A recent study by Stephen P. Holland from the University of North Carolina- Greensboro and other economics and business professors has found the environmental benefits and harms of electric cars vary state by state. The federal government currently awards a subsidy of $7500 for each electric vehicle bought, with some states adding their own subsidies to such purchases. Such subsidies reflect current movements towards green policies.
Electric vehicles, however, are clearly not “zero emission vehicles.” First of all, the components of those vehicles are made in factories most likely powered by fossil fuels. Second, the electricity used for the vehicles themselves comes from power plants across the United States, where around 70 percent of power plants operate on natural gas or coal. In most areas around the country, driving an electric vehicle means choosing to burn coal and natural gas rather than burning oil.
Due to differences in energy production by states, using electric vehicles may be better in some states while continuing to drive gas-powered cars in others may be best. In California, for example, the electric grid is relatively clean while gasoline vehicles produce more environmental damages. In North Dakota, the opposite is true as the electric grid uses more coal.
The report found that on average electric cars are about half-a-cent worse per mile for the environment than gas-powered cars. However, gas-powered cars are worse in congested urban areas while electric cars are worse outside of metropolitan areas. A one-size-fits-all policy regarding electric cars therefore does not make sense. The federal subsidy should be eliminated, leaving only state subsidies for electric vehicles where they already exist.