Since taking office in January, President Biden has issued an unprecedented number of Executive Orders aimed at undoing President Trump’s signature deregulatory agenda, namely issuing a suite of climate related executive orders including re-entering the Paris Climate Accord, cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline, freezing new oil and gas leases on federal lands, and directing the federal government to replace its nearly 600,000 vehicle fleet with electric vehicles (EVs).
Citing climate change as an existential threat, Congressional Democrats have their own green agenda to push electric vehicles, introducing legislation to extend major tax credits for EVs along with credits and subsidies for solar and wind energy. Democrats hope these policies will accelerate their planned transition from gas to electric and eventually, force consumers into electric vehicles. Already, several individual states including California have mandated that residents will only be able to purchase electric vehicles by 2035.
However, like many other environmental policies being advanced as necessary to address climate change, the true impact of policies to advance electrification isn’t being discussed. The truth of the matter is that EVs are not as “environmentally friendly” as their proponents would have you believe – and adoption of a fully electric vehicle fleet would mean higher energy costs and higher sticker prices in a market where new cars are already cost prohibitive for many middle-class families.
Electric vehicles are not “green” simply because they aren’t gas powered. EVs are charged from the electric grid in the respective state you live in. America’s electric grids still get the majority of their power from burning fossil fuels including coal and natural gas. Estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicate that more than 60% of total electricity is from fossil fuels, with coal being the second largest source. In addition, even with aggressive policies that push wind and solar, the EIA has estimated that fossil fuels will still be used as our main source of energy well into the future. For these reasons, Americans shouldn’t be misled into thinking that simply because an EV is not directly powered by gas that it is “carbon neutral.”
EVs also pollute the environment through the production of the batteries used to power them, which require mining for critical minerals like cobalt and lithium. Mining and processing of these minerals causes significant air pollution from dust and toxic water pollution. Because it is difficult to get the necessary permits to mine for critical minerals in the United States, much of the production for minerals necessary to make EV batteries happens overseas in countries like China and the DRC, with troubling human rights records where forced child labor is often used for mining.
For all the environmental and human costs of producing EV batteries and the greater strain on the electric grid that charging them creates, you’d think the reduction in emissions would be worth the trade off, right? Think again. One study from the Manhattan Institute estimated that the overall reduction in U.S. emissions from adoption of zero emission vehicles would be less than one percent of the total forecast energy-related CO2 emissions through 2050. In other words, mandating that consumers purchase EVs would have almost no impact on climate change.
Beyond the lackluster environmental impact of EVs, additional strain on the electric grid from charging electric vehicles would almost certainly make household energy costs more expensive. In California, where EVs will be mandated in the next ten years, electric rates are already higher than the rest of the nation. Furthermore, new electric vehicles are on average 45% more expensive to make than gas powered vehicles. If EV mandates pass, how will middle and working class families be able to afford a new car? Unfortunately, many will simply keep driving older cars, which are less efficient and more polluting than new cars on the market.
Finally, the Biden Administration completely fails to take note of the innovative new products like renewable diesel fuel which produce even fewer emissions overall than an electric vehicle. By arbitrarily promoting one path forward, the government is putting its thumb on the lever in a way that will discourage innovation and leave Americans with higher costs and fewer choices.
While reducing emissions and addressing climate change are laudable goals, when climate policies are completely untethered from a true cost-benefit analysis, American taxpayers are fooled about what the tradeoffs entail. Smart policymaking takes into account emissions reductions balanced against how many jobs will be killed, environmental pollution beyond just GHG emissions, how much energy prices will rise, and impacts on quality of life.
As the Biden Administration moves forward with its environmental agenda, it must keep in mind that no source of energy is completely without environmental impact. Policies that embrace a balanced energy mix and encourage innovation are the best way forward.
Samantha Dravis is a Visiting Fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She served as Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump.