5 Steps for Making Electric Vehicles Benefit All

woman-with-ev-photo-by-rudy-espinozajpgThe Greenlining Institute partners with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and is a policy, research, organizing, and leadership institute working for racial and economic justice. They recently released a report highlighting how inclusive policy can make electric vehicles accessible to all. Here at EDF, we know clean energy policies cannot be truly transformative without accessibility across all income levels and among all communities. Indeed, that is the only way we will accomplish our goal of curbing harmful climate change.  

By: Joel Espino, Legal Counsel, The Greenlining Institute

State programs that help low-income Californians access electric vehicles (EVs) mark a big step in our fight against poverty and pollution.

Cars, buses, and trucks are the biggest source of global-warming pollution in California – creating nearly 40 percent of the state’s total emissions. This makes tens of thousands of Californians sick, costs us billions in avoidable health costs, and causes twice as many deaths as traffic-related accidents. Vehicle pollution hurts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color the most because they are more likely to be located near busy roads and freeways, exposing them to dangerous levels of pollution. Paired with the fact that low-income families spend a disproportionate amount of their income on gas and public transit fares, the substantial burden of transportation on our poor communities is clear.

However, if drawing on renewable energy, EVs have the potential to dramatically reduce pollution as compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts and save folks money. From well-to-wheels, EVs produce fewer emissions than gas-powered cars and are cheaper to power and maintain. That’s why in 2014 we at The Greenlining Institute worked with Communities for a Better Environment, Coalition for Clean Air, Environment California, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to pass the Charge Ahead California Initiative. This law works to place 1 million EVs on California’s roads by 2023 and ensure all Californians, especially lower-income households most impacted by pollution, can access clean cars.

We’ve learned a lot from implementing this initiative. Now, those lessons are illuminated in a comprehensive online tool, “Electric Vehicles for All: An Equity Toolkit,” to help policymakers and advocates make EVs a reality for underserved communities by providing tools, tips, and resources. In particular, five important steps can ensure EV benefits reach all communities:

STEP 1: Make EVs Affordable

The first obvious barrier stopping low-income consumers from buying EVs is cost. A new Nissan Leaf costs $29,010, about $9,000 more than a similar gasoline-powered model. And although prices of EVs are dropping fast, low-income consumers still need financial assistance to buy one. Used EVs represent a gold mine of opportunity. For example, a used, reliable, 2012 Nissan Leaf with under 50,000 miles costs $10,000 or less.

Equitable EV policies use tools like vouchers, rebates, and financing assistance programs to bring EV costs down for low-income consumers.

STEP 2: Make EVs Practical and Accessible

When figuring out how to help low-income folks get into EVs, it’s important to find out what kind of EV access makes sense for them. Is the target community in a rural area that relies a lot on individual car ownership to get around? Or is it a dense, urban area with good public transportation – thus less dependent on individual car ownership but potentially benefitting from a car-sharing model? Advocates and officials need to consider the mobility needs of the target community when figuring out what kind of EV access is practical or whether it is needed at all.

Equitable EV policies help place charging infrastructure in underserved communities. These policies also help low-income individuals apply for financial incentives through things like technical assistance and easy-to-use applications. With more charging infrastructure available to more people in more places, like multifamily housing and workplaces, EVs can also serve as assets to the electric grid – by enabling charging at times when electricity is clean and cheap and avoiding charging when the electric grid is stressed.

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STEP 3: Increase EV Awareness

Many people still know very little about EVs. This is especially true in low-income communities and communities of color in which EVs usually haven’t been advertised.

Effective community engagement regarding EVs will require trusted messengers. Partnering with community-based organizations will help build trust and ensure EV materials and messages are culturally sensitive, relevant, and available in key languages.

Public officials also lack familiarity with EV benefits and incentives that might be available in their areas. To be successful, EV awareness campaigns should educate officials – especially public officials of color or those representing large numbers of low-income communities and communities of color.

STEP 4: Educate Auto Dealers about EVs

Auto dealers act as gatekeepers to EVs and can be important partners in increasing EV access in underserved communities. But too often, auto dealers know little about how EVs work, their benefits, or available incentives. Dealers also make less money on EVs than on gas powered vehicles because EVs need less maintenance and parts. For example, EVs don’t require routine oil changes or parts like air filters and gaskets.

Equitable EV policies help educate auto dealers on EV benefits and incentives, especially incentives for low-income consumers. Additionally, they provide financial incentives to dealerships for selling EVs to low-income consumers.

STEP 5: Diversify the EV Market

As transportation electrification (powering vehicles with electricity) grows, so will jobs in EV manufacturing, repair and maintenance, charging station installation, and other related sectors. Lots of businesses that provide goods and services to EV companies stand to benefit greatly from a growing EV market.

An inclusive, diverse, and equitable EV market must ensure underserved community members have access to job training programs that build in-demand skills and are prioritized through local and targeted hiring. Companies in the EV market must focus on diversifying their entire workforce – from janitors and assemblers to electrical engineers and executives. EV companies must buy services and goods from businesses with diverse owners, such as minority-owned businesses, so the economic opportunities they produce reach as many businesses and people as possible.

Missing the mark on creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable EV market and clean energy economy can further widen the racial wealth gap in America and lock workers of color out of a chance at economic stability and prosperity. Inclusive clean energy policies can build prosperity and clean the air in communities who bear the brunt of transportation pollution. And in order for them to be truly transformational, clean energy technologies, like EVs, have to be accessible to all members of every community – especially those who stand to benefit the most.

Photo source: Rudy Espinoza

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