About 2 percent of new cars on US roads right now run on electricity. The auto industry expects that by 2030, half of new car sales will be electric. And President Joe Biden is stepping on the gas pedal to make that happen.
Among the many provisions of the White House’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan released last week is $174 billion to support electric vehicles, the single largest item in the proposal’s transportation section.
That money will help pay for 500,000 electric vehicle chargers over the next decade, an idea from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. It also covers modifying factories to build electric vehicles (EVs), grants and tax incentives to encourage buyers, and shoring up a domestic supply chain to make electric cars and trucks.
Electrifying transportation is a major component of how the Biden administration plans to tackle climate change. The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US. Cars and light trucks account for 60 percent of these emissions. So EVs would be a huge step toward meeting Biden’s goal of decarbonizing the US economy by 2050, alongside a decarbonization of the power sector.
These ideas are an abrupt turn from Biden’s predecessor. The Trump administration moved to weaken federal fuel economy rules for cars and light trucks, going as far as to sue the state of California for reaching a voluntary agreement with several automakers to impose its own stricter standards.
Getting a significant share of the US’s 270 million vehicles electrified by 2030 would be a massive leap. And US automakers, despite their insistence on an electric future, have so far been lackadaisical in their electric offerings, while continuing to crank out fuel-thirsty SUVs, crossovers, and even larger pickup trucks.
The effort to switch to EVs is a microcosm of the broader effort to fight climate change — any shift to a carbon-neutral economy requires everyone to act, but the federal government only has so many levers. Short of direct mandates, the government will need to use a system of nudges and prods to get everyone from companies to car buyers to homeowners to make the requisite investments in clean energy.
But if the US can pull off electrification of its greatest contributor to climate change, it bodes well for decarbonizing the rest of the economy.