For one thing, the electricity grid is getting cleaner every day.
A post I wrote last week on where electric vehicles cause more pollution than gas cars produced some unusually high reader emissions rates. Amid the more combustible reactions were a number of quite thoughtful ones, laying out some legitimate critiques to both the research study that prompted the post as well as our description of the work. So we reached out to several experts on electric cars and the environmental impact of transportation to offer a wider perspective.
First a quick recap: the NBER study I originally referenced measured pollution produced by EVs (via the electricity grid) and gas cars (via on-road emissions) across the U.S.—in effect, comparing power plant smokestack to vehicle tailpipe. In the West, EVs tended to be cleaner than gas cars; elsewhere they rated out worse. The economists leading the work priced this difference by geography to determine where electrics should be subsidized, and where they should actually be taxed.
The maps came down hardest on the worst environmental offenders (namely, gas cars in big cities, and coal power plants) and served as a reminder of the huge social costs of car reliance. But the researchers, concerned foremost with present-day policy, also meant them to “generate critical questions as to the merits of the federal subsidy” for EVs. They concluded that maybe it made more sense to set specific pollution fees or subsidies based on different locations.
In our follow-up discussions—a sort of informal peer-review for a working study yet to receive its official one—four key qualifications to that conclusion emerged…