June 18, 2019
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Maine needs to be ready for the clean car revolution

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

Maine is at a crossroads when it comes to the future of our transportation systems, as electric vehicles are increasing in popularity and hitting our streets in record numbers. The question is, will our cities and towns be ready for this impending shift?

Time is running out for our elected officials, municipal planners, transportation agencies and environmental regulators to prepare for the electric car revolution, which is being propelled by a perfect storm of technology and an evolving consumer mindset.

Improved technology is driving down costs and increasing the range of a single car battery charge, thereby opening up the market to a wider range of consumers. Also, more American shoppers are seeking out electric vehicles because of a desire to stop using so much gas and oil in the face of climate change. The proof is in the numbers: Sales of electric cars increased 38 percent nationwide in 2016, and then jumped another 32 percent in 2017.

At the same time, the auto industry is clamoring to join this growing market: General Motors plans to launch 20 electric car models by 2023, while Ford recently announced its plans to invest $11 billion in electric cars, with a goal of producing 40 models by 2022. These new cars don’t just check off the “electric” box; they’re also earning acclaim from mainstream car enthusiasts. Motor Trend even named Chevrolet’s Bolt the 2017 Car of the Year.

Given the increased options from automakers, heightened consumer demand, and the health and environmental benefits of eliminating gas and diesel emissions, it’s not surprising that nearly 15 million electric vehicles are expected to be on America’s roads by 2030, according to a September 2017 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Cities need to prepare for this increased demand. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the U.S. currently has only about 13 percent of the public, non-residential charging infrastructure that will be required to meet demand by 2030.

To accommodate the increasing number of electric vehicles, cities must fix some of the greatest deficiencies in electric car infrastructure by:

— Quickly moving to develop residential on-street charging stations;

— Improving access to public charging stations;

— Expanding car-sharing services to include electric vehicles in their fleets;

— And incentivizing electric car parking and charging through new programs and municipal agencies.

Beyond the underdeveloped local infrastructure, perhaps the biggest hurdle to electric vehicles is the unraveling of environmental protections at the federal level. As consumers, automakers and even utility companies work on ways to clean up our energy and transportation sectors, elected officials in Washington, D.C., are looking at ways to halt this progress.

Currently, the Trump administration is trying to dismantle federal fuel efficiency regulations that promote clean cars, which have been crucial in the nation’s effort to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels, combat climate change and air pollution, and save consumers billions at the pump.

Those standards are important. By 2025, they are projected to reduce global warming pollution by 6 billion metric tons, cut our oil use by 12 billion barrels, and save Americans between $67 billion and $122 billion.

All of this will be at risk if the Trump administration puts the brakes on clean car programs and standards.

We as consumers need to press our lawmakers to keep these policies in place and to continue adopting smart policies on clean cars.

By implementing public policies that support electric cars in more U.S. cities, we can help lead the electric vehicle revolution. For the sake of our public health and environment, it’s crucial that we expand access to clean transportation for those who live, work and play in our urban centers.

Once we complete the transition away from gasoline and diesel, we can all breathe easier and see more clearly. As electric cars continue to gain momentum and leave dirty fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the dust, it is critical that cities and states get in the driver’s seat and promote the policies needed for the clean car revolution.

Jacqueline Guyol is a campaign organizer with Environment Maine. Tony Giambro is the owner and chief sustainability officer at Paris Autobarn LLC.

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