The election of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their ultra-progressive cabinet will hasten the death of the internal combustion engine in the United States, despite the nearly even party split in the House and Senate. They will just take their narrow victory as a license to implement all manner of decisions in the name of saving the planet. Or so we’re told. And maybe they’re right.
President-elect Biden has promised his $2-trillion “climate change” plan will include “rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring that 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).” VP-elect Harris has called for beginning this ban by 2035, perhaps even sooner, if they can maintain their momentum for fundamentally transforming America.
Once the sale of new gasoline engine vehicles is banned, the only question remaining is, How long before driving such vehicles is also outlawed? Harris has promised that, under “my plan, by 2045 we will have basically zero emission vehicles only. 100% by 2045.”
Of course, that means zero emissions in the USA, assuming all electricity generation is also zero-emission for charging batteries – despite enormous emission increases in places where battery minerals are mined and processed, and batteries are manufactured (which likely won’t be in America).
To jumpstart the government-mandated transformation of the 99.5% of US vehicles that are not yet ZEVs, Biden ally Sen. Chuck Schumer plans to introduce legislation authorizing $454 billion “cash for clunkers” incentives or rebates, to help people replace gasoline-powered vehicles with super-expensive all-electric vehicles (EVs). Schumer’s plan also includes building a half million new EV battery charging stations, and replacing the entire US government vehicle fleet with EVs.
That’s almost one-quarter of Biden’s $2-trillion climate plan right there. The rest of the massive Green New Deal (GND) will likely cost at least Bernie Sanders’ $16-trillion scheme, if not far more.
Not since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line for his Model T in 1913 has America faced such a transportation transformation. The Big Switch to an all-EV fleet will bring equally massive changes to American society, create new winners and new losers, make owning any vehicle a near impossibility for poor and even middle class families, and shift the balance of world power away from countries that ensure “the free flow of oil at market prices” to those that mine GND minerals (mostly China and Russia).
The Big Switch has been in the works for years. As early as 2017, many countries had already announced dates for banning internal combustion engines (ICEs). Norway said its 2025 date was just a “suggestion,” but Germany, France and the United Kingdom set “firm” dates of 2040, while the Netherlands pushed the funeral to 2030. Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Portugal, South Korea and Spain also set dates, as did India – and several American states, such as (naturally) California.
Major automakers also pledged to end ICE vehicle production soon, even though 2017 polls show that only 30% of millennials (and much lower percentages of older drivers) were willing to “invest” in an electric vehicle. That’s even before considering studies by economist Tilak Doshi and others that even after 50,000 miles on the road, the typical EV has effectively emitted some 76% as much carbon dioxide as a gasoline-powered vehicle.
That’s because, as economist Bjorn Lomborg explained, EV batteries are the product of emission-intensive mining, mineral processing and manufacturing operations, and because the electricity for recharging the batteries often involves additional CO2 emissions.
The term “zero emission vehicles” is obviously a deliberate misnomer, since emissions are just transferred from wealthy Western countries to other nations, where they go steadily upward.
The Big Switch will create jobs in some sectors. But it will also cause major declines in jobs in the oil and gas industry, declining revenues for convenience stores that profit from gasoline sales, and significant manufacturing cost increases for petrochemicals, automobile and truck tires, roof shingles, plastics, pharmaceuticals and a host of other consumer products that rely on oil and gas for raw materials.
All that also means huge decreases in lease bonus, rent, royalty and tax revenues for fossil fuel states.
Electric vehicle mandates will also harm auto repair and insurance industries. An EV drivetrain has around 20 moving parts, compared with up to 2,000 for ICE vehicles. However, these parts tend to be more expensive and (at least in the near term) less readily available. This means EVs needing repairs or new parts will sit longer in garages and repair shops, and delays in parts availability will increase the overall cost of EV maintenance and ownership. Will insurers cover these added costs?
The Big Switch will also mandate major shifts in tax policy for local and state governments and the federal government, all of which rely heavily on gasoline taxes to pay for highway maintenance and repair. The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal excise tax goes to the Highway Trust Fund that pays for much of this (with a separate small tax covering remediation of leaking underground fuel storage tanks).
As gasoline sales continue to decline, will Washington find a way to replace this lost revenue?
(A related question: As we enter the era of driverless vehicles, how will computer-driven cars handle all the proliferating, expanding and deepening potholes?)
Highways maintained by state and local gasoline taxes are already threatened by declining revenues, thanks to EVs, hybrids and higher-mileage ICE vehicles – and to the 2020 pandemic, which cut highway driving by 64% in April 2020 and significantly ever since. Some states are adding or increasing electric vehicle registration fees: Alabama’s is now $200 for EVs and $100 for plug-in hybrids (a quarter of which will fund EV charging stations), while California began imposing a $100 annual EV fee last July.
That’s not all. People today can purchase an older gasoline-powered vehicle that will pass inspection for well under $2,000. Batteries for these vehicles cost under $200, and many really older vehicles can be repaired by amateur mechanics. By contrast, replacing an EV battery can cost up to $6,000, making even used electric vehicles unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans in a nation where half of all vehicles are over ten years old.
Meanwhile, China, India and dozens of other countries are building thousands of new coal and gas-fired electrical generating plants – and putting millions of new ICE vehicles on their roads. So there will be no reduction in global emissions, which means all this pain and disruption in the USA will bring absolutely no benefits, even if CO2 does drive climate change.
Moreover, as recently as 2017, industry experts said EVs will likely reach only 25% of all vehicles worldwide by 2050. People in other countries don’t want and cannot afford them, either.
Equally significant, the Biden-Harris plan also includes a total phaseout of fossil fuels for producing electricity – along with the major increase in electricity needed to keep EVs moving. Even if Biden, Harris, Democrats and Greens accept nuclear energy as a “renewable” (or at least zero-emission) fuel, building enough new nuclear power plants will take decades.
But then, when did Moscow or Beijing ever meet all, most or even some objectives of their Five-Year Plans? Does anyone really think centralized government planning will work better here? More critically:
Will We the People be able to raise and discuss these issues in public forums? Will Republican Members of Congress have any meaningful opportunities to do so during committee hearings or floor debates?
Or will we all just be canceled, censored, silenced and browbeaten into submission in the newly progressive, intolerant and Divided States of America, amid more phony calls for unity and comity?
Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org).