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Volkswagen factory employees assemble the bumper on an ID.4 electric vehicle in Zwickau, Germany on April 26, 2022. Jan Woitas / picture alliance via Getty Images

Although you don’t need to pay for gasoline to fuel up an electric vehicle, driving one still comes with a carbon emissions price tag. However, according to a science advocacy nonprofit, the emissions associated with an electric vehicle throughout its lifetime —  meaning production to driving to disassembly and disposal —  are still dramatically lower than their gasoline-powered relatives.

In a recently released report, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed emissions data to determine that for almost the entire population of the U.S., driving an average electric vehicle would be less emissions-intensive than an average vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Just 3% of Americans would be better suited with an average gasoline-fueled vehicle, although the report did not make clear which areas that included.

Although you don’t need to pay for gasoline to fuel up an electric vehicle, driving one still comes with a carbon emissions price tag. However, according to a science advocacy nonprofit, the emissions associated with an electric vehicle throughout its lifetime —  meaning production to driving to disassembly and disposal —  are still dramatically lower than their gasoline-powered relatives.

In a recently released report, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed emissions data to determine that for almost the entire population of the U.S., driving an average electric vehicle would be less emissions-intensive than an average vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Just 3% of Americans would be better suited with an average gasoline-fueled vehicle, although the report did not make clear which areas that included.

But even if you drive in the highest-efficiency, gasoline-fueled vehicle currently available for purchase, more than 90% of Americans live in an area where driving the average electric vehicle would still produce lower emissions.

Specifically, direct tailpipe emissions from driving a gas-fueled car were higher than driving an electric vehicle, the report authors found.

However, the organization identified various obstacles to electric vehicle manufacturing and charging that need to be cleared before greater emissions reductions can be achieved. Among the concerns is the fact that powering up an electric vehicle is only as climate-friendly as the electricity is to charge it, meaning an electric vehicle backed by solar energy would result in fewer charging emissions than one supported by a coal-heavy power grid.

Additionally, electric vehicle manufacturing “results in more global warming emissions than manufacturing a comparable gasoline vehicle… chiefly due to the energy and materials required to produce an electric vehicle’s battery,” the report noted.

But even when accounting for these production-related emissions, the electric vehicle was found to be the climatologically better option.

“The value of switching from gasoline and diesel cars and trucks to EVs will increase further as the electricity grid and manufacturing become cleaner,” the report explained, adding that “most of the global warming emissions over the lifespan of a vehicle occur during its use, so the reductions from driving an EV more than offset the higher emissions from manufacturing.”

This was the tenth year that the Union of Concerned Scientists has tracked and compared the lifetime emissions of electric and internal combustion engine vehicles —  and the year with the most divergent total emissions. In their inaugural 2012 analysis, the organization found that only 46% of Americans lived where an average new battery-electric vehicle had lower lifetime emissions than a new gasoline-fueled car with a 50-miles-to-the-gallon tank.

“Since then, the net benefit of driving an electric vehicle instead of a gasoline-powered vehicle has grown significantly,” the report concluded, primarily because the grid has become cleaner as more renewable energy projects come online.

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A small whorled pogonia. Courtesy of John Gange

In the over three decades that Bob Popp has been traipsing through the Vermont woods as the state’s botanist, he had never encountered a small whorled pogonia within the state. 

He had seen the yellowish-green orchid on excursions to other states, but never in Vermont, where the flower had been considered locally extinct since 1902. Despite its vast range within the U.S. from Missouri and Michigan up through Maine, the species has been considered threatened by federal wildlife officials since 1982.

In the over three decades that Bob Popp has been traipsing through the Vermont woods as the state’s botanist, he had never encountered a small whorled pogonia within the state. 

He had seen the yellowish-green orchid on excursions to other states, but never in Vermont, where the flower had been considered locally extinct since 1902. Despite its vast range within the U.S. from Missouri and Michigan up through Maine, the species has been considered threatened by federal wildlife officials since 1982.

But now, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department says the small whorled pogonia has been rediscovered in the state by two local community scientists — 120 years after its last confirmed local sighting.

Popp compared the finding as “Vermont’s equivalent of rediscovering the ivory-billed woodpecker.” Conservation experts rejoiced over the first “widely accepted sighting” of the bird in nearly a century, just months after federal officials declared the species extinct.

He added that the finding “gives him cause for optimism” amid climate change-induced plant losses.

“The fact that this plant evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s rare everywhere, and the fact that it’s still hanging on is pretty darn neat,” said Popp in an interview with EcoWatch. “We need to hang on to all the species, not just the big showy things or the economically or commercially important ones.”

But rediscovering one small whorled pogonia isn’t enough to reconsider the plant’s threatened status. It’s still considered rare throughout its range, where it’s threatened by habitat destruction from both people and animals, plant collection and animal consumption, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

While Popp and his assistant botanist, Aaron Marcus, confirmed the finding through a site visit this past spring, the flower was first found by Tom Doubleday, a retired greenhouse manager. John Gange, a self-taught botanist with a passion for orchids, confirmed Doubleday’s finding through the iNaturalist smartphone app.

The fact that the small whorled pogonia was rediscovered near Burlington by two non-scientists underscores the importance of community engagement in conservation. “There’s just me and my assistant botanist here to cover the entire state” of Vermont, said Popp. “It’s a way of having extra eyes and ears out on the ground. 

Normally, community scientists don’t make earth-shattering discoveries, he said.

“But every once in a while, they just come across these amazing finds,” Popp continued, noting that back in 2010, a different amateur botanist rediscovered a plant that hadn’t been seen in around a century while kayaking along Lake Champlain.

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Solar panels on a residential house in Florida. Glen Richard / iStock / Getty Images

Many gigawatts worth of solar power have been installed in the U.S. through all sorts of installations, from rooftop residential arrays to utility-scale farms. According to the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA), a national trade group, the development of new solar energy “has experienced an average annual growth rate of 33%.” 

In 2021 alone, the association says, new solar installations amounted to 23.6 GW, roughly 20% higher than the year prior. And the U.S. is one of only five countries with large economies that are powered by at least 10% solar or wind resources.

Many gigawatts worth of solar power have been installed in the U.S. through all sorts of installations, from rooftop residential arrays to utility-scale farms. According to the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA), a national trade group, the development of new solar energy “has experienced an average annual growth rate of 33%.” 

In 2021 alone, the association says, new solar installations amounted to 23.6 GW, roughly 20% higher than the year prior. And the U.S. is one of only five countries with large economies that are powered by at least 10% solar or wind resources.

But that doesn’t mean that the industry’s trajectory is completely unimpeded by policies or pushback in various states that may dampen further expansion. Here are some policies that in recent months have threatened to hold up or halt the solar sector’s rise.

1. Florida Legislation May Reduce Net Metering Payouts

SEIA estimates that Florida is on track to install roughly 9.5 GW of solar over the next five years. And assessments made by Google’s Project Sunroof show that the Sunshine State lives up to its nickname with 92% of buildings considered to have “solar-viable” roofs. At the end of 2020, the state utility regulator found that Florida had just over 90,000 customers participating in solar net metering, or selling any excess generated power back to the grid.

But a piece of legislation that recently passed both chambers of the state’s legislature would make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar by cutting the payments that utilities make to net metering ratepayers, according to Axios Tampa Bay. Solar installation companies and clean energy advocates alike are loudly opposing the payment reductions, pointing to potential job losses and deceleration of new solar growth. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to sign or veto the bill, but recent reporting shows most Floridians don’t want it to take effect.

2. Virginia Utility Wants High Minimum Charge for Shared Solar Subscribers

In mid-February, the Virginia utility commission received a report from a regulatory staff member suggesting that community solar subscribers pay a roughly $55 monthly minimum payment to help fund energy infrastructure upgrades and repairs. That proposed minimum charge was lower than the amount that investor-owned utility Dominion Energy had proposed of $74.28, wrote the Virginia Mercury.

Solar advocates and developers in Virginia say such a high minimum charge would thwart the new solar capacity growth that had been expected with opening up the state to community solar projects. According to PV Magazine, Virginia only began accepting applications for shared solar programs in late 2021. Energy News Network noted that observers don’t know when Virginia’s utility commission will decide to adopt or pass on their staffer’s recommendations.

3. In Numerous Small Towns, Solar Development Moratoriums Appear

While solar developers have their eyes on many municipalities across the U.S. for potential projects, few if any localities already have ordinances or local policies dictating where and under what conditions such arrays can be constructed. In response, numerous counties, towns or other types of communities have temporarily stopped accepting new construction or development applications for new solar farms. 

The Conway Daily Sun reports, for example, that the town of Lovell, Maine, turned out in droves to overwhelmingly approve a 180-day utility-scale solar project moratorium so that officials could codify relevant zoning regulations.

Some of this pushback is not just because of a lack of local-level regulation but because new solar facilities are being proposed in locations that frustrate residents, like prime farmland or in sight of scenic views, according to NBC News.

Bridget is a freelance reporter and newsletter writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. She primarily writes about energy, conservation and the environment. Originally from Philadelphia, she graduated from Emerson College in 2016 with a degree in journalism and a minor in environmental studies. When she isn’t working on a story, she’s normally on a northern Maine lake or traveling abroad to practice speaking Spanish.

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