Manchin ‘very reluctant’ on electric cars in ominous sign for Biden’s climate fight | Climate crisis

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Faced with rising gas prices, many Americans are now looking to switch to an electric car. But the move away from fossil-fuel vehicles has been criticized by Sen. Joe Manchin, who said he was “very reluctant” to see the proliferation of battery-powered cars.

There has been renewed interest in buying electric vehicles (EVs) in the wake of the war in Ukraine, analysts say, with drivers in the United States baffled by gasoline prices that have risen above $4.30 per gallon as a result of dispute and supply. pandemic chain issues.

Joe Biden has repeatedly championed the growth of the nascent market for electric vehicles as a way to tackle the climate crisis, with America’s heavy reliance on dirty cars a major source of planet-warming emissions.

But Manchin, the centrist Democrat who holds a key vote in the US Senate, has scorned the idea of ​​phasing out gasoline and diesel cars.

“I’m very reluctant to go down the EV route,” Manchin said at the CERAWeek energy conference, held in Houston. “I’m old enough to remember queuing in 1974 trying to buy petrol – I remember that time. I don’t want to have to wait in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle as we are now dependent on a foreign supply chain, mainly China.

Manchin, who has received more money in political donations from fossil fuel interests than any other senator, also said he “struggles to understand” why the federal government would invest in a network of electric car charging stations. , as the Biden administration aims to do.

“I read the story, and I remember Henry Ford inventing the Model-T, but I don’t remember the US government-built gas stations at all,” Manchin said to applause. “The market did that.”

The West Virginia senator’s criticism bodes ill for the White House’s hopes of passing major climate legislation this year. Climate elements of the Build Back Better Act, which Manchin’s opposition has so far blocked, included half a trillion dollars in clean energy tax credits as well as deep rebates for car purchases electricity to accelerate their adoption.

Manchin’s comments also come amid renewed consumer interest in electric vehicles reported by auto dealers, as some Americans seek to sidestep global oil market volatility altogether. The past month has seen a surge in the number of people researching hybrid and battery-electric vehicles online, according to Edmunds, a car-buying and industry analyst website.

This is a continuation of the broader growth of electric vehicles in recent years “but the surge in interest of late is certainly more a reaction to record fuel prices triggered by the war in Ukraine” , according to Jessica Caldwell, executive director of analytics at Edmonds.

“Anecdotally, we’re hearing a lot about greater interest in electric vehicles because of what’s happening in Ukraine, but the real test is whether that’s going to last,” said Ed Kim, president of AutoPacific, an automotive industry research company.

Tesla cars recharge their batteries at the Geary Boulevard Supercharger in San Francisco. Photography: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Kim said gas-powered cars built in the United States are already full of foreign-made parts. “Joe Manchin represents coal-dependent West Virginia, so I think he has a vested interest in downplaying the importance of clean energy,” Kim said.

“Look what’s happening right now, we’re seeing fuel prices we haven’t seen in years due to geopolitical issues. Any steps we take to reduce our dependence on oil are good for our economy, our environment and to ensure that the country does not come to a screeching halt.

Previous gasoline price jumps, such as in 2008, have led to a corresponding increase in sales of battery-powered and hybrid cars and analysts expect a similar spike due to the current crisis. About half a million electric cars were sold in the United States last year, up more than 80% from 2020, as consumers were drawn to a slew of new models such as the Mustang Mach-E from Ford and the Tesla Model Y.

While traditional automakers such as Ford and GM are now making significant investments in the electric vehicle market, demand now regularly outstrips pandemic-hit supply, meaning the growing interest in electric may lead to frustration. “Unfortunately, making an EV purchase isn’t particularly easy to make right now amid inventory shortages,” Caldwell said.

Owning an electric car is much cheaper than a gas-powered car due to lower fuel costs and fewer mechanical issues, but the initial cost of most electric vehicles is typically over $40,000.

That means they’re often out of reach for many low-income Americans who are already forced, due to the car-centric design of America’s cities and suburbs, to spend a lot of their money to run a vehicle to go to work and complete other routine trips.

The Biden administration is aiming for 50% of new car sales to be electric by 2030 – last year the total share was around 3% – and industry experts say major investments will need to be made to reach this goal.

“Oil addiction funds some of the most brutal regimes in the world today. There is no indication that any component of an electric vehicle resembles the current cost of oil for national security, the environment and humanitarian aid. said Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy.

“The transition to electric vehicles is inevitable at this point – the timeline is up to consumers and policy makers. Events in Ukraine remind us how volatile and destructive oil dependency is and this should only accelerate that timeline.

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