BRANDYWINE, Md. — The Biden administration released a government-wide plan Monday to speed up the deployment of charging stations seen as critical to widespread adoption of electric cars and trucks, a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s strategy for tackling greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Vice President Kamala Harris, flanked by a pair of electric vehicles at a county maintenance facility in Maryland, said rolling out a reliable network of electric vehicle chargers would address pollution that disproportionality affects poor communities while also keeping the U.S. economically competitive.
“Sales are driven by consumer demand,” Harris said. “The auto industry is clearly moving toward electric. We need to make the shift faster and make sure it is driven by the United States.”
The administration’s five-page plan for accelerating that shift offered few details on where new charging stations will go, who will build them and how they’ll be funded, raising new questions about whether Biden will be able to meet his ambitious goal of installing 500,000 charging stations from coast to coast.
The $15 billion for electric vehicle charging stations that Biden had sought from Congress was cut in half, to $7.5 billion, in the bipartisan infrastructure law. Biden’s administration has stuck with the target of half a million stations without saying explicitly how that can be accomplished with just half of the requested funding.
Of the $7.5 billion the Biden administration has to work with, $5 billion will be doled out to states, territories and the District of Columbia to install charging stations. The remaining $2.5 billion will be given out through competitive grants focused on putting charging stations in rural areas, improving air quality and targeting disadvantaged communities, the White House said.
As part of the strategy, the Energy and Transportation departments this week will sign an agreement creating a joint office focused on building out a national charging network. The White House said it will be a “one-stop shop” for charging resources.
The administration also plans to solicit information from U.S. manufacturers of electric vehicle chargers about how to expand the industry domestically, issue guidance to states and cities on developing charging networks, and take suggestions for new “alternative fuel corridors,” which are designated stretches of highways equipped to allow travelers to use alternative fuels like electricity.
Biden signed an executive order in August setting a goal of having electric vehicles make up half of the cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2030 as part of a broader push to zero-out U.S. greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by the middle of the century.
The effort also is intended to help the U.S. leapfrog China in the plug-in electric vehicle market. Currently, the U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle sales is one-third the size of the Chinese EV market.
Already, many major automakers have begun their own fast-paced shift toward electric, with General Motors saying it will stop making gas-powered vehicles to become an all-electric manufacturer by 2035.
Yet surveys of auto consumers regularly find that one of the biggest impediments to widespread adoption of electric vehicles is “range anxiety,” the fear of running out of battery power before there’s a convenient place to recharge the vehicle.
“When we ask people what is the biggest barrier for them to buy an electric car, the answer is almost always figuring out where and how to charge it,” Harris said, pointing to the particular challenges faced by car-owners who live in apartments and thus don’t have an easy way to charge their vehicles parked outside the building.
During a tour aimed at showcasing cutting-edge vehicles, Harris got a look at an electric Chevy Bolt and several electric buses, which were part of a fleet that Maryland’s Prince George’s County is aiming to shift to all-electric by 2035. She lingered at a 2022 Ford E-Transit, an all-electric passenger van, and mused at the site of a charging station doing its work in silence.
“There’s no sound or fumes. … How do I know it’s actually working?” Harris said with a laugh. A local official explained that a blinking green light would indicate the car was done charging.
Harris also made a renewed push for the administration’s nearly $1.7 trillion social safety net bill pending in Congress, which contains the bulk of the money the president has sought for addressing climate change and hastening the transition to clean energy. Harris cited provisions in the bill that would provide tax credits of $12,500 for buying a new electric vehicle or $4,000 for a used one.
The electric vehicle charging plan comes as the Biden administration is still working to address high gas prices, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg arguing recently on MSNBC that those who buy an electric car would “never have to worry about gas prices again.”
Republicans, including some who voted in favor of the new infrastructure law, have criticized Biden for being preoccupied with electric vehicle technology when Americans are contending with the spike in gasoline and natural gas prices.
Biden last month ordered a record 50 million barrels of oil released from America’s strategic reserve, in coordination with other major energy consuming nations. Gas prices have fallen in recent weeks as fears grow of a possible economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic.
Average prices on Sunday were $3.33 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association, down about 7 cents from late last month.