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March 08, 2012

President Obama's Drive Toward Electric

White House and Electric Vehicles

As gas prices rise again, and we Americans send more than $1 billion overseas for oil each and every day, mostly to fuel our cars and trucks, many people see no way out. But those of us who have driven electric vehicles know that oil-free driving is possible. That's why we took note yesterday when President Obama proposed bold new programs that would dramatically boost the market for electric vehicles and our ability to break Big Oil’s stranglehold on our way of life.

In a speech at the Daimler Trucks North America Mt. Holly manufacturing plant in North Carolina, President Obama said he plans to launch an "EV Everywhere" challenge to make EVs "as affordable and convenient as gasoline-powered vehicles for the average American family within a decade."

Designed by the Department of Energy as part of its Clean Energy Grand Challenges, this $650 million grant program would allow American scientists, engineers, and businesses to conduct the research and development that will lower the cost of EV batteries, improve EV driving distance range, and enhance EV fast-charging. These advances would be a total game changer and would allow EVs to surge into the mainstream.

If you've heard the term "EV-ready," you probably know that a few cities are, and many are not. To be EV-ready, a community needs to install public EV charging stations in smart locations, work with its local utility companies to prepare for increased electricity usage in certain areas and during certain times of day, streamline its permitting process for the installation of EV chargers, and educate its residents and businesses about the many benefits of switching to electric, oil-free vehicles. Through the president's newly proposed Race to the Top National Community Deployment Program, communities would compete for grants that will allow them to invest in EV-readiness. Ten to 15 chosen communities would receive a total of $1 billion. I can think of several local Clean Cities, Project Get Ready, and other community programs that would put these funds to excellent use.

President Obama also proposes to make electric vehicles more affordable. How? By raising the tax credit on purchasing an EV from $7,500 to $10,000, reforming the credit to make it available at the dealership–rather than at tax time, and removing the cap on the number of vehicles per manufacturer eligible for the credit. With increasing financial pain at the pump, a less expensive EV will be a thrilling oil-free alternative for many drivers.

Certain aspects of the president's new advanced vehicle proposal would incentivize natural gas vehicles. We at the Sierra Club remain wary of heavy investment in natural gas, particularly given concerns about the health and environmental threats posed by natural gas fracking and the insufficient regulation and oversight of natural gas operations. EVs will rely on cleaner sources of electricity over time, while natural gas vehicles would still rely on dirty fossil fuels that prevent us from attaining a true clean energy economy. 

However, the bold proposals to make electric vehicles more affordable, accessible, and convenient would launch us miles ahead in reducing emissions and our dependence on oil. We know that EVs are already cleaner than traditional vehicles on today's electricity grid and will be even cleaner on tomorrow's grid that phases out coal.

This week, former Army Captain and Vice President of Operation Free Mike Breen gave a speech supporting these types of alternative vehicle programs that will "lead us in building an alternative energy economy that can break our dependence on oil, ensure our future prosperity and security, and finally put Americans in control of our own energy future."

I'll salute to that.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Senior Campaign Representative for Electric Vehicles


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