States take the wheel in drive for cleaner vehicles

When it comes to rolling out cleaner, more sustainable vehicles, states are driving change and leading the pace.

Smart policies recently passed from California to North Carolina promise to rev up the marketplace for low- and zero-emission vehicles — and drive job growth in the automotive, battery and equipment sectors along the way.

Some examples:

Leadership by state legislatures and governors such as Cooper and Polis are a sharp contrast, regrettably, to what’s happening at the federal level.

A decade ago, government, auto industry and labor leaders developed and agreed to smart federal auto emissions and fuel economy standards that set the path to get more low-emission and electric vehicles on America’s roads, saving consumers money with every fill-up.

But now, the Trump administration want to roll back that agreement and slam the brakes on progress. Instead of continuing to improve our auto sector, the Trump administration plans to freeze federal auto emission and mileage standards. Doing so not only cedes American innovation to other countries, it is expected to cost consumers and businesses billions of dollars more at the pump and kill 67,000 direct and 433,000 indirect auto industry jobs, according to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.

Fortunately, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, some members of Congress are looking to check that bad idea, and also recently introduced legislation that would expand caps on electric vehicle tax credits. Legislation that comes out of the proposed Green New Deal could also help offset some of the Trump administration’s proposed setbacks, too.

In the meantime, it’s up to states to continue setting the pace for clean vehicles. Consumers — and manufacturers — are starting to respond. As of last year, more than 1 million EVs have been sold in the United States. And today, consumers can choose from more than 50 electric vehicle options.

As a result, employment in clean vehicles industries hit 220,000 in 2017, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America report (PDF), and continued to rise in 2018. It isn’t just Telsa and the big Detroit carmakers that are growing. Companies such as TransPower USA, which makes drive propulsion systems for heavy-duty electric and hydrogen trucks, and Meritor Inc., which produces electric drive axles for commercial vehicles, are also seeing new growth and opportunities for both highway and off-road heavy vehicles such as electric forklifts, port cargo handlers and yard tractors and trucks.

This job growth extends beyond the auto industry as well. One of the fastest-growing clean energy sectors in 2018 was batteries and storage, propelled by big expansions by Tesla, Panasonic and others building batteries for vehicles and other uses.

The new state policies being rolled out from coast to coast will help keep that economic growth growing. Hopefully, it also will keep the United States on track with the rest of the world when it comes to cleaner vehicles.

Now, if only we could get Washington, D.C. to catch up.