Op-Ed: EV vote drives marginalized communities in the wrong direction

In a pivotal vote affecting America’s automotive landscape, a bipartisan effort to halt the EPA’s strict emissions standards was defeated. This crucial piece of legislation from Senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, aimed to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s punitive and unachievable emissions standards that would effectively mandate a near-complete shift to electric vehicles by 2032.

The EPA policy in question, which will limit consumer choice and undermine national security, merits further examination for its effects on marginalized communities. The shift to more restrictive automotive regulations should be carefully considered in the broader context of accessibility, affordability, and the broader economic implications for all segments of society.

As founder of the National Black Empowerment Council, I am particularly attuned to the socioeconomic impacts of misguided, top-down government policies like this de facto EV mandate. Though driven by good intentions – mitigating the effects of climate change –the implementation of the EV rule could exacerbate socioeconomic disparities, as it could significantly harm marginalized communities. It’s crucial for policies, particularly those shaping the future of transportation, to account for the diverse economic situations of all citizens and ensure equitable access to advancements.

Appropriately described by Crapo as the “most aggressive form of tailpipe emissions standards ever crafted,” the EPA’s rule not only imposes a de facto EV mandate but also risks the affordability and availability of vehicles for American families. The rule stipulates that by 2032, internal combustion engine vehicles — currently comprising most new car sales — can constitute no more than 30% of new sales. This shift is unrealistic and therefore too abrupt, considering that last year, EVs accounted for less than 8% of new car sales.

This unprecedented rush to EVs presents considerable challenges; chief among them is that policymakers at the EPA did not adequately consider the economic strain on many families in Georgia.

The current lack of EV infrastructure in many communities further compounds the problem, creating barriers to access for those who cannot afford to adapt. Furthermore, the U.S. is heavily reliant on foreign nations, particularly China, for the raw materials and components necessary for EV production. This reliance undermines our energy security and economic independence.

Crapo’s remarks during the Senate debate highlighted another critical issue: the economic impacts. The forced and rapid shift to EVs threatens to disrupt the automotive industry, which is a significant employment sector in Georgia. The state’s flourishing automotive industry, which employed about 164,000 in 2023, could face severe setbacks as companies struggle to align with premature EV production timelines.

Besides, the environmental benefits of this aggressive EV mandate are questionable. The production of EVs and their batteries produces substantial carbon emissions and environmental degradation, particularly in the extraction of lithium, cobalt, and other critical minerals.

These processes are concentrated in countries with lax environmental regulations, notably China, which controls a dominant share of the global EV supply chain. Ironically, while aiming to reduce domestic emissions, such policies may inadvertently increase global emissions.

Moreover, the defeat of the Crapo-Manchin bill underscores concerns about deepening the U.S. automotive industry’s dependency on international, particularly Chinese, supply chains amid global instability.

We risk enhancing China’s economic leverage over our national interests, not only threatening our automotive industry’s competitiveness but also our broader strategic autonomy. Look at the world’s current volatility, from Ukraine to Israel to Taiwan. It’s time to stop gambling on our energy future with resources controlled by a geopolitical adversary.

The opposition to the Crapo-Manchin bill appears to be a classic case of good intentions but poor strategy. Those who voted against it failed to consider all the harmful socioeconomic and geopolitical impacts from the EPA’s mandate. A more balanced policy would promote gradual adoption of EVs, supported by simultaneous enhancements in national production capacities for EVs and critical minerals, reducing reliance on foreign sources.

This vote was a missed opportunity to protect economically disadvantaged Georgians from the adverse impacts of precipitous policy shifts. Instead, we should be promoting a balanced, gradual, and more secure transition to cleaner, more efficient transportation options.

But it’s not too late to change course. As Georgians face the potential economic and practical ramifications of this decision, we must hope for a swift legislative U-turn.

Darius Jones is the founder and CEO of the National Black Empowerment Council.