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Campus Notebook: Senate Looks at Electric Cars

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Legislation spearheaded by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) would task the Architect of the Capitol with designating electric-car recharging stations in Senate garages.

The Senate appears close to passing a bill that would establish battery-recharging stations for lawmaker- and employee-owned electric and hybrid cars on Capitol Hill.

But concerns about costs, and whether Congress should incentivize buying alternative-fuel vehicles, could stand in the way. The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), would task the Architect of the Capitol with designating electric-car recharging stations in Senate garages.

“This bill would ensure that Senate employees have ... the infrastructure to support next-generation vehicles,” Levin said in his introduction of the bill on the Senate floor nearly a year ago. “It would provide an example to other employers of how they can support ... the needs of their employees and our national interest in energy security.”

The measure appeared on track for passage by unanimous consent before Congress broke for the Easter recess, but a senior Democratic aide confirmed to Roll Call that a hold from the Republican side of the aisle derailed that attempt. It’s unclear who placed the hold and why.

An aide for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said he understood that the hold was due to lack of information and fear that the initiative would be costly.

The bill would not cost taxpayers anything, Alexander’s aide stressed — as did co-sponsor Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a Levin aide.

“This is a smart way for the Senate to point the way to an energy-independent future at no cost to the taxpayer,” Schumer said in a statement.

Lawmakers and staffers charging electric car batteries on Senate property would have to pay the AOC a usage fee each month, they said. This would ensure that electricity consumed by only a small number of people wouldn’t be lumped into the government’s larger monthly electric bill.

And while the Congressional Budget Office originally estimated it would cost $6,000 to install six charging stations in the Senate garage, Alexander’s aide said that was the cost for installing only one type of system. The AOC, he said, is now exploring a cheaper option: designate six parking spaces located near outlets as reserved for electric cars only and require the car owners to bring their own extension cords and plugs.

In this case, the AOC would only have to front the cost of designating the spaces, monitoring that the spaces are being used correctly, collecting monthly fees and writing reports on the initiative’s progress (as the legislation requires).

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the AOC, said the office does not comment on pending legislation.

The current expectation is that the bill will be passed at some point during the Senate’s next work period.

On the House side, however, the legislation has a less certain future.

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