Daily Press (Sunday)

Transition to electric vehicles faces a bumpy road

- By Loren A. Smith, Jr. Loren A. Smith, Jr. of Manassas is president of Skyline Policy Risk Group and a former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion.

Interest in the electrific­ation of our transporta­tion sector is at an all-time high. Today, almost every major automaker is manufactur­ing an electric vehicle — or is at least planning to. In addition, we have elected officials at every level of government looking to help expedite our transition to zero-emissions driving, whether that be through regulation or law.

For example, this year the Environmen­tal Protection Agency instituted two new vehicle emissions standards which will require nearly two-thirds of cars and most trucks sold in the U.S. to be electric vehicles by 2032.

Virginia passed a law in 2021 linking the commonweal­th’s vehicle emission standards to California regulatory standards that would ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Lawmakers failed to repeal this law earlier this year, but the full Virginia General Assembly is up for re-election in November.

Finding ways to accelerate our society’s shift into electric vehicles may seem like a good option on the surface. But despite this transition, these types of mandates could impose significan­t new costs on all Americans.

There is no question EV production has ramped up. But consumers remain hesitant about buying EVs, which underscore­s why there has been only an incrementa­l increase in EV sales. Initial polling by WPA Intelligen­ce among Virginia voters indicates that regulation­s like an EV mandate is not the way to go; in fact, 64% of Virginia voters across seven swing state Senate districts oppose the EV mandate passed in 2021. The facts around EV mandates explain the growing opposition:

Cost. EVs are more costly than the equivalent for gas-powered cars. In 2022, the average price of an EV was $61,488, compared with $49,507 overall, according to Kelley Blue Book. The higher cost of EVs is an even greater challenge with heavy trucks.

The cost isn’t a high hurdle for wealthier consumers, who represent the vast majority of EV purchases. However, it’s a huge stumbling block for lower-income consumers. If cars become more expensive, many drivers will either be unable to drive or will simply hang onto 20-year old cars, with the safety and reliabilit­y problems that implies.

Supply chain. Another challenge raised by growing EV adoption is how to access larger quantities of rare earth elements used in EV battery production. Many critical minerals are produced and refined by China, America’s chief competitor.

On the plus side, the Inflation

Reduction Act of 2022 modified the EV tax credit to promote domestic production. The Biden administra­tion is attempting to shore up access to critical minerals — important not just for cars, but for many other goods. (See also the CHIPS Act of 2022.)

Power grid strain. As more EVs enter service, the strain on the power grid will grow. The fact is that energy that cars currently derive from gas stations will, in an EV future, need to come from the same grid that struggles in periods of high demand, such as during heatwaves.

The concern over grid resiliency is serious enough that California lawmakers are considerin­g mandating “bi-directiona­l” chargers to be installed in new EVs. That would allow power grid operators to draw power out of EVs when they’re plugged in.

The environmen­t. While EVs by themselves produce zero emissions, the production of critical minerals for EV batteries is hardly a “clean” process. EVs also eventually wear out, and the battery recycling process is environmen­tally intensive and costly.

New technology for EVs may solve these problems, but we aren’t there yet. What is clear is that the costs of the current shift towards EVs need to be considered. Working-class and middleclas­s Americans need affordable mobility.

Delivery trucks need to be able to operate without additional costs to consumers. Good stewardshi­p of the environmen­t must include good stewardshi­p of the economy and sound public policy as well.

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