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OP-ED: Climate crisis requires us to invest in future, not subsidize the past

Gina Coplon-Newfield
Tribune News Service
FILE- In this May 27, 2018, photo a 2018 Model X is plugged into a charging station at a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – People across the United States, from Los Angeles to Des Moines to Orlando, deserve to drive affordable cars that don’t harm the places they love and pollute the air we all breathe.

Yet America has and continues to subsidize the oil industry, which fuels traditional gasoline and diesel-powered cars.

Emissions from gas-powered cars contribute to ground ozone that worsens health conditions such as asthma. Additionally, transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., mostly due to the gasoline and diesel we guzzle in our cars and trucks.

Last October’s U.N. climate report gave us a line in the sand — 12 years — to take bold action to mitigate severe impacts from climate change, from increasing wildfires to stronger hurricanes.

Like others before it and others inevitably to come, that report is scary, but it solidifies the urgency of investing in solutions.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are 30 percent to 80 percent lower — depending on region — in harmful emissions compared to conventional vehicles, even factoring in emissions from the electricity it takes to charge them. And that’s today.

As our electric grid shifts to rely on more renewables, EVs become even cleaner over time. Every driver should have the opportunity to be a part of this shift, a shift that is complemented by affordable, accessible and clean public transit.

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I’ve been an EV driver myself for years, and am one of the more than 1 million EV drivers in the U.S. who are loving how fast, quiet, technologically advanced and clean these cars are to drive. However, EVs only make up about 2 percent of new U.S. monthly light duty vehicle sales.

We have a long way to go. A big part of what is needed to accelerate the market are incentives to make EVs more affordable.

Cars like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf go for $30,000 to $38,000; a federal tax credit can shave thousands of dollars off and make a real difference for consumers.

Federal tax credits that reduce the upfront cost of an EV, coupled with state rebates and other local and state policies supportive of EVs, are essential catalysts that accelerate EV adoption by rewarding consumers for being the driver of a cleaner vehicle.

EVs are a crucial aspect to confronting the climate crisis, which is why now is the time to be increasing our investment in them, not scrapping it altogether.

Vehicle pollution is also a public health crisis in our nation, disproportionately affecting communities of color and low-income communities in congested urban areas.

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists confirms what many have known for decades: African-American, Latino and Asian Californians are exposed to more particulate matter pollution (43 percent, 39 percent and 21 percent, respectively) from cars, trucks and buses than white Californians.

Policymakers have long subsidized oil and gas — $14.7 billion on federal subsidies for fossil fuels annually — without questioning whether those investments should be phased out.

These are seen as the status quo of public policy, seldom framed as unfairly propping up the fossil fuel industry.

It’s no secret that misconceptions around EVs are spread by these same interests threatened by the future of electric and unwilling to put the interest of the public and the planet before their polluting profits.

These interests lobby our elected officials to influence public policy that makes them richer, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Forward-thinking representatives in Congress recognize the urgency to act, which is why they’ve worked to invest in the future of EVs and infrastructure for them.

As the climate crisis clock ticks, it’s past time for lawmakers to stop penalizing progress and put EVs in the fast lane for widespread, accessible adoption.

— Gina Coplon-Newfield directs the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Campaign, advocates for clean transportation solutions, including public transit, electric cars, zero emission buses, safe bike lanes and clean car standards for vehicle manufacturers. She earned a BA at Tufts University and a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard University.