteries, the critical minerals to make them come from unreliable foreign countries and government regulators are making demands the auto industry considers impractical.
Nevertheless, many lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate and Nuclear Safety were undaunted.
“I feel we’ve got an incredible future that we can look forward to,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who chairs the subcommittee.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said environmental benefits from the dramatically reduced emissions of electric vehicles compared with gasoline-powered vehicles were only part of the benefit. In addition, consumers would pay less to fuel and maintain the vehicles.
“It’s not just low emissions, it’s low maintenance,” Carper said.
The hearing was timed to review federal policies recently announced or being considered in Congress to hold off climate change by reducing use of fossil fuels.
On Monday, the Biden administration announced eligibility standards for electric vehicle owners to qualify for as much as a $7,500 tax credit.
Nearly all the vehicles are American-made, mostly from Ford, General Motors, Tesla and Stellantis. Qualifying vehicles must be priced under caps set by the Inflation Reduction Act, which means no more than $55,000 for cars and $80,000 for SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.
The new standard took effect on Tuesday. Eligible vehicles must be fully electric or plug-in hybrids.
In separate moves, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new emission standards for heavy duty trucks that begin in 2027 and become more stringent year by year. By 2032, they would make it nearly impossible for most commercial trucks to be anything other than electric vehicles.
President Joe Biden last week proposed regulations to ensure two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of heavy trucks sold in the United States are all-electric by 2032.
Currently, only 5.8% of new cars and fewer than 2% of new heavy trucks sold in the United States are all-electric.
If Biden’s goal is achieved, it would align the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level scientists say is needed to avoid the worst of climate change predictions.
A key witness at the Senate hearing Tuesday was Christopher Harto, an environmental policy analyst for the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Consumer Reports. He agreed the Biden administration’s ambitious goals were worthwhile.
The proposed rules “would save consumers money on fueling costs while reducing spending on health care tied to air pollution, and reducing spending on climate disaster recovery tied to greenhouse emissions,” Harto said.
The average transaction price of a new vehicle in the United States this year is $48,763, compared with $59,739 for an electric vehicle, according to automobile industry estimates.
However, lower fueling costs for electric vehicles will save consumers about $900 over the life of the vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Optimistic projections during the hearing drew words of caution from other witnesses and lawmakers.
Most of the lithium and graphite required for the lithium batteries in electric vehicles come from China, which has a sometimes volatile relationship with the United States.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said moving too quickly toward electric vehicles leaves the United States too vulnerable to the ups and downs of foreign policy.
“All this does is make us more dependent on China,” he said.
He agreed electric vehicles could be a good alternative but suggested a transition that also considers the need to build domestic supply lines for automobile manufacturers and new infrastructure for charging stations.
“This kind of timeline doesn’t give our country the time we need to mine critical minerals,” Sullivan said.
Andrew Boyle, a trucking company owner who represented the American Trucking Associations, agreed.
He said the trucking industry was “fully on board” with reducing harmful emissions with electric vehicles but added, “The path to get there has to be logical.”