The national charging network of electric vehicle lovers' dreams is getting closer to reality. On Thursday, the Biden administration proposed a set of standards for a charging program that will ensure EV drivers have access to fast, reliable juice anywhere in the country.
The Biden administration is giving states $7.5 billion — money that comes from the bipartisan infrastructure law — to help build an electric vehicle charging network. But while each state gets to propose how it would use the money, the new standards would help ensure that drivers looking for a charge have, in the words of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, an "experience [that] is the same no matter where you are."
Right now, charging is relatively piecemeal. There are different apps, proprietary charging networks such as Tesla's Superchargers and decidedly varying quality in how fast and reliable chargers are. The proposed standards would make it so that states using the federal funds would have to meet minimum charging requirements.
Electric vehicles are hot commodities due to rising gas prices and the plummeting cost of ownership compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. Interest in EVs is outpacing supply, but range anxiety is still a very real thing. Building out a standardized charging network is a way to ensure that anxiety is replaced by sweet relief that you can get a charge and grab a bag of Sunchips while you wait to top up. (TBD on whether Sunchips are included once the standards are finalized … but they should be.)
The administration has set a goal of building out 500,000 charging stations across the country, which makes the standards all the more important. But a nice charging network alone does not an EV future make. On a call with reporters, Granholm stressed the administration was looking for Congress to pass "additional tax credits for EVs and batteries and other clean technologies." While research indicates that would indeed help spur EV adoption, the fate of new tax credits hinges on Sen. Joe Manchin. And that means — at least based on his most recent statements — that the administration is out of luck for the moment. Without those tax credits and other policies, it's unlikely the U.S. will get on track to meet the Biden administration's goal of 50% of all vehicle sales being EVs by 2030. (That goal itself is already a relatively weak one from a climate perspective.)
There are other avenues to clean up transportation's carbon footprint, ways that would pay even greater dividends than getting everyone in EVs. That includes investing in public transit as well as walking and micromobility infrastructure. But those would require an even more radical shift in thinking by the West Virginia senator and other policymakers. That's not a reason to write them off out of hand, of course, particularly since winding down carbon pollution is a zero-sum game. But the tensions over something as simple as EV tax credits show addressing transportation emissions could be a rough ride.