Americans may reject radical climate policies like the Green New Deal, but President Biden continues to use his office to advance that vision and to appease powerful allies like the unions. Most recently, he signed yet another executive order, this time targeting vehicle emissions and supporting the increased production of electric, hydrogen-fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The new order sets the ambitious goal of these vehicles making up half of U.S. sales in 2030.
The order doesn’t mention unions, instead generically promising, “This will allow us to boost jobs — with good pay and benefits — across the United States” but a pro-union message was made clear by who the president invited to the signing. Elon Musk, the founder of the most American-made electric vehicle (EV) company, was not invited to the White House event. According to some sly implications by the White House press secretary, Musk was snubbed because Tesla’s workforce is not union-represented, unlike those of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, and Stellantis, the three companies represented at the event and the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers Union.
With characteristic broad claims that ignore real-life financial issues, the White House announced that this order “kicks off development of long-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards to save consumers money, cut pollution, boost public health, advance environmental justice, and tackle the climate crisis.” But the real story is the increased upfront cost per vehicle that will be forced upon American consumers and the proposals’ dubious environmental benefits.
Instead of saving Americans money, the average electric vehicle costs about $20,000 more than the average gas-powered vehicle. While EV proponents argue that electric vehicles save money down the road in reduced fuel and maintenance costs, some studies have shown that, depending on your regional gas and electricity prices, it could take more than 15 years to recoup the upfront extra costs in fuel savings. The average American certainly can’t wait that long to “make back” the additional upfront cost, especially as they’ll already be paying through the nose in taxes to support the charging stations that the government has promised to provide.
And what the White House doesn’t tell you is that electric vehicles aren’t as “zero-emissions” as they would like you to believe. Electric cars still need to be charged from the local electricity grid — which may be using any variety of energy sources with varying amounts of carbon emissions. For example, if an electric vehicle is charging on a coal-based power grid, then it is increasing the demand for electricity in that grid, leading to increased emissions from the coal power plant. And the batteries for these vehicles require minerals like lithium and cobalt which are largely found outside of the U.S., in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chile, which have little consideration for their own environmental impact, not to mention the human rights abuses associated with the mining of these minerals.
After all this, however, the real question remains: is this all worth it?
According to a 2018 Manhattan Institute report, the answer is no. The report found that if there was widespread adoption of electric vehicles “the overall reduction [in CO2 emissions] would be less than 1% of total forecast energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions through 2050.” Traditional gas-powered vehicles have become more efficient over the years and produce less emissions, thus lessening the impact of any widespread shift to electric vehicles.
We should work to reduce our nation’s emissions, but forcing unaffordable vehicles with negligible effects on emissions on Americans is not the way to do it. As outlined in this new report, the better approach to reasonably and meaningfully reduce emissions is to encourage innovation in the energy sector and deploy technology we already have, such as carbon capture and advanced nuclear generation. We can also maintain our existing nuclear reactors instead of shutting them down, a trend that is counterproductive to reducing emissions.
Innovation, not government subsidies, is the path forward.
In this era of COVID-19, we’ve often heard the phrase, “listen to the science.” President Biden and his administration should do just that and stop forcing expensive and ineffective ways to reduce carbon emissions on the American people. The U.S. has a long history of rising to the challenge and finding innovative solutions to our problems. We have already made great progress in developing clean energy solutions and will continue to find new ways to reduce emissions without forcing Americans to rely on technologies that have shown to have little environmental upside and come at great cost to the American people.
Charlotte Whelan is a policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Council.