What's behind state efforts to kill EV incentives?

Is it winter for emission-free electric vehicles?
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Is it winter for emission-free electric vehicles?

Back in 2006, there was a popular documentary film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" It told the tale of GM's EV1, its first foray into electric vehicles, attempting to understand the cause of its demise in light of the enthusiastic response among those who’d been given prototypes to test. Looking back, it was a sad tale of the false start of an industry segment whose time, it would seem, finally has come. It seemed as recently as a few months ago that the emergence of electricity as the dominant form of vehicle propulsion was all but inevitable.

Now, there appears to be a contingent with considerable cash at its disposal who would like nothing better than to kill the electric car once again.

A number of U.S. states have begun rolling back incentives designed to encourage consumers to purchase electric vehicles. Just this month, legislators in Utah voted not to extend tax credits for electric cars. Georgia eliminated its credit of up to $5,000 in 2015. Oregon is no longer offering its $1,500 credit, either.

Then there is Colorado, where the demise of its $5,000 credit is also working its way through the state legislature. These incentives are in addition to the $7,500 federal credit, whose future is also uncertain, given the current climate in Washington. While a number of states continue to offer credits, this trend of reversals is surprising and, considering the increasing onslaught of bad news about the climate, quite disturbing.

So, what’s behind this seemingly incoherent trend? It probably won’t surprise many to learn that the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity, which has opposed subsidies for electric vehicles for years, openly has supported the Colorado measure and most likely others as well. They have been concentrating their efforts on state and local elections for some years now, as that provide a better return on their investment. (The cost of a state legislator is far less than a federal one.)

In one quasi-rational commentary, they argue that EVs do not require the head start that most important new technologies — such as the electric power grid, waterworks, the internet and the interstate highway system almost always receive from the government. They say the technology is not new, citing the historical curiosity that a few experimental electric vehicle prototypes were built in the 1800s during the race to develop the first automobiles. By that logic, we needn’t have bothered with NASA either, because we already had Jules Verne.

They argue, "Offering billions in subsidies for charging infrastructure and electric vehicles could expand the market beyond what can be supported by consumer demand."

Well, that certainly will be true if they have anything to do with it. While they might be trying to pass this off as some kind of Libertarian ideology, it seems likely that the fact that they privately own one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies is an even stronger motivator.

While the Kochs might be lacking in concern for the planet or compassion for those billions of individuals that don’t belong to their billionaire club, they are not stupid. The fact is, they are moving in for the kill at a time when, although electric vehicles continue to offer more performance for less money, they are finding it difficult to compete with gasoline at such insanely low prices.

At this moment, the delicate balance that is the choice to buy or not to buy an electric car easily can be tipped by the presence or absence of incentives.

According to a report in The New York Times, the nearly 1,300 EVs sold in the month before the Georgia tax credit was canceled dropped to 97 in the following month.

There is no question that electric vehicles are the future in places such as China, Japan, India and Europe — in other words, the rest of the world. Double-digit EV growth rates are not unusual in many of these places. Never mind the climate, a topic we’ve already spilled countless pints of ink on; for the U.S. to fall behind in producing these cars, which is almost certain to happen if domestic sales dry up, would amount to a replay of the early 1970s when Japan kicked our collective behinds with high-quality, efficient small cars. That’s a blow that we are only now, some 40 years later, beginning to recover from.

For all of their talk of protecting the American dream and saving American jobs, these folks are pushing as hard as they can in the wrong direction.

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