By Michael Thulen Jr.
Asbury Park Press
January 8, 2021
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently proposed a regulation that would ban gas car sales in the state by 2035 in an effort to spur electric vehicle adoption. The DEP suggests that an increased electric vehicle fleet will allow the state to reach its goal of reducing 80% of all carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, but many residents in New Jersey would unfortunately pay a hefty price for this flawed proposal.
This announcement follows a similar proposal in California and warrants the same line of questioning. Is it appropriate for the government to pick private market winners and losers? Should the Governor dictate consumer behavior, just like he did when picking winners and losers in the Covid-19 shutdowns? Is a gas car ban the most effective or worthwhile route to reduce carbon emissions?
It is curious that gas-powered vehicles were singled out for replacement considering the many ways that carbon emissions are generated. Before any concrete policy actions are taken from Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration it is worth asking if officials have seriously considered alternative avenues available to reducing emissions or if they are merely making this proposal as a means to virtue signal their seriousness about climate solutions.
For instance, New Jersey’s transportation emissions have fallen more than 10% since 2007 but those gains are probably not attributable to electric vehicles adoption. A recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found modern cars to be 99% cleaner for common pollutants than 1970s models. This is presumably afforded by efficiency improvements in internal combustion engines and sensible regulatory requirements. Nonetheless, the DEP has pressed on with promoting electric vehicles as a viable emissions reduction strategy.
Omitted from the DEP’s proposal is also a realistic assessment of electric vehicles. For starters, they are by no means ‘zero emission.’ A recent study by ConservAmerica, a conservation think tank, correctly points out that electric vehicles are still responsible for producing emissions throughout their lifecycles. Like traditional cars, electric vehicles rely on the same plastic, rubber, and metal components manufactured in carbon emitting factories. Electricity required for the charging stations networks – which lack in infrastructure almost nationwide – isn’t zero emission, either. Natural gas, coal, and oil all fuel electricity generation. Similarly, lithium batteries require large-scale mining projects that are sure to frustrate most environmentalists.
In any case, electric vehicles are prohibitively expensive and not yet feasible for American middle or working-class families. New Jersey has only 11,000 electric vehicles, despite the $30 million in taxpayer money that has been funneled annually into the state’s ‘Drive Green’ program. Purging the marketplace of gasoline cars won’t make the hurdles to ownership any lower. Just think of the next generation of drivers that will not be able to afford a new electric vehicle or be able to find a used car after the market prices skyrocket.
In fact, narrowing available choices seldom rewards consumers or propagates good business. An electric vehicle only marketplace may encourage companies to solidify or even raises their prices, particularly if New Jersey subsidy programs continue to grow. The affordability and convenience of gasoline cars push electric vehicle makers to innovate and create their own advantages. Banning them would blow up the engine of innovation in the vehicle marketplace.
Despite what environmentalists pushing measures such as this internal combustion engine ban would have you believe, the United States is actually “a world leader in protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” A recent EPA report found that from 2005 to 2018, total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 12% while global energy-related emissions increased nearly 24%.
Another study from the EPA found natural gas to be a major driver in reducing greenhouse gas emissions thanks to its less carbon-intensive nature and abundance and accessibility. This in turn helped offset more carbon-intensive resources for energy generation.
These accomplishments have been achieved not by government mandates, but by market-driven innovation and technological advancements. Leaders in New Jersey must work to address actual problems, like out of control state debt, instead of focusing on pie-in-the-sky proposals that come at the expense of taxpayers, businesses and consumers. A larger lens is necessary to assess progress as well as paths of least resistance that will benefit the most New Jersey taxpayers.
The country has made impressive environmental gains thanks to exploring new technologies – electric vehicles included – but there are larger benefits that can be realized without Governor Murphy’s administration interfering with or subsidizing consumer behavior.
Michael Thulen Jr. is the former Council President of the Borough of Point Pleasant