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Biden's Infrastructure Plan Would Push For Electric Vehicles

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Electric vehicles play a central role in President Biden's ambitious infrastructure plan.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to move now 'cause I'm convinced if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say, this was the moment that America won the future.

CHANG: Biden sees electric vehicles as a big part of that future. And joining us now to talk more about that is NPR's Camila Domonoske. Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So the scale of this proposal's pretty massive, right?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, certainly. The word that Biden likes to use is transformational. Some of his Republican critics see it as transformational in a bad way. But it is certainly ambitious, and that's true of the whole plan and the proposal for electric vehicles specifically.

CHANG: OK, so what exactly does Biden's plan propose to do for electric vehicles?

DOMONOSKE: Well, let's start with what it doesn't do. Bans on gasoline-powered vehicles are not included in this proposal - not a word about it. And that's certainly something that some other governments are planning to do in the future. This instead focuses on incentives - think a whole lot of carrots and not a lot of stick. It's about investing in battery supply chains, in factories to build electric vehicles, in subsidies for people buying them and having the government outright buy a bunch of electric vehicles for its own use, as well as a huge push to build half a million vehicle charging stations. All told, it's $174 billion to promote the electric vehicle industry, which is more than the plan calls for bridge and highway repair.

CHANG: Interesting. I feel like you were just talking about this on our show yesterday, right?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, the shift to electric vehicles.

CHANG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: I mean, the shift to electric vehicles is already underway, right?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. And yesterday I didn't say a word about, you know, federal policy pushing, and it was entirely businesses, right? You have General Motors and Volvo pledging to stop selling gas-powered vehicles completely. You've got companies like Ford and Volkswagen making big investments in this. Tesla, obviously, proved that it can be profitable. Batteries keep getting cheaper and better. A bunch of car companies are looking at the future, and they say the future money is in electric vehicles.

CHANG: OK, well, if that's the case, why spend so much taxpayer money on this?

DOMONOSKE: Right. So right now electric vehicles are 2% of new car sales, and you've got environmentalists and policymakers saying that should be 100% in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. So Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was on Morning Edition today, and he laid out the argument in favor of government support.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's really exciting to see industry moving this way. But we also know that we're in a race against time, that time is running out in the fight against climate change. And frankly, we've got to pick up the pace.

DOMONOSKE: So the idea is that federal spending on subsidies, on chargers, can speed up this transition that has already started to take place.

CHANG: OK, Buttigieg laying out the argument there for spending all of this money. But what would be the argument against spending all of this money?

DOMONOSKE: Well, there's several arguments. Subsidies for electric vehicles primarily benefit wealthy people who can afford new cars.

CHANG: Sure.

DOMONOSKE: It's not the most efficient way, dollar for dollar, to cut carbon emissions. Some environmentalists would prefer to see bans or money for transit instead. But what's really striking to me about the response is that there is broadly an agreement that this transition will happen, and the argument is over how quickly and who should pay for it.

CHANG: How likely is it that you think this infrastructure proposal will become reality?

DOMONOSKE: Well, that's the $2 trillion question, I guess. I mean, this is obviously a broad-stroke plan. It needs to pass Congress, and there's the slimmest-possible majority in the Senate.

CHANG: (Laughter) Exactly. That is NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.