Electric vehicles can reverse U.S. deficit on energy

It is a deficit that every president since Nixon has acknowledged, but one that we have been unable to tame.

If allowed to continue, this deficit will burden future generations — but it has little to do with the budget and everything to do with how most of us get to work, shop for groceries, and drop our kids off at swim practice. The United States is running a massive energy deficit that has left us dependent on oil from some of the most volatile regions of the world.

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Right now, America consumes 23 percent of the world’s oil while only controlling 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. To fuel this oil habit, we are sending $1 billion overseas every day to regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela — nations that all too often do not share our interests.

As we have seen in the last few weeks as oil prices rise, this dependency also leaves our economy vulnerable to the geopolitics of one of the most unstable regions in the world. Rather than writing checks to the leaders of foreign nations, we should be investing in American energy solutions that put people to work here at home.

One of the most promising tools we have to kick this oil habit and promote American manufacturing is electric vehicle technology. 

The good news is that electric vehicle technology is ready to go. At the Washington Auto Show, I popped the hoods of a number of electric vehicles. Two of them, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF, will be mass-marketed during the coming year. In Oregon, we have companies like Arcimoto, Brammo, Shorepower Technologies, ReVolt, and Eaton Corp. creating jobs and leading the way in EV technology development and deployment. Moreover, communities across the state are cooperating in one of the nation’s leading efforts at deploying charging infrastructure.

There is broad, bipartisan political support for promoting the production and use of electric vehicles across the country. Sen. Lamar Alexander and I have worked to introduce the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act and are working together now, as well as with other partners in the Senate, to reintroduce that bill. And the White House has recently been shining the spotlight on electric vehicle development as a means of creating jobs and ensuring America remains economically competitive for decades to come. In his State of the Union address, President Obama set forth the goal of putting one million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015. The next day, the administration put forward an outline for achieving this goal that largely mirrors the ideas that Sen. Alexander and I proposed last year.

Our legislation calls for the establishment of a number of deployment communities around the country. The idea is to demonstrate that Americans will adopt the electric vehicles if we can make the technology affordable and get the infrastructure in place quickly. These deployment communities will offer incentives for purchasing electric vehicles, and will target more intense investment in recharging infrastructure. To jumpstart EV production, the bill also includes further incentives for electric battery research and development, and plans to increase electric vehicle purchasing for federal fleets.

The goal is to provide Americans with the opportunity to drive affordable, fuel-saving electric vehicles. But the vision is far broader. By increasing electric vehicle production in America, we will create jobs and bolster our manufacturing industry. By making vehicles more efficient, we will save families money. By utilizing new battery technology, we will reduce harmful pollution and protect the forests, lakes and national parks that millions of Americans drive to every year. By using American energy instead of foreign oil, we will grow the American economy and strengthen our security.

Electric vehicles are ready to drive American innovation forward.

Merkley is a member of the Committee 
on Environment and Public Works.