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Let’s Move CT Forward Thoughtfully With Clean Electric Vehicles

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Let’s Move CT Forward Thoughtfully With Clean Electric Vehicles

By Dr. Kimberly Stoner, CT NOFA Director of Advocacy

I have been driving an electric car since 2016. I bought a Nissan Leaf and drove it for seven years before selling it back to Nissan. A couple of months ago, I bought a Chevrolet Bolt EUV. Back in 2016 I was a pioneer of sorts, but driving an electric car is getting easier all the time with new cars having more range and more charging stations being installed.

Electric vehicles are in our future, for lots of good reasons. First is climate change. A very thorough analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that electric vehicles produce about 50% less global warming emissions than gasoline-powered cars over their lifetime.

This analysis takes into account all the objections people raise, such as emissions from electric power plants, manufacturing the cars and the battery, and disposing of the battery, among others. This benefit will get bigger over time as we shift the electrical grid toward running on more renewable energy, build more efficient cars, and get better at re-using batteries and recovering all their materials.

The second reason is the air pollution from internal combustion engine vehicles affecting public health, especially for people in our cities, like Hartford and New Haven, where asthma rates are high and interstates intersect. Internal combustion engines produce pollutants that harm our lungs, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Heavy duty trucks and buses are the worst. According to Dr. Mark Mitchell, former director of the Hartford Health Department, “Electrifying medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses alone will save Connecticut $270 million dollars in avoided health care costs over the period of 2020-2040, but could be as much as $500 million to $1.4 billion by 2050.”

In addition to these benefits to the environment and the community, electric vehicles save money for their owners compared to internal combustion vehicles. Over the seven years I had the Leaf, all the maintenance I did was to rotate the tires, buy new tires, and change the brake fluid. That’s typical — electric cars are much simpler and cheaper to maintain. Running costs are much lower, too, because electric engines are so much more efficient, and electricity is a less expensive energy source than gasoline. Consumer Reports has found that electric cars and SUVs are cheaper to run and maintain than gasoline-powered cars as long as the cost of gasoline remains above 50 cents per gallon.

And they are not as expensive to buy as you may think. Because of all the public benefits, there are state and federal incentives to encourage sales of electric vehicles. My 2023 Bolt EUV  cost $32,000, but I got a discount of $2,250 from the CT CHEAPR program, and I will get a Federal tax credit of $7,500. So, in the end, it cost about the same as a comparable conventional car. There are additional incentives for buying new or used electric vehicles for people who live in environmental justice communities or have lower incomes.

But last week, I was at a press conference at the Capitol where the Governor pulled back regulations that would have phased in electric cars, requiring that by 2035, new cars sold in Connecticut be either electric or hybrid, and that would have also phased in low or zero emission trucks. Otherwise, the usually obscure Regulations Review committee of legislators would have killed the regulations.

Why? There are problems that remain to be solved. There are solutions for these problems, but we need to have the confidence to move forward quickly and thoughtfully to have the solutions in place by 2035.

Part of the problem is simply misunderstanding what the regulations would do. Many people thought that all gasoline cars would be banned by 2035. After 2035 all new cars sold in Connecticut would be either plug-in hybrid (running on either gas or electricity) or all electric cars. People could continue to buy whatever kind of used cars are available and could keep their gasoline cars as long as they want.

People who live in multifamily housing can’t just install their own charging stations, like I did, so they need options for charging where they live or work, and we all need more publicly available charging stations for when we are traveling. This is particularly an issue in urban communities, where many people rent their homes. The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has a plan for charging stations, and there is state and federal money for installing charging stations, including at multifamily housing and businesses, as well as single family homes.

Over time, some people will lose jobs and businesses will close. Less gasoline will be needed, and eventually gas stations will close. With less maintenance required for all electric cars, there will be fewer auto repair shops, and the work they do will change. There will be new jobs with installing and maintaining charging stations, modernizing the electrical grid, and other aspects of the energy transition, and we will need to be training people for those new jobs and helping people transition out of the gasoline economy.

Another issue of global environmental concern is the need for mining certain minerals used in batteries, such as lithium. Extraction of any material from the Earth tends to be environmentally destructive, and, if not well managed, often exploits local people and communities. While demand for lithium is expected to quadruple, it is important to keep in mind that the alternative to running our transportation on batteries requires extracting vastly greater amounts of fossil fuels. One example: strip mines digging up oil sands with their toxic waste pools in Alberta.

It makes sense — the lithium and other minerals in batteries continue to power a car for years and are not used up. The batteries can be re-used for other stationary purposes and then the materials inside can be recycled (with entrepreneurs developing recycling systems in New Haven!). For oil and other fossil fuels, you dig them out the ground, burn them up, and then you have to dig for more.

We have to stop using fossil fuels to run our transportation system, and we can do it — the technology is ready. We need to make the transition thoughtfully, so that the technology is available to everyone, and we need to keep social and environmental justice in mind.

Take action

Contact your state legislators (you can find them here) and tell them that you support adopting the Clean Cars and Trucks standards in the next legislative session. The legislators are deciding now whether to take action to reinstate these standards by law next year.

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