Georgia advocates push for feds to do more to reduce tailpipe emissions

    The Biden administration is now negotiating a proposal to reduce tailpipe emissions after former President Donald Trump rolled back Obama-era standards meant to combat climate change. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    Advocates and a pair of local Georgia officials are urging adoption of clean car standards and called on federal leaders to do more to pave the way for widespread adoption of low-emission vehicles.

    The Biden administration is currently negotiating a proposal to reduce tailpipe emissions after former President Donald Trump rolled back Obama-era standards meant to combat climate change.

    “All Georgians deserve to breathe clean air,” Shelley Francis, co-founder and director of EVHybridNoire, which is an Atlanta-based group representing multi-cultural electric car drivers, said in a call with reporters Thursday organized by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

    “Across Georgia, approximately 250,000 children and nearly 620,000 adults suffer from asthma,” Frances said, adding that the number of children with asthma could fill Mercedes Benz Stadium about three and a half times. “Exposure to transportation emissions is a public health crisis that not enough people are talking about.”

    Much of what happens next hinges on what the federal government does with clean car standards and how much leeway states are given to enact tougher standards, said Anne Blair, director of energy efficient transportation for the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

    Blair also called on the feds to set strong heavy-duty truck standards and invest in the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles, such as charging stations.

    “Just as there is no silver bullet for an economic recovery, there’s no single solution to solving air pollution or climate change,” Blair said. “Rather, we must take several different actions to boost the economy and target different sources of pollution.”

    Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and Dekalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, who participated in the alliance’s press conference, said local leaders can help steer their local communities toward electric-powered transportation, such as by adding electric vehicles to city and county fleets.

    Terry said he jumps at every chance to ask developers – particularly apartment builders who are planning parking garages – what they are doing to accommodate electric vehicles. And even something as simple as having home charging capability already set up for new homeowners could make the decision to convert to electric all that much easier, he said.

    “I think we really have an opportunity to lead by example at the local level, but there really is only so much that we can do,” Terry said. “At the federal level, the billions of billions of dollars of investments spread out across all of the thousands … That’s a lot of infrastructure and a lot of electric lines that need to be laid, and we absolutely could use that investment. It absolutely will help us in what we’re already trying to do.”

    Biden has outlined an ambitious $2 trillion jobs plan that includes a shift toward clean energy, although Republicans have criticized Biden’s proposal to pay for his sweeping plans with a tax increase on the wealthy and corporations.

    “The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy-efficient buildings and homes. Electrical workers – IBEW members – installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric car market,” Biden said in his first State of the Union address delivered last month to Congress.

    “Folks, there’s no reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries,” he said.

    Until 2015, Georgia offered a $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of low-emission vehicles, but efforts to resurrect it have gone nowhere. Instead, those driving electric cars now pay a fee to make up for the fuel taxes they are no longer paying.

    Blair said such tax incentives help speed adoption, particularly while electric cars remain pricier than gas-powered vehicles. The price of batteries, though, continues to decline, she said.

    “We are expecting vehicles to be at parity with (internal combustion) engines in a few years, but we need to speed that up,” Blair said. “With the impacts to our air quality and climate change, we do need to speed that.”

    last-minute deal saved a massive $2.6 billion SK Innovation plant in Commerce that will build batteries for Ford and Volkswagen electric vehicles. The project will employ about 2,600 people and support Biden’s clean energy plans.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.