April 8, 2022
Automakers are planning to put nearly one million new electric vehicles on American roads in 2022. Lawmakers are trying to make sure their states are ready.
"We will see a lot more emphasis on electric vehicles in 2022 and 2023," says Dylan McDowell, deputy director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a collaborative forum for state lawmakers. "This is the start of a really big turning point."
Across the country, legislatures in blue and red states are considering bills to bolster charging infrastructure, expand consumer incentives, electrify state fleets, and mandate charging stations in new buildings. States also will be tasked with deploying billions in new federal funds for charging stations approved in the new infrastructure law, and some legislators say they plan to take an active role in that strategy.
"This is being taken seriously in a way it hasn't been before, because the trajectory is very clear," says Marc Geller, a board member and spokesperson for the Electric Vehicle Association.
In the U.S., the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, making up nearly 30 percent of the national total. While many states have plans to switch to renewable electricity sources, reducing vehicle emissions is much more complicated. But as the private sector market for electric vehicles matures, many lawmakers see an opportunity.
Electric vehicle sales in the U.S. doubled in 2021 compared with 2020, and car buyers in 2022 will have twice as many electric models from which to choose. As the market grows quickly, state lawmakers say they're focused on making sure infrastructure keeps up, and — in what is perhaps the greater challenge — ensuring that electric vehicle benefits aren't just enjoyed by their wealthiest residents.
Hawaii ranks second in the nation behind California for electric vehicle adoption. "We're just at the inflection point where we're about to take off in a huge way," says Hawaii state senator Chris Lee, the Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee. "Our charging capacity has been greatly outstripped by the number of EVs out there. We need a lot more capacity, and quickly."
Hawaii legislators are looking to build more charging stations for rental cars, which make up
a significant portion of the tourism-heavy state's EVs. They're planning to use federal funds to create charging hubs. Other proposals would put in place a requirement for charging stations in public parking lots and a new consumer rebate for electric vehicle purchases, with a focus on lower-income communities.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in both Indiana and Wisconsin are backing bills that would allow the owners of charging stations to sell electricity by the kilowatt-hour, rather than by the minute. That would benefit drivers of slower-charging vehicles. Sponsors say the bills would allow businesses to play a greater role in providing charging infrastructure.
In California, Democratic governor Gavin Newsom is proposing more than $6 billion in investments to speed up electric vehicle adoption. More than $250 million would be targeted to assist low-income consumers, with another $900 million to build chargers in underserved neighborhoods.
"In this clean transportation revolution, the next phase is making sure that low-income communities and communities of color are able to take advantage," Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said in a press call.
The federal infrastructure package Congress passed in 2021 includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, with $5 billion given directly to the states. Some Republicans oppose the use of government funds to support electric vehicle adoption, but the funding has gotten the attention of conservative states that have otherwise shown little interest in climate policy.
Missouri, for instance, will receive $99 million to expand electric vehicle charging over five years. Brian Quinn, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, says the agency plans to collaborate with the Missouri Department of Transportation to deploy chargers along national highways.
Michigan expects to receive $110 million of the charging funds. "This will get a lot of people over the hump in making the choice to have their next vehicle be an EV," Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, says. "This year is going to be the one that makes the difference."
The state has partnered with its Midwestern neighbors to form a coalition focused on a regional network of charging stations, and it is also investing in a workforce development plan to ready residents for jobs in the electric vehicles industry.
In New York, state officials expect to receive $175 million from the feds.
"As more EVs are on the road, the business case for installing charging stations gets better and better," says Adam Ruder, assistant director for clean transportation with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. "We're trying to get to that point where it becomes a self-sustaining market. This infrastructure money and the other investments we're making can really help us get there."
Some New York officials want mandates. State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would require newly constructed buildings to include wiring for electric vehicle chargers in a certain percentage of their parking spaces.
But mandates have drawn pushback. Missouri state Representative Jim Murphy, a Republican, has proposed a bill that would block cities and counties from requiring businesses or buildings to install charging stations. Murphy says St. Louis County's mandate requires any business that wants to resurface its parking lot to spend thousands on charging stations. His bill would require that mandating governments pay for them.
"There's no feeling that we should stop the growth of EVs, that's the future," Murphy says. "But you can't put it on the backs of small businesses and churches. If we're going to make the little guy pay for it, I'm going to champion against it."