November 23, 2017
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Incentives for electric vehicles provide alternative to oil dependence

By Sean Mahoney, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

As climate change continues to worsen, the price tag from natural disasters and other associated impacts keeps rising. This is a scientific and economic certainty, as recently highlighted by the GAO report issued at the request of Sen. Susan Collins. Unfortunately, the United States’ continued dependence on oil only exacerbates the problem.

The U.S. spends more than $60 billion every year patrolling oil supply lines, and Americans have sent $1.6 trillion to OPEC countries in oil revenue over the past 10 years alone. Electric vehicles offer a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to the gasoline-powered vehicles that underpin our oil dependence.

Yet as Congress attempts to tackle tax reform, the electric vehicle tax credit, which lowers the tax burden for early adopters who buy them, could be on the chopping block.

Ninety-two percent of all U.S. transportation is powered by petroleum fuels, meaning when prices at the pump spike, drivers have no alternatives available. A low-petroleum future requires a major shift from gas-powered vehicles to plug-in electric vehicles, and at this early stage, such incentives are a strong policy choice. Repeal of the $7,500 tax credit will have dire consequences for the federal budget, the national economy and the people of Maine.

Here in Maine, electric vehicles would run on a diverse range of fuels, including hydropower, wind, solar and natural gas, and this diversity makes electricity low and stable in price. Oil is very different. Gasoline price spikes severely damage the American economy and household budgets, with every 1 cent increase taking $1 billion out of the pockets of consumers.

Gasoline price spikes reverberate through the economy. For example, tourism is a key economic driver for Maine — and decisions about where to go on vacation and how much to spend are affected by fuel costs, both materially and through the indirect impact on household spending.

Last year, Maine’s tourism industry brought in more than $6 billion, with nearly 36 million visitors flocking to the state. The tourism department assessed that a major factor in this uptick in visitors, and the subsequent increase in revenue, was cheap gasoline. But reliance on cheap gasoline is a game of Russian roulette, and predicted mismatches in supply and demand heightened by geopolitical instability in oil producing countries makes it an even riskier game to play with such a major part of Maine’s economy.

For electric vehicle owners, there’s never any pain at the pump to put travel plans on ice. Maine is working to encourage this tourism-friendly technology by planning for a charging network to encourage more Canadians, who have embraced electric vehicles, to cross the border into Maine in their advanced-fuel vehicles. Furthermore, the driving ranges on a single charge are improving as the technology is refined, meaning “range anxiety” — a common concern for Mainers, who often face long commutes — is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Electric vehicles are a winner for Maine, benefiting the state’s economy and America’s economic and national security. As we near the tipping point for consumer demand, the federal electric vehicle tax credit is crucial, but Washington seems prepared to take it away. To do so at such a critical time is penny-wise but pound-foolish.

Please join us in urging Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to keep this vital incentive that will decrease our dependence on oil, increase choice for Mainers looking to save money and reduce their carbon footprint, and lower the susceptibility of Maine’s economy to the vagaries of international oil markets.

Sean Mahoney is executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation.

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