Elections have consequences. Just ask Mitch McConnell, who in 2017 famously snarled, “Winners make policy. Losers go home.” The world has turned and McConnell is no longer king of the hill in the Senate. Instead, Chuck Schumer of New York holds the reins of power in that august body and he intends to use that power to full advantage.
One of the issues that is high on Schumer’s priority list is transportation, both public and private. In an interview with The Verge recently, he talked about his ideas for getting more electric cars on the road. “It’s a bold new plan designed to accelerate America’s transition to all electric vehicles on the road, to developing a charging infrastructure, and to grow American jobs through clean manufacturing. And the ultimate goal is to have every car manufactured in America be electric by 2030, and every car on the road be clean by 2040.”
Okay, that’s the overview. What are the specifics? Actually, there aren’t any yet, but the broad outlines were first laid out by Schumer in an op-ed for the New York Times in 2019.
First, it would give you a large discount on an American-made electric vehicle when you trade in a gas-powered car. Lower-income Americans could get an even bigger discount on a new vehicle or a discount on a used electric vehicle. In total, these discounts should result in 63 million fewer gas-powered cars on the road by 2030 and put America on a path to having 100 percent of new car sales be clean.
Second, the plan would make electric vehicles — and the necessary battery-charging infrastructure — accessible to all Americans, regardless of where they live and work. This would be accomplished by providing grants to states and cities to build charging stations, with a particular emphasis on low-income, rural and other underserved communities.
Third, the plan aims to establish the United States as the global leader in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing by providing grants to retool existing manufacturing plants in the United States and build new ones in this country that specialize in those technologies.
“I would like to look at the broad range of transportation,” Schumer tells The Verge. “We’re looking at mass-transit buses and subways right now. And I’d like to make it as expansive as possible — scooters, everything. I’m a bicycle rider. Obviously, that’s very clean. Things like that, we’d like to expand and incentivize.”
Also included in the Schumer plan is money for public transportation, credits for homeowners who install EV chargers, and money for states and municipalities to expand their public charging networks. Finally, there is a hint that a rebate of up to 30% may be in the offing for those who purchase an electric scooter or bicycle.
Schumer is also a co-sponsor of the THRIVE Act, which calls for federal investments to boost renewable energy. The cleaner the electrical grid, the cleaner a fleet of electric vehicles will be. Schumer calls it “a practicalization of the Green New Deal,” meaning it is putting the ideals of the Green New Deal into action.
Point Of Sale Incentives
The central focus of the Schumer plan is a point-of-sale discount for people who trade in a conventional car for an American made electric car. Without going into detail, an aide to Schumer confirmed to The Verge that the amount is expected to be “more generous” than the current $7500 federal tax credit. There is an echo here of the infamous Cash For Clunkers program of 2009. While the objectives of that program were laudable, it became a huge bureaucratic tangle that did much to reinforce the notion that when government sets out to do something, it often does it badly.
There are several things we don’t know about the Schumer program. For instance, what will become of all those cars that get traded in? Will they be exported to Ecuador or Estonia to continue their polluting ways? If so, we are just moving the pollution from one place to another.
A second question is, what qualifies as an “American made” car? Many of the vehicles sold by so-called American car companies are actually assembled in Canada or Mexico using parts sourced from around the world. Just this week, Ford announced it will build two new midsize electric SUVs in Mexico rather than in Ohio as originally promised. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is also manufactured in Mexico.
There will be no electric Volkswagens made in the US until at least 2023. Mercedes offers no electric cars made in the US, nor do Hyundai, KIA, Toyota, or BMW. Honda is planning an electric SUV to be built by GM in Tennessee, but that is probably years away from production. Ford and GM are planning to build electric pickups in American factories, however. As are Rivian, Tesla, Lordstown Motors, Canoo, and others.
How much is this all going to cost? Schumer says his plan will have a price tag of around $454 billion over the next 10 years. That’s a ton of money, for sure. But the US spent more than $35 billion on nuclear weapons in 2019 according to CNN. The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is rapidly approaching $3 trillion and that doesn’t include the “soft costs” attributable to the dislocations imposed on the people of those nations. America has a virtually unlimited appetite for defense spending. It is only spending for school lunches, early education programs, and child care that we abhor.
Also, there are enormous social costs related to air pollution and climate change that electric cars help to reduce.
In his New York Times piece last year, Schumer said, “Critics have long said that bold action on climate change would cost America money and jobs. This is not true. My plan is estimated to create tens of thousands of new, good-paying jobs in this country and should re-establish the United States as the world leader in auto manufacturing. Much as America experienced a revolution in auto manufacturing at the outset of the 20th century, America under this plan should experience a revolution in clean auto manufacturing at the beginning of this century.” His focus on jobs for Americans has won support for his plan from the AFL-CIO, UAW, and IBEW.
Elections do indeed have consequences. Was it not for an unexpected result in the latest Senate elections in Georgia, Mitch McConnell would still be attempting to drag America back to the 1800s. There may be legitimate questions about mass transit priorities and how to make electric cars affordable for less affluent buyers, but the notion that America can’t afford to transition to cleaner policies is pure sophistry. The truth is, America — and the world at large — can’t afford not to. Forget about a warming planet. Pollution is killing us — all of us — slowly but surely. If we don’t alter our “business as usual” model, we will be as extinct as the dinosaurs in the not too distant future.