Zero Emission Vehicles can Increase Air Pollution: Study

Marlo Lewis Jr. – July 9, 2018

new report by economist Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute challenges the conventional wisdom that zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) are superior to new internal combustion vehicles (ICVs) on environmental grounds. Lesser also has an op-ed in Politico today [May 15, 2018] based on the study.

Lesser’s analysis is detailed and quantitative but the basic idea is simple: Zero-emission vehicles are only as clean as the electric power sources they plug into. Given the electricity fuel mix reasonably projected by the Energy Information Administration between now and 2050, both nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from the power plants supplying zero-emission vehicles will exceed the emissions from new internal combustion vehicles.

The study also finds that the carbon dioxide emission reductions achieved by zero-emission vehicles, even if all are powered by renewable sources, would be too small to detectably affect global temperatures and thus have no measurable economic value.

In contrast, the costs of federal and state subsidies for zero-emission vehicles and associated infrastructure are both real and substantial. “In California alone, the total cost of ZEV subsidies, including federal tax credits and state rebates for ZEV purchases, as well as subsidies for private and public charging infrastructure, is likely to exceed $100 billion,” Lesser writes in his study. Such policies also raise serious equity concerns, because the subsidies transfer wealth from lower- and middle-income households to wealthier households.

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