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Trump and Big Oil Want to Pull the Plug on the Electric Car Market

Energy
Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith and Bill Walker

President Trump's proposed budget for 2020 would eliminate the federal tax credit for buyers of electric vehicles. The oil industry is backing the proposal, as well as a bill to impose a "user fee" — that is, a tax — on drivers of electric vehicles and trucks.


Big Oil is panicked by the looming end to the domination of the U.S. transportation system by the internal combustion engine. The fear is justified.

A few years ago, the oil industry was shrugging off the threat of electric vehicles, predicting that EVs would reach only 5 percent of global market share by the mid-2030s. Other analysts were far more bullish, projecting that EVs would have up to a third of the market by that time.

According to EnergyWire, EV sales in the U.S. grew by more than 80 percent last year. Energy Innovation expects EVs to make up to 75 percent of sales by 2050 — more than 15 million electric cars and trucks a year. Big Oil may be trying to slow the shift but can read the writing on the wall: Oil companies are investing heavily in startups building electric vehicle charging stations.

EVs are already cheaper to drive than gas guzzlers. Comparing a fully electric Chevy Bolt to a car that gets 25 mpg at $2.50 per gallon, the Illinois Citizens Utility Board found that the Bolt would cost almost $800 less to drive per year than the conventional car.

And they're going to get much cheaper to buy. The price of batteries for EVs dropped by 80 percent from 2010 to 2017. As that trend continues, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts the costs of buying and operating an EV will be cheaper than comparable gasoline-powered cars by the middle of next decade.

That's a win-win for the climate and for public health. Here's why.

  • EVs are essential for fighting climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), almost one-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from cars and trucks — 19 pounds of emissions for every gallon of gas burned. To head off the worst impacts of climate change, we must not only switch to renewable energy sources to generate electricity but also slash tailpipe pollution. UCS says an electric vehicle is responsible for fewer emissions than a car that gets 80 mpg.
  • EVs save lives. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, vehicles kill 53,000 people annually prematurely from particulate or microscopic soot pollution. The California Energy Commission says putting five million EVs on the road — about one-third of the vehicles currently on the road in the state — would save $640 million in health costs from reduced air pollution.

The oil industry and other supporters of ending the EV tax credit say they're only trying to level the playing field. But compare the EV tax credit, which currently totals about $400 million per year, to federal subsidies to the oil industry, which total $4.6 billion a year. Let's end taxpayer handouts to the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron instead of penalizing car buyers who want to save money, lives and the planet.

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