What can you say about the president’s gallop to decarbonize the economy other than “giddyap”? Climate change is an existential threat to this country and world.
But policy must be nuanced. On his push to build infrastructure for electric vehicles, President Joe Biden should consider a lighter touch on the crop.
We specifically refer to his plan to have EV chargers installed every 50 miles along major highways — with $5 billion in funding attached. All this sounds super, but such a regulation could cause headaches in Western states that are home to significant metro areas but also have huge expanses where few live and major highways crossing them. They include Utah, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado.
There may be an obvious demand for charging stations around the Wyoming capital, Cheyenne, but less of one in the state’s sparsely populated northeast. On Interstate 90 between Gillette and Buffalo, for example, there aren’t even gas stations for 70 miles, Wyoming’s Department of Transportation notes.
“There’s physically nothing there,” department director Luke Reiner said.
Utah’s population is concentrated in cities along the Wasatch Front. Putting resources in remote areas could deprive these population corridors of charging stations that would be much appreciated.
The goal of making it easier for American motorists to move from gas-powered to more environmentally friendly electric vehicles is laudable. But here is a case of a one-size federal program that would be imposed on many-size population densities. And it wouldn’t do much to hasten the switch to EVs.
There are alternatives to pressing “empty” corners of the country to install fast-charging stations for EVs. These places do offer roadside services that could include providing backup battery power for an EV that’s run out, not unlike the can of gasoline for drivers with empty tanks.
It would also help to change an old federal law that forbids interstate highway rest stops from engaging in commercial activities, such as refueling, that might compete with truck stops and gas stations. Why not make an exception for little populated areas?
The remoteness of some locations raises another question: How the heck could you even install EV charging stations without an advanced power grid nearby?
The ideal is to have the market, rather than government, meet environmental needs, when the market can do it. Happily, consumers are pounding the lots for electric vehicles. The growing network of new charging stations certainly whips up gasoline interest, and high prices for may even do more.
Sales of internal combustion vehicles are now in a “permanent decline,” according to an industry analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Worldwide sales of plug-in vehicles are expected to triple in three short years.
In this country, the large percentage of people living in single-family homes where they can conveniently charge up will boost sales. So will new product.
“Whether that’s an electric Ford F-150 or a Chevy Silverado or a Rivian pickup truck,” Bloomberg’s Colin McKerracher said, “all of a sudden what you’re gonna see in the next few years is better matching between what consumers in the US want … and the supply that’s out there.”
There is a point where government policy stops being the driver and organic demand by consumers takes over. That’s the sweet spot, and we’re already headed there.
As for charging stations, consider that you could fit more than 93 Rhode Islands into Wyoming, whereas the population of the Cowboy State is only about half that of the Ocean State. It’s a big and demographically diverse country out there.
Federal programs that mean well and could do some good simply need finer tuning. That means pulling back the reins on rules that poorly fit large parts of America.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be emailed at [email protected].
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