Congress should not be picking winners and losers in its quest to help lower greenhouse gas emissions, shares House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., while Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says it’s important rural America isn’t left behind in the push to vehicle electrification.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to discuss the implications on rural communities and agriculture from the ongoing investment and adoption of electric vehicles.
As technology and environmental concerns have increased worldwide, countries and private companies are pouring billions of dollars of investment into electric vehicles and the required infrastructure needed to sustain them. “We cannot afford to have rural America left behind like they have been with electrification, broadband and other key infrastructure investments in the past,” Scott says.
Witnesses offered insight into the current developments to moving towards greater electrification, as well as the challenges that exist. But if the focus is on reducing oil use as well as reducing emissions, decisions need to be technology-neutral, several witnesses identified.
Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says electric vehicles will reduce oil only slightly, and have an even smaller impact on carbon dioxide emissions. Mills also states that the increased demand for EV batteries will lead to increases in the price for batteries, rather than decrease prices over time. Raw materials and minerals consist of 60-70% of the cost to fabricate a battery, and new mines take a minimum of 16 years to bring online.
Biofuels offer decarbonization opportunities today
Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, testified that even with the move to automakers making more EVs, it’s going to take decades to turn over the fleet. He called on legislators to ensure any future carbonization policies are technology-neutral and performance-based by encouraging increased fuel efficiency without dictating what sort of vehicle should be used to accomplish those goals.
“While increased deployment of electric vehicles will indeed play a vital role in reducing GHG emissions from transportation, other complementary solutions will also be required to truly decarbonize the sector by mid-century,” Cooper said in his submitted testimony. “That’s where agriculture comes in. Through the increased production and use of low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol, the U.S. agriculture sector offers an effective and immediate solution for further reducing carbon emissions from liquid fuels across all segments of the transportation sector.”
Today’s corn ethanol already reduces greenhouse gas emissions by roughly half, on average, compared to gasoline, Cooper told the lawmakers. According to the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, typical corn ethanol provides a 44-52% GHG savings compared to gasoline.
“With the rapid emergence of new technologies and more efficient practices, even greater GHG reductions are coming to the corn ethanol sector,” Cooper said, noting that RFA’s board of directors last summer adopted a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions, on average, by 2050 or sooner.
Cooper said this requires, in addition to a level playing for lifecycle GHG analysis, “certain policy and regulatory actions … to fully leverage the potential of agriculture and biofuels to decarbonize transportation.”
Trevor Walter, vice president of petroleum supply management for Sheetz on behalf of the National Association of Convenience Stores, also warned if a ban is made on internal combustion engines, the ban sets renewable fuels on a path to elimination. “Those farmers have made long-term policy decisions to gear for production.” To pull the rug out from under them now would be detrimental, he said.
This is why it is important for lawmakers to focus on reducing carbon emissions with technology-neutral goals that account for the lifecycle of carbon emissions – including electrician generation – as the foundation for sound policies, he added.
Walter noted fuel retailers are well-positioned to play an important role in decarbonizing vehicles by offering chargers at their sites. “When drivers are able to readily get electricity the same way as they fuel now, the availability of chargers is no longer an impediment.” He added that 86% of rural America is 10 minutes from a convenience store.
Future of EV pickup trucks
David Strickland, vice president of global regulatory affairs at the General Motors Company, shares GM plans to have its Chevrolet Silverado EV available by 2023, which can run on 400 miles before needing a charge. They’re also looking to expand their EV capacity to include 20% of their vehicles made by 2025 and 50% by 2030.
On the day of the hearing, Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Tom Rice, R-S.C., introduced bipartisan legislation to help farms and rural communities take advantage of the latest electric pickup trucks and tractors by allowing USDA’s Rural Energy for American Program to be used for the installation of EV charging infrastructure.
“Electric vehicles of the future are not just for cities — they also stand to deliver major benefits to farms, agribusinesses, and rural communities in Virginia and across the country,” said Spanberger. “The Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure for Farmers Act takes a successful and popular program — the REAP program — and makes sure its funding can be used to support expanded EV charging networks in all of our communities, large and small. This commonsense change would give our farmers and agribusinesses a competitive economic edge, greatly benefit our environment and establish new markets for homegrown manufacturers of electric pickups, tractors, combines and more.”