By Matthew Madden
Advocates of electric vehicles are found throughout our political spectrum from environmentalists seeking to address climate change issues to national security analysts endorsing a reduction in the import of foreign oil. Whether the motivation is the environment or national security, one of the most noteworthy accomplishments of the burgeoning electric vehicle industry is its ability to transcend traditional, partisan lines. This cooperation is on display in two bills currently working their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. House Resolution 1685, titled the Electric Drive Vehicles Deployment Act of 2011, is currently being reviewed by the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The Senate version – bill 948 titled the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2011 – is also mired in review, in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Commonalities exist between the two bills including, most significantly, bipartisan support that bodes well for the future of the electric vehicle industry.
The House bill, sponsored by Illinois Republican Judy Biggert and co-sponsored by four Democrats, would provide up to 10 communities with $300M each – for a total investment of $3B – to prepare and stimulate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in their communities. This federal money would be available to any community willing to compete for the funds during the application process.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Republicans Lamar Alexander and Roy Blunt and Democrats Jeff Merkley and Debbie Anne Stabenow, allocates $2B to electric vehicle early adopter communities. This bill doesn’t limit the number of participating communities but simply caps the amount of funds able to be allocated to a single community at $250M.
The bills differ in details such as state and local subsidy requirements for electric vehicles, the amount of funds earmarked for technical research, capital for workforce training and money for local manufacturing of electric vehicle replacement parts. It appears the two bills were designed for consolidation if both passed their respective chambers. This would allow an opportunity to address these differences.
It’s not surprising that Senators Merkley and Alexander are working together on this issue – they introduced a similar bill last year that was defeated in a committee vote. Yet, a surprising and encouraging appreciation for electric vehicles is increasing in the federal government beyond this duo due to a confluence of trends. Rising and unpredictable gas prices, the BP oil disaster on the Gulf Coast and political instability in oil-producing nations all contribute to a rising, bipartisan awareness that the time to address our nation’s reliance on foreign oil is upon us.
As stated recently by the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent and immediate. Climate change is no longer a future concern and it’s increasingly clear that developing a electrified transportation infrastructure that relies less on oil and more on renewable energy will help us address this issue. Yet, the environment isn’t the only driver for electric vehicles. The economic impact of importing oil provides additional motivation. According to Senator Merkley’s office, in March 2011 our nation’s oil imports totaled $39.3B for that month alone – an 18% increase from the prior month and a total that represented 65% of the trade deficit for the month.
The reality is our nation’s dependence on oil imports is a problem with decades of precedence. Every four or eight years, a president gives a rousing speech detailing his plan to rectify this problem that results in not much quantifiable progress. Yet, an opportunity exists given the improving state of battery technology, the increasing commitment to electric vehicles by auto manufacturers and a growing deployment of charging infrastructure. The bills working their way through the House and Senate have the potential to significantly address our nation’s most pressing environmental and national security problem. The opportunity to restore faith in our nation’s ability to work together to address our most intractable problems, in these turbulent times, might be just as significant.
Matthew Madden has 15 years of sales and business development experience including nearly a decade selling communications networks to the largest utilities in the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org