Electric vehicles are increasingly popular, with sales up a whopping 81% between 2017 and 2018. But as more manufacturers introduce their own models, and lawmakers look to encourage this trend, several conservative groups are actively fighting against it.
On Thursday, congressional lawmakers received a letter signed by 34 conservative organizations urging them to oppose any expansion of tax credits for electric vehicles. Signatories to the letter include several think tanks that promote climate science denial, a group run by a former Koch lobbyist, and the newly launched Energy 45 Fund set up by a former Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official.
Addressed to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as Reps. Richard Neal (D-MA) and Kevin Brady (R-TX), the letter calls the current electric vehicle tax credit “misguided,” and argues that expanding this initiative will “be a net harm to consumers.”
This comes after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill last month that would open up the tax credit to roughly three times as many people.
Currently, there is a cap on the number of tax credits the federal government can issue for electric vehicle purchases. Only the first 200,000 electric vehicles sold by the end of 2018 would qualify for the full $7,500 credit, while cars delivered in the first half of 2019 would get half as much.
Two companies recently reached the 200,000 vehicle cap — Tesla and General Motors — meaning additional customers would receive smaller credits. This in part prompted senators to introduce the bipartisan legislation to expand the threshold to 600,000 sales per company. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 budget would repeal the tax credit entirely.
Thursday’s letter was spearheaded by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research, which is run by former Koch Industries lobbyist Thomas Pyle. Pyle has close ties to the administration, and served as the head of the Trump energy transition team in 2016. Just before stepping into that role, he sent a memo to a private email list outlining his policy priorities; these included exiting the Paris climate agreement and scrapping the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Both of these have since been announced.
There are also several Koch-linked, fossil fuel-funded, climate denial groups among the letter’s signatories, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), The Heartland Institute, Heritage Action for America (the advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation), and the CO2 Coalition, whose slogan is “Carbon dioxide, a nutrient vital for life.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) also signed on to the letter. The think tank has had somewhat of a revolving door with the Trump administration with several staffers moving between TPPF and high-level positions in the Energy Department, Interior Department, and the EPA.
The Kochs — who have earned their wealth largely from fossil fuels and petrochemicals — have a history of lobbying against electric vehicles.
In 2016, they launched a front group called Fueling U.S. Forward — which Pyle was reportedly involved with — to promote fossil fuels. As HuffPost reported that year, the group planned to spend $10 million annually “to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles.” As of October 2017, it was unclear whether Fueling U.S. Forward was still an active front group.
Regardless, other like-minded organizations have continued to lobby against the expansion of electric vehicles.
In Thursday’s letter — which echoes one sent last September to Brady and another sent to former Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller last October — the groups argue that electric vehicle tax credits “overwhelmingly benefit the rich” and serve as an effective “wealth transfer to California at the expense of all other states.”
Their argument presumes that only rich people buy electric cars, and highlights an ongoing tension between Trump and California; a state that has continued to challenge the administration’s policies — such as vehicle fuel efficiency rollbacks — in public and the courts, often successfully.
“We urge you to protect your constituents and all American families by opposing an expansion of the electric vehicle tax credit,” the letter concludes.
Yet, the letter’s arguments are based on studies conducted by groups that have received fossil fuel funding; both the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) — whose study is titled “Costly Subsidies for the Rich” — and the Manhattan Institute have taken money from ExxonMobil.
The findings also contrast other recent studies that found a shift to renewable energy and electric vehicles would actually save the economy trillions of dollars. An International Renewable Energy Agency report released last month found that the most cost-effective wave to achieve a “climate-safe future” was through an accelerated energy transition to renewables and energy efficiency coupled with electrification of key sectors like transport.
Doing this would not just help limit dangerous global temperature increases but would also “save the global economy up to USD 160 trillion cumulatively over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages.”
The decline in battery costs in part is driving the huge expansion in renewables and electric vehicles. And according to a Reuters analysis, car manufacturers are expected to invest more than $90 billion over the next decade in electric vehicles.
Electrifying the transportation sector is vital to decarbonizing the economy — something activists and politicians alike recognize.
Los Angeles, a city plagued by traffic and air pollution, recently introduced it’s own version of a Green New Deal that aims to have 80% of its cars run on electricity or zero-emission fuel by the mid-2030s. Similarly, Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a 2020 presidential hopeful, last week unveiled his climate policy campaign proposal that calls for 100% zero-emission new vehicles within the next 11 years.