Congress

Levin bill would put electric car chargers at national parks and forests

Transportation sector accounts for nearly a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions

Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., introduced a bill this week to make national parks and forests more electric car-friendly. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bill filed Wednesday by Rep. Mike Levin would provide millions of dollars for the federal agencies governing U.S. national parks and forests to facilitate the installation of electric car charging stations to promote the use of zero-emissions vehicles on public lands.

Under the bill, which Levin has dubbed the “Green Spaces, Green Vehicles Act,” The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service would also be required to obtain zero-emissions vehicles and shuttle buses to replace the gas-fueled fleets they use now.

The transportation sector accounts for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the most of any economic sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Fifty-nine percent of transportation sector emissions can be traced back to light-duty vehicles, a category that include standard passenger cars, vans, and other vehicles weighing less than 3.5 metric tons.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are destroying our planet, polluting the air we breathe, and driving the climate crisis,” Levin, a freshman California Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is imperative that we expedite the transition to cleaner cars and expand the charging infrastructure they require,” he said. “We can either embrace Zero Emission Vehicles and the clean energy jobs they create, or let other countries take the lead and reap the economic reward. I think we should lead.”

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

A 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy found that installing the most basic single-port electric car-charging unit can cost as much as $1,500. From there, the price of installation trends upward the more advanced the charging technology goes. It can cost as much as $40,000 to install a single fast-charging unit, according to the 2015 USDE study’s executive summary.

Each charging unit would also entail thousands of dollars in ongoing maintenance and energy usage costs.

With nearly 600 forests, parks, monuments, and other areas under the jurisdiction of the NPS and USFS, the cost of the charging station installation program could cost dozens of millions of dollars.

Acquiring a fleet of electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to service those parks and areas would add millions more to the bill.

A spokesman for Levin said that his office does not have an estimate for the cost of installing car charging stations at sites operated by the NPS and USFS. But the legislation proposed Wednesday would provide $50 million in funding to the federal agencies to enter into agreements with companies and non-profits to install and maintain the equipment.

By Thursday, Cortez Masto’s bill in the Senate had garnered six co-sponsors, all Democrats. Levin’s bill has not yet received any co-sponsors.

The electric car market is still fledgling, though it has seen mostly steady growth since 2011, around which time the Chevy Volt, Prius Plug-in, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S first hit the market. By the end of 2018, electric cars represented 2.1 percent of the light vehicle market share in the U.S., according to figures compiled by the Electric Vehicle World Sales Database.

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