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July 07, 2011

Broad Coalition Releases Statement on Advancing Plug-In Cars and Freedom from Oil

Nissan Leaf EV Symposium25An unlikely group of more than 180 companies and organizations –- large and small -- from nearly every U.S. state joined together to demand strong local, state, and federal programs that will promote plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) and drive us toward freedom from oil. The Sierra Club played a lead role in gathering these signatures on the sign-on statement (pdf) and bringing this coalition together.

I live near Boston, so on Independence Day I was explaining to my kids the Boston Tea Party protest that was staged right in our own harbor, when American colonists were demanding the right to make decisions for themselves. Now, 238 years later, we live in a very different society that is safer and freer in some ways, but dangerous in others.

Consider our dependence on oil. Cars and light trucks alone guzzle 142 billion gallons of gasoline each year and emit 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions -- and the transportation sector is the fastest growing source of such emissions. The way so many of us get around is a major contributor to global warming pollution.

According to a recent U.S. Army report, for every 24 of our fuel convoys in Afghanistan, one soldier or Marine is killed or wounded guarding that convoy. Our nation sends up to a third of a trillion dollars overseas each year to purchase foreign oil, often produced by countries that are unstable or unfriendly. Foreign oil purchases are also responsible for about 50 percent of the U.S. trade deficit.

Plug-in electric vehicles will help us achieve freedom from oil. EVs use no gasoline, so there is no dependence on oil and no tailpipe emissions. Yes, there are emissions associated with the electricity used to charge EVs, but these emissions are significantly lower than those from traditional vehicles.  As we clean up our grid and rely more on renewable sources of power, EVs get even cleaner over time.  That's why the Sierra Club launched the Go Electric Campaign this year.

Plug in car The city of Atlanta was one of several cities that signed the EV statement:

"Electricity is one of the key alternative fuel sources that will enable the U.S. to reduce our dependence on oil, and electric vehicles present an opportunity for Georgia to lead in a growing industry that is creating jobs," said Jules Toraya, a former U.S. Army Medical Operations Officer and Platoon Leader and now a Program Manager in the Mayor's Office of Sustainability at the City of Atlanta. "The City of Atlanta offers the perfect landscape to create, test, and scale a successful deployment program for electric vehicles (EVs)."  

New EVs are on the market in select cities nationwide, and by next year, they will be available in nearly every state.  We need to put the right policies, infrastructure, and programs in place to support a cleaner and safer shift in the way we power our vehicles. This week's EV sign-on statement, organized by Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, BlueGreen Alliance, and Pew Environment Group, spells out some of the types of policies that will allow us to become EV-ready ASAP:

1. Expand national, regional, and local efforts that help attract greater concentrations of electric vehicles in communities across the country. The program should balance assistance to communities ready to test new EV regulatory and business models with nationwide support for cities and states that take serious steps to prepare for EV deployment, including appropriate utility planning and policy.

2. Remove unnecessary bureaucratic and market obstacles to vehicle electrification nationwide through a variety of policies that:

  • bolster nationwide installation of and access to basic charging infrastructure, both at people’s homes and in public places;
  • incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles and EV charging equipment and streamline the permitting application process for EV charging equipment;
  • educate the public about the benefits of EVs and the costs, opportunities, and logistical considerations involved with EV charging infrastructure;
  • ensure appropriate training for workers installing EV charging equipment and for first responders;
  • encourage utilities to provide attractive rates and programs for EV owners and increase off-peak charging;
  • assist in deployment of clean energy, efficiency, and energy management technologies jointly with vehicle charging; and
  • accelerate advanced battery cost reduction by boosting EV use in fleets, in second use, and in stationary applications.

3. Ensure US leadership in manufacturing of electric drive vehicles, batteries and components. Extend support for innovation, commercialization, and manufacture of advanced light and heavy duty electric vehicles and components. Enhance research and development as well as loans and other incentives that leverage and attract private investment in technology development and advanced manufacturing in this sector.

Just last week, my extended family was on vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  The parks were stunningly beautiful, with snow-capped mountains, lush vegetation, flowing rivers, and wildlife (elk and bison and bears, oh my!) actually streaming past us. I met the head of Yellowstone Park's maintenance department who expressed his excitement for the park to get its first EV later this year. Just as we left, I heard about the oil spill in the Yellowstone River

River in Yellowstone Park
Let's imagine a time when there are no oil spills because there is no need for oil. Let's work with businesses, governments, consumers, and communities to turn that vision into a reality.  Bold EV policies and programs like the ones proposed in this week's sign-on statement, in addition to other alternative transportation advances, will be one important way to get going.

(Top image of Nissan Leaf credit: Brian Foley; bottom image of river in Yellowstone credit: Gina Coplon-Newfield.)

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative for Electric Vehicles

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