Green New Deal Misses the Mark on Transportation Emissions

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) celebrating with supporters after winning the New York’s 14th Congressional District race last June ( Image )

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) celebrating with supporters after winning the New York’s 14th Congressional District race last June (Image)


“Freshman” Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has garnered considerable attention for, among other things, her proposed measures on a particularly important policy debate: climate change. According to a new report from the United Nations, we have only until 2030 to substantially decrease our greenhouse gas emissions if we wish to prevent the most dramatic impacts of climate change. Presumably guided by this reality, AOC has embraced a combined jobs-environment solution, which she has labeled a “Green New Deal”. While specifics of this policy proposal are scarce, it would dramatically transform the American economy by mandating 100% renewable energy by 2030, by far the most ambitious climate-related proposal to date. In a recent 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, Ocasio-Cortez was asked about the plan’s ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions within 12 years. Cooper posed guardedly, “You’re talking about zero carbon emissions — no use of fossil fuels within 12 years. How is that possible? Are you talking about everybody having to drive an electric car?” Ocasio-Cortez went on to address how radical the proposal was, but she did not specifically mention the issue of transportation emissions. While the boldness of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is admirable, her approach requires more specifics, especially as it relates to transportation emissions. In the arena of electric vehicles (EVs), the United States is moving in the right direction, but a “Green New Deal” must include sufficient funds for EV infrastructure, research and development, and subsidies.

As Anderson Cooper alluded to in the interview, one way to encourage renewable energy use might be to make electric vehicles more accessible. While electric vehicles have made impressive advances in recent years, with Tesla pioneering a steady flow of new technology, such vehicles remain out of most customers’ price ranges. The most efficient, semi-affordable electric car on the market today is the Chevrolet Bolt, which costs less than $30,000 with a federal tax credit and charges up to 238 miles on a single charge, making it somewhat comparable to a gas-powered vehicle in terms of traveling farther distances. Advances are being made every year to make electric cars more affordable and more efficient, but rapid transformation of the transportation sector to low-carbon technology requires more than the status quo is currently offering.

To spur such necessary advancements, both the public and private sectors must expand research and development concerning electric car batteries. To reach the consumer base that relies on cars to travel significant distances, electric cars must be able to travel as far as the Bolt or farther. Secondly, government subsidies for electric cars should be upheld and expanded to reach even more consumers, not nixed as the Trump Administration has reportedly contemplated.

While an electric vehicle may be more expensive up-front, public (read: free) charging stations are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Oil checks and other routine car maintenance for a gasoline-powered car are simply unnecessary, saving a significant amount of money. In order to allow consumers to make informed decisions about their purchase, auto companies should  provide information on lifetime costs of vehicles - not just the upfront cost, but also the cost to buy gas, car insurance, oil checks, and more. If this lifetime cost approach was provided to people shopping for new cars, a much wider range of the population might consider electric vehicles.

There is a wide array of other policies that could be implemented to aid the electric vehicle transition, including expanding public charging stations and offering more effective and affordable public transportation. The clear, simple solutions outlined above are likely not enough to bring us to all-electric transportation by 2030, but they will certainly help increase the proportion of electric cars on the road. Additional research and development, more investment in electric vehicles, and a lifetime cost approach to car purchases are all small changes that could make a big difference. A Green New Deal — or any climate policy proposed in the new Congress — must consider the current state of electric vehicles and invest in policies that will help advance them if it claims to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in its entirety.

OpinionJoseph WombleComment