Addressing EV Access and Equity is Critical to Reducing Pollution and Promoting Economic Health in Underserved Communities

A 2016 report by Environment Missouri Research and Policy Center reveals that 27% of Missouri’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are the major contributors to climate change. Reducing emissions from transportation can put a big dent in Missouri’s total output of greenhouse gases. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles would allow the state to reduce its carbon footprint.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more and more popular in the United States because of their increased horsepower, torque, and efficiency over vehicles with internal combustion engines. EVs also cost less to maintain and own. Ford Motor Company is making significant investments in Missouri at their Claycomo Assembly Plant. Claycomo is the new production hub for Ford’s E Transit van. The battery-powered van will travel nearly 130 miles on each charge and provide a power backup for tools at a construction site. Pricing for the new E Transit van is around $5,000 higher for the electric version than the van’s internal combustion version. The extra cost may put it out of reach for many large families and business owners. Another barrier to EVs is the lack of EV infrastructure. Charging stations are simply not available in many low-income housing areas, rural areas, and apartments. Lower-income earners are also far less likely to charge their vehicles at their place of business. 

There is a growing number of EV charging stations in Missouri’s urban areas and along major highways. Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe cut the ribbon on a new set of EV charging stations at the Marriott Hotel in Jefferson City. Ameren Energy is building a network of charging stations along interstates 70, 40, and 55. Ameren reports the new charging stations will be ready by the end of 2020. Evergy is also in partnership with other utilities and manufacturers to bring more charging stations to the Kansas City area. EV manufacturer Tesla has a network of 56 charging stations around the state. However, the overwhelming majority of charging stations are located in more affluent and populated areas, leaving little alternative to low-income and rural populations.

Increasing EV adoption in low-income and rural areas is also critical to improving Missouri communities’ overall health. People in lower-income and rural areas are more likely to suffer respiratory ailments caused by air pollution from vehicles. Low-income communities are more likely to be located near high traffic areas, giving them higher exposure to internal combustion engines’ pollutants. Rural populations are more likely to have exposure to fumes from diesel engines emitting soot and carcinogens. Wider adoption of EVs will reduce pollutants in Missouri and enable Missourians to live healthier lives.

Barriers to owning EVs are much higher for Missouri’s economically challenged communities. EVs tend to be thousands of dollars more expensive than equivalent internal combustion models. However, Consumer Reports estimates the total cost of ownership for an EV is much lower than for an internal combustion car. EVs don’t require expensive gas. They don’t need scheduled maintenance, like oil changes. Brake pads on EVs last much longer than internal combustion cars because of regenerative braking technology that recharges the battery as you stop. EV batteries on many models are proven to last for hundreds of thousands of miles of real-world driving. The higher initial cost to own an EV can make it impossible for lower-income families to take advantage of long term EV savings.

Access to reliable transportation is one of the main predictors for individuals’ ability to break out of poverty and earn their way up to the middle class. As more higher-income families can afford EVs and take advantage of long-term EV savings, there is a higher potential for widening the wealth gap and increasing inequality in Missouri. More widespread EV adoption among lower-income families ensures they don’t fall too far behind in the wealth gap.

States and cities can address these potential barriers in several ways. First, making charging stations available at apartment complexes, in low-income neighborhoods, or more prevalent in rural areas would provide infrastructure for more EV use in these areas. Property taxes associated with EVs may also be prohibitive and reduce long-term cost benefits for EV owners. EVs are not a silver bullet to solving the climate crisis, but are becoming an attractive alternative to combustion engine vehicles and can provide health benefits to many Missourians.  

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