We need to address the electric vehicle charging divide now, not as an afterthought

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An all-electric vehicle future will soon be our reality, and equity needs to become a much larger piece of the national conversation.

Change is coming quickly. California has implemented a mandate for 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2035. President Biden has issued executive orders to electrify the entire federal fleet of vehicles. And commitments by vehicle manufacturers demonstrate that the industry has already shifted towards the steady path of electrification.

This shift will have enormous benefits for our planet and public health. The more our electric grid decarbonizes, the cleaner our electrified transportation sector will become. Fewer tailpipe emissions will also mean decreased ozone pollution and particulate matter that currently contribute to serious lung and heart conditions and premature death each year.

But despite these benefits, the transition to an all-electric future also comes with a major challenge that is neither technical nor economic. It is a challenge we now face across our civil society on numerous fronts, from vaccine deployment to affordable housing: equity.

Unless we are very intentional in our actions, the communities that have the most to gain from an electrified transportation sector will also be the last to experience its benefits.

As we’ve seen in the past with prior technological breakthroughs — particularly those that require a massive infrastructure buildout — low-income communities and communities of color are often only considered as an afterthought, if they are genuinely considered at all.

The pandemic has made this historical truth all the more apparent. Just look at the digital divide and homework gap that children across the nation are grappling with. Students of color and low-income families struggle to adequately access remote learning devices and high-speed internet to participate in their classes and assignments.

Underserved and disadvantaged communities will once again be left behind in an electric vehicle future unless we take actions now to ensure that our investments prioritize equity and access as much as efficiency and costs.

This is particularly important when it comes to the issue of EV charging. Make no mistake, more support from the federal government is still desperately needed to lower purchasing costs of an electric vehicle, including direct-to-consumer rebates and incentives to buy pre-owned. But charging an electric vehicle presents enormous challenges the more ubiquitous electric vehicles become.

The old way of doing things needs to be remodeled. People will need to charge their vehicles where they live and where they work. But in places like my congressional district in Brooklyn, this is much more easily said than done.

Those who are well-off enough financially might install a charging station in their own home or pay for a parking spot in a private garage that has charging stations readily available. But for those folks who rent, or who live in public housing, or who for either financial or practical reasons don’t have access to a private parking space, the immense lack of publicly accessible charging stations poses a significant barrier that we in Congress need to address.

That’s why my legislation — the Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act — tasks the Department of Energy with deploying 200,000 electric vehicle charging stations in underserved communities by 2030, including within and around public parking spaces, multi-unit dwellings, and public housing. This will be accomplished by providing unprecedented levels of grant funding and technical assistance to cities, states, community organizations, and small businesses across the nation so that these projects can be completed.

Not only will this create charging stations that enable disadvantaged communities to benefit from a clean transportation sector, it will also be a major generator of good-paying local jobs that help put people back to work and revitalize our economy.

The past year has been enormously challenging as we’ve dealt with interrelated crises around COVID-19, the economy, racial injustice, and climate change. And through these crises, we have also witnessed the deeply seeded racism and inequities that continue to plague every aspect of our civil society. In Brooklyn we have faced our share of these challenges as much as anywhere.

Yet with great challenge also comes great opportunity — the opportunity to build back better and correct the historic injustices that have caused Black and Brown, low-income, and tribal communities to bear the brunt of environmental pollution while receiving the least investment in new clean technologies and resilient infrastructure.

Now, as Congress starts to turn its attention towards tackling climate change and rebuilding America’s crumbling and outdated infrastructure, it is crucial that equity remains a central focus in our conversation. The work stands before us of laying the groundwork for a clean energy future. With my legislation and others like it, we must ensure that the benefits of this future are shared equitably by all those among us.

It is time for Congress to meet the magnitude of the moment. Our future depends on it.

Yvette D. Clarke has been in Congress since 2007. She represents New York’s Ninth Congressional District, which includes Central and South Brooklyn. Rep. Clarke is a Senior Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, and a Senior Member of the Committee on Homeland Security.

Tags charging stations electric vehicle charging divide Electric vehicles Joe Biden

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