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Is It Time to Go “All In” on Electric Vehicles? – Econofact

There is a growing consensus that electric vehicles (EVs) are the way to achieve steep transportation emissions reductions. As of late 2020, 17 national governments worldwide have declared an intention to phase out gasoline passenger cars altogether, and ten U.S. states have articulated a similar goal. The Biden-Harris administration is seeking $174 billion in federal government support to build EV charging infrastructure and increase consumer EV adoption. It also seeks to bolster domestic production of inputs along the EV supply chain — particularly advanced batteries. This plan amounts to what may be the largest government intervention in U.S. industrial history. However, in 2019 only 2 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. were electric. We still have a lot to learn about the ability of electric vehicles to meet our transportation and climate needs, and there are risks in moving to artificially inflate EV demand while uncertainties remain about the ultimate climate benefits.

Electric vehicles will likely be a large part of the transportation future, and to the extent that they produce inexpensive carbon reduction, we should move in their direction. But the EV transition is far from risk-free, and there are many important and unanswered questions about how hard and how fast to push. How quickly will we transition to clean electricity (and, by extension, reduce the carbon footprint of electric vehicles)? How quickly will batteries improve? How desirable will EVs be to the average consumer? What’s the appropriate number of EV charging stations, and where should they be located? What alternative methods of carbon reduction exist or will exist in the future? Because there are no clear and decisive answers to most of these questions, climate-motivated governments should prioritize more proven alternatives to addressing carbon abatement — foremost among them, a substantial price on carbon.
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