Biden’s electric vehicle taxpayer rip-off

Recent vehicle emissions regulations issued by the Biden administration have, by its own admission, put into place restrictions designed to force the proportion of electric vehicles to 50% of new sales by 2030. But it won’t work, and in any case, it’s an unworthy goal.

Individuals who want to purchase an electric vehicle should have them available, but at a real price, not one subsidized by the government directly and by manufacturers indirectly. Traditional car companies would go bankrupt instantly if deprived of their profits from gasoline-powered cars and trucks. And with the apparent exception of Tesla, electric vehicles are typically priced at half or less of what they cost to build, and many electric vehicles churned out in China sit collecting rust.

Although electric vehicles emit no greenhouse gases from a tailpipe, they are far from “clean.” The average gasoline passenger car emits approximately 2 metric tons per year while being driven 12,000 miles. The typical electric vehicle is driven less than half that, so it displaces about 1 ton of emissions per year.

However, the emissions from making the electric vehicles’ batteries are significant. Various sources estimate them at 7-10 tons because China still heavily employs coal to power manufacturing. That means it takes nearly a decade to reach the break-even point — that is, for the tailpipe savings to offset the production emissions.

Moreover, this calculation does not include emissions from generating electricity. Our “average” electric vehicle (we will use Tesla) requires 1.5 megawatt-hours over the year, which, given today’s mix of generation methods, produces over one-half ton of emissions. That cuts the net savings from electric vehicles by half. While 100% renewable electricity generation is an aspiration, it is far from today’s mix of generation methods. This “add-back” more than doubles the number of years an electric vehicle must be driven to offset the battery manufacturing, which approaches or exceeds the life of the battery.

Of course, electricity generation emissions should be expected to improve gradually from renewables and nuclear, and one could quarrel with some of the estimates. But the big picture is clear: EVs do little to reduce emissions.

Moreover, our analysis ignores many other pertinent factors. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Lesser and Mark Mills expose the near impossibility of upgrading the nation’s electrical infrastructure to support even a modest increment in the number of new electric vehicles. They point out that there are 60 million to 80 million distribution (neighborhood) transformers, and we currently use two-thirds of the only 1 million new ones produced per year just for replacing old ones. A surge in demand from electric vehicles will immediately outstrip both our production capacity and the availability of raw materials.

When you add in the costs of installation, new and heavier utility poles, and upgrades of home electrical capacity, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the new regulation will cost well over $1 trillion in infrastructure. We think that estimate is far too low, especially given that transformer deliveries are backlogged many years and time inflates costs, not to mention price hikes from competition for limited resources and manufacturing capacity.

We also doubt the feasibility of building enough on-the-road charging stations: the “Inflation Reduction Act” targets 4,000, compared to the existing 195,000 gas stations. These stations would require the power equivalent of a small city because demand is not spread evenly across the day and the physical space for enough stalls might be hard or impossible to acquire. And what is to be done about urban charging where there is no garage to house chargers? And truckers’ productivity will also be substantially reduced.

Bottom line, it is long past time to reject the dangerous fantasies we are being fed. The U.S. contributes about 14% (and dropping) of world carbon emissions, of which 29% is transportation (including rail, air, etc.), so our maximum potential contribution would be less than 4% from electric vehicles even if all the fantasies were realized.


Does anyone think it is sound policy to drain trillions of dollars from our economy to minimal global benefit while our international competitors chuckle at our economic masochism?

This is a seminal issue for the U.S. that affects both our national security and prosperity. Extravagant spending that accomplishes virtually nothing is an affront to taxpayers and should be top of mind when we elect those who set policy.

Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger Distinguished Fellow at the American Council on Science and Health. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.

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