Plugging in to Better Environmental Health

A revolution is beginning to happen on America’s roads, and Houston needs to be ready.

Affordable electric vehicles are hitting the road in increasing numbers. The arrival of the 238- mile, $37,495 Chevy Bolt in early 2017, the 200-mile, $35,000 Tesla Model 3 in the fall of 2017, and the 150-mile, $30,000 Nissan Leaf in early 2018 signals the movement of electric vehicles into the mainstream.

Demand for these vehicles has been high: nearly half a million people reserved a Model 3 car ahead of distribution. GM plans to launch 20 electric vehicle models by 2023, with two new cars hitting American streets by spring of 2019. Chevrolet’s Bolt was Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year, and a number of fully electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles were finalists for 2018’s award.

Here are three reasons why this is an important trend:

EVs are better for our health and environment

Electric vehicles are far less polluting than gasoline-powered cars, with half the carbon footprint over their lifetime, as well as fewer emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter. The environmental benefits of electric vehicles will continue to improve as America switches to clean, renewable energy.

In 2017, the eight-county Houston region experienced 21 days with unhealthy levels of smog, which contributes to heart and lung diseases, including asthma. By putting more zero-emission electric cars on the road, Houston can help improve public health, while also reducing global warming pollution.

Houston and Texas need more charging stations

The transition to electric vehicles will require a number of changes, including connecting charging infrastructure with the electricity grid, updating the grid, and adopting city policies to allocate space for EVs and integrate electric vehicles in the broader transportation system.

Houston will have up to 65,000 electric cars on the road by 2030, up from just a couple of thousand today, according to new Environment Texas report “Plugging In.” These vehicles, however, will not have enough places to recharge their batteries unless the city adds more than 2,000 new charging stations in publicly accessible locations.

We can do better

The pending distribution in Texas of $209 million from the settlement of Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal provides Houston and Texas an incredible opportunity to help fund EV charging infrastructure and electric municipal fleets. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should invest the maximum allowable amount (15 percent) in fast charging electric vehicle infrastructure and spend the remaining amount (85 percent) on new, all-electric garbage trucks, delivery vans and buses to replace older, outdated diesel-powered versions.

With smart planning and policy, cities can reap the full benefits of America’s electric vehicle revolution.

  • Luke Metzger
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