How the Clean Air Act can lead to more Electric Vehicle Chargers

As we continue to battle climate change, transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) is more important than ever. However, the limited charging infrastructure is a major obstacle in making this happen. People are often hesitant to buy EVs due to the fear of running out of battery power before they can find a charger. Despite government investments, private companies are hesitant to invest in charging infrastructure without a return on investment from EVs currently on the road. But the Biden administration has a solution: Section 211(c) of the Clean Air Act.

Section 211(c) is not a new idea. Leaders from past administrations have used it to facilitate the shift to new and cleaner motor vehicle technology. The act mandates the supply of cleaner-burning fuels and the corresponding infrastructure—specifically, this section requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop fuel and vehicle emission standards, including guidelines for charging infrastructure, for any “new fuel” addition to the market. These new standards could include, for example, requiring gas stations to include EV chargers as a condition of their fuel-dispensing permit.

The Biden administration has already made investing in EV chargers a key part of its clean energy agenda with $7.5 billion allocated for this purpose. This is the most significant investment in charging infrastructure yet. But, this federal investment will only take us so far. When it comes to building charging infrastructure, private companies are the key players. Section 211(c) could be the motivating factor that SOV petrol station owners require to build charging infrastructure. If gas stations want to continue selling traditional petrol, they may need to invest in electric chargers as a condition of their fuel-dispensing permit.

Furthermore, the EPA could work with other federal agencies to coordinate efforts to make EV charging more accessible for the public. The Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, for instance, can improve EV access on interstate highways. Arguably, having a good charging infrastructure on highways could make EV ownership more attractive since it will reduce range anxiety. But, the question remains: how is this good news for EV manufacturers and drivers?

In short, building a charging infrastructure is a win-win for both EV manufacturers and drivers because it will create a large market for these cars to thrive. As more people switch to EVs, there will be a higher demand for charging stations. Ownership of EVs will become more attractive, as more charging infrastructure will be available, and the cars will then become more practical due to reduced anxiety about running out of charge mid-trip. With a standardised charging infrastructure, fuel cost transparency for motorists will increase even reduce the operating costs for businesses. It could also create new opportunities for local businesses to sell, maintain and lease EVs.

The administration’s efforts to expand charging infrastructure may not be enough to meet the rising demand for electric vehicles, according to industry projections. This challenge echoes a similar one faced by the auto industry in the 1970s. Back then, policymakers tackled the promotion of catalytic converters, a technology that significantly reduces vehicle emissions. However, the converters required lead-free gasoline, which was scarce. To address this issue, the Nixon administration relied on Section 211(c) of the Clean Air Act, allowing the EPA to regulate the production and sale of motor vehicle fuel to protect public health and welfare. Consequently, gas stations of a certain size were required to sell both leaded and unleaded fuel. This regulation led to a surge in the availability and use of unleaded fuel, along with the wider adoption of catalytic converters.

The Biden administration could potentially use Section 211(c) to mandate EV fast charger installations in certain gas stations. This would be based on the reasoning that gasoline emissions contribute to air pollution, and offering a safer alternative aligns with the EPA’s control measures. It is plausible for the EPA to focus on entities beyond gas stations, such as multinational franchisor brands like Shell, BP, and Sunoco. Additionally, placing chargers outside traditional gas stations may be necessary due to limited space or transmission capacity. Under Section 211(c), the EPA could establish rules that encourage collaboration between targeted firms and local grocery stores or nearby facilities that are better suited for EV charging. These rules could also enforce standardized plug types and universal payment acceptance, contrasting with the closed networks utilized by companies like Tesla.

Section 211(c) of the Clean Air Act could potentially be the tool required to expand the electric vehicle charger infrastructure. The government has already allocated $7.5 billion towards building EV chargers, but the private sector will play a critical role in turning this investment into a reality. Section 211(c) could be the motivating factor for businesses to invest in EV charging infrastructure to maintain their fuel dispensing permit. A standardised charging infrastructure could reduce the range anxiety of EV drivers, increase the market for EV manufacturers, as well as create new opportunities for businesses to sell, maintain and lease EVs. The passage and implementation of this solution would be a significant step forward in the fight against climate change.