The Federal Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Is a Bipartisan Success Story, Which House Republicans Want to Undo
By Ben Jervey
As the House and Senate develop their respective versions of a tax reform bill, the $7,500 federal electric vehicle (EV) tax credit is positioned to be a potential bargaining chip. The House's version of the bill, the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," includes a repeal of the EV tax credit. The Senate's newly introduced version, at the moment, doesn't kill the credit.
Current policy calls for an already-scheduled phase out of the credit over the two calendar quarters after each automaker surpasses 200,000 total plug-in vehicle sales. The new House proposal would eliminate the tax credit entirely at the end of this year—only EVs registered on or before Dec. 31 would qualify.
Not only would this repeal slow the acceleration of electric car adoption, it will also hurt our economic, energy security and energy independence goals, and slow progress in bringing affordable and practical electric cars to the mass market. To understand the importance, rationale and benefit of this credit, a short history of the bipartisan legislation is useful.
The Bipartisan Roots of the Electric Vehicle Tax Credits
Regardless of the environmental and human health benefits of displacing gasoline and diesel combustion with plug-in electrics, thoughtful policymakers and legislators from both sides of the aisle have long understood the importance of EVs when it comes to promoting energy independence and security. A decade ago, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, promoted and signed by Republican President George W. Bush, first deployed "incentives for the development of plug-in hybrids." The stated purpose of the act included moving "the United States toward greater energy independence and security" and "to increase the efficiency of products, buildings and vehicles."
One year later, another bill passed with bipartisan support, the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, to again be signed by President Bush. This version was written to include all types of plug in electric vehicles (both battery only and plug hybrid electrics) that met certain battery size criteria for providing a meaningful all electric range. it created the first non-refundable consumer tax credits for at least the first 250,000 plug-in vehicles sold.
In 2009, in order to make the tax credit accessible to more automakers, many of which had lobbied their concerns that they needed more time to ramp up their electric car programs, the credit was revised to its current form in the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The only change in the so-called stimulus bill was that the quantity of plug-ins sold before the credit would phase out was set at 200,000 per manufacturer. In other words, the first 200,000 plug-in Chevy vehicles would all be eligible for the credit. Likewise for the first 200,000 Tesla Motors, the first 200,000 plug-in Fords, and so on.
Where Does the Federal EV Tax Credit Stand Now?
Over the past seven years, since the modern era of plug-in electric vehicles commenced with the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, only a handful of automakers have sold more than 100,000 plug-in electric cars in the U.S. (most notably, Tesla and General Motors) and none have reached the 200,000 threshold for phasing out the credit.
Both GM and Tesla are due to reach the 200,000 car mark within the next year or so, meaning the tax credits for those makes would be phased out relatively soon regardless of any new policy. (Not as soon as the end of this year, but not too long from now.) However, many other automakers have taken longer to get to market, making the continuation of this credit vital to achieving the original policy goals set out by Congress at the end of last decade. For instance, Ford's plug-in F150truck (shown above) has been developed with the expectation of a federal tax credit to support early adopters.
General Motors, with even less to lose than other automakers, responded to news of the newly introduced tax bill statement critically: "Tax credits are an important customer benefit that can help accelerate the acceptance of electric vehicles. Because General Motors believes in an all-electric future, we will work with Congress to explore ways to maintain this incentive."
Beyond energy security and environmental benefits, there would be direct financial and human health impacts of slowing the adoption of EVs. Many of the electric vehicles selling well today are built in the U.S. by American workers. Slowing their sales now will have an immediate negative impact on American companies and workers. "The EV tax credit repeal would cede U.S. leadership in clean vehicles, putting our companies at a competitive disadvantage and threatening jobs while costing drivers more at the pump and increasing pollution," said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project.
Furthermore, as supporters of the original legislation understood, the electricity that EVs run on is generated in the U.S. from domestic resources. This has real monetary value, not only to utilities and energy producers, but also in potential savings to electric ratepayers, as EV charging practices can better utilize electric system capacity. Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth Mobility, wrote last year of a California study that found that each electric car was worth up to $9,799 to the electric utility and its ratepayers.
Finally, the science is conclusive about the human health benefits of electric vehicles, particularly as they displace urban petroleum (gasoline and diesel) vehicle miles traveled with electric miles. As research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2014, "EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50 percent or more."
Preservation of the federal EV tax is sound, non-partisan transportation energy policy. For a decade, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on the value and importance of the tax credit. In the grand scheme of tax reform, the credits are a relatively small budget item—a little more than $1.5 billion per manufacturer over the course of more than a decade. Those savings would do little to make up for the $989 billion shortfall that the rest of the tax reform plan would create.
The federal EV tax credit is smart policy that will help ensure the next generation of Americans has greater prosperity, health and opportunity in the coming global marketplace, one that is already wholeheartedly embracing the inevitable transition to vehicle electrification.
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Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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