Can the Public be Convinced that Electric Vehicle Subsidies are Worth it?

Can the Public be Convinced that Electric Vehicle Subsidies are Worth it?
AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File

It’s been about 10 years since the government first subsidized electric vehicles (EV). Yet, the results haven’t been that great. With billions going to EV subsidies every year, politicians must convince the public that our tax dollars are being used effectively. As evidence suggests, EV subsidies aren’t helping climate change at all and it’s only a matter of time before politicians need to answer for the results we’ve seen or better yet – haven’t seen.

It's important to note that there is no such thing as a “zero emission vehicle” because every car needs energy to be produced. In fact, EVs come with a host of high impact costs on the climate.  Lithium and nickel for instance – materials used to create EV batteries – are currently destroying certain parts of the world to fuel this artificial demand.

In Chile, for example, mining companies need half a million gallons of water for every ton of lithium mined. This has displaced many local farmers in the region as they are forced to find new areas to grow their crops and herd their flocks. This has caused people like Chilean biologist, Cristina Dorador, to be worried that the mining has caused irreversible damage to her country’s land. 

Similar environmental concerns were raised when in 2017, the Philippines closed 17 nickel mines which were being used to create EV batteries. Unsurprisingly, EVs produce double to triple the carbon footprint of a conventional gasoline car.

And while EVs make up the difference after production and have a lower impact on the climate, according to some state level estimates, it’s still more environmentally friendly to drive a hybrid. As the environmental research group Climate Central reports – because states differ on how they generate their energy – in 13 states it’s still more environmentally friendly to drive a hybrid than an EV.

But even when EVs have a lower carbon footprint than their counterparts, they won’t even make a dent in reducing global temperatures. The Manhattan Institute reports that since gasoline cars are already very efficient, “the projected reduction in CO2 emissions [from EVs]… will have no measurable impact on climate and, hence, no economic value.”

It only gets worse: research shows that EV subsidies by in large attract environmentally concerned consumers.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that “the majority of the credits went to households that would have purchased an EV without any tax incentive.” This suggests that people looking to buy “green” usually do so regardless of price. The report also notes that those who used the subsidies would have bought a hybrid or gas efficient car instead.

As politicians attempt to persuade the public that continuing to subsidize EVs are worth it, they will face an uphill battle, since EVs do little to change the climate. With California “likely to exceed $100 billion” to subsidize this industry, Americans should wonder if this money could’ve been used to support green initiatives or at least have stayed in the taxpayer’s pocket.

Clearly there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before any climate progress is made, but one thing’s for sure: it’s only a matter of time before Americans are sick and tired of subsidizing EVs.

Janson Q. Prieb is a policy analyst at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

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