Bipartisan Support for Electric Cars Firms Up in Congress

By · May 12, 2011

Nissan LEAF Production

Last week we learned that a bipartisan group of US Representatives had banded together to introduce the 'Electric Drive Vehicle Deployment Act of 2011'—a bill that would provide up to $300 million to each of 10 communities ($3 billion total) to greatly encourage early and strong deployment of electric cars in those communities. Any community in the U.S. would be able to compete for those funds based on which of them made the most convincing case during an application process.

With bipartisan electric car love taking shape in the House, what news do we have from the Senate? Just yesterday, the old bipartisan electric car senatorial duo of Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also introduced a very similar bill—the 'Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2011"—which, according to Merkley's office, is clearly meant to be meshed up with the House bill easily if both bills were to pass their respective chambers.

The Merkley/Alexander bill differs in content from the House bill in that it sets aside $2 billion for electric car "early deployment communities"—of which no single community could ask for more than $250 million. Unlike the House bill, which sets a cap on the number of these communities at 10, the Senate bill only sets a cap on total monetary outlay.

The House bill is also a bit more prescriptive in some ways, given that it sets a requirement for each community to provide at least $2,000 (beyond existing tax credits or other federal and local incentives) for the first 50,000 EV consumers within each deployment community. The Senate bill strongly suggests certain ways the money could be used by each community, and requires that a strong plan be put in place to reach a certain level of EV saturation within a few years, but doesn't tell them how to get from point A to point B.

Both bills also differ in the amount of money set aside for things like research into new battery technology and retraining for the workforce to be able to better service electric vehicles and manufacture electric vehicle parts.

Interestingly enough, the House bill also reinstitutes last year's lucrative 50% federal tax credit towards the purchase of electric vehicle charging stations—up to $2,000 for individuals and $50,000 for businesses. It had dropped down to 30% at the end of last year.

It's no surprise that Merkley and Alexander would introduce such a bill, given that they've been long-time supporters of electric cars as a way to encourage energy independence, establish new manufacturing bases in the U.S. and substantially reduce emissions. In fact, they introduced a very similar bill with the same name last year—which never got a chance to be voted on. Alexander is even a proud new owner of a Nissan LEAF and uses it daily in D.C.

“With gas prices again surging, every American understands all too well the price we pay for our addiction to imported oil,” said Merkley. “A third of all oil is burned in cars, so the rapid deployment of electric vehicles can be a major tool in breaking that addiction. We win three ways: by strengthening our national security; by keeping our energy dollars at home creating American jobs; and by improving our environment.”

“Electrifying half our cars and trucks within 20 years would reduce our dependence on oil by about a third, from about 20 million to about 13 million barrels a day, and would give people who drive them the patriotic pleasure of not sending money overseas to people trying to blow us up,” said Alexander. “Electrifying half our cars and trucks is the single best way to reduce our dependence on oil, and if enough Americans drove them, it would also be the single best way to avoid $4-a-gallon gas.”

At differing times over the course of this year it has seemed that support for electric cars was hard to come by given the bickering and gridlock that seems to have dominated political discourse in these trying times. Perhaps with the both the House and the Senate now showing significant bipartisan support for the idea of "deployment communities" the idea will get some political legs?

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