Electric car bill an investment in the future

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is sponsoring a bi-partisan bill that would establish an electric vehicle development program within the U.S. Department of Energy, require utilities to plan infrastructure for the vehicles’ widespread use and start a research-and-development fund for the industry.

The Tennessee Republican is bucking the trend in Washington, which is to cut government spending in all areas, by proposing nearly $2.9 billion for the electric car initiative.

Despite establishing new programs, this bill would represent a wise investment in the future of electric vehicles and in Tennessee’s growing green economy.

The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would accelerate the development of electric vehicles and supporting infrastructure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolster national security by helping to reduce dependency on foreign oil. The sponsors cite the country’s nearly $400 billion petroleum trade deficit and note that electricity production relies on a more diverse portfolio of domestic energy sources.

Under the bill, DOE would develop a national deployment plan and give technical assistance to the states with an emphasis on helping public-private partnerships, establish grant programs and support workforce training. The bill also would begin a transition of the federal government vehicle fleet to electric vehicles. Incentives for consumers and research-and-development funding also are included. The largest chunk of the funding — $2 billion — would go to communities to speed up the deployment of electric vehicles.

Electric cars won’t replace gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles overnight, but the transition needs to begin. The environmental benefits of no-emission vehicles should be obvious. There are economic benefits, too.

Tennessee is one of the three fastest-growing clean-energy economies in the country, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. The Nissan LEAF will be built in Smyrna, Tenn., beginning next year, and the company is building a plant to make the LEAF’s lithium-ion batteries.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who leads the Pew clean-energy economy initiative, was in Knoxville last week drumming up support for the bill. Granholm noted that despite doubling private investment in clean energy since 2009, the United States has fallen behind China and Germany. Jobs, Granholm said, follow investment.

In addition to protecting the environment and creating jobs, the development of electric vehicles should be a national security priority. According to congressional data included in the Alexander-Merkley bill, the deployment of 700,000 plug-in electric vehicles would save about 10 million barrels of oil per year.

Reducing our dependency on foreign oil — and the unreliable or hostile regimes that control its flow — would redefine our national interests. The oil-rich states of the Middle East would gradually lose their leverage over the United States, making us more secure in the long run.

Promoting and subsidizing the development of electric vehicles is in the best interest of our nation, and the Alexander-Merkley bill offers a comprehensive approach to aiding a fledgling industry segment until it can compete on its own in the marketplace.