Current electric vehicle subsidies fail to reduce overall emissions, Harvard Law study finds

Subsidies offered by the federal government for the purchase of new electric vehicles (EVs) may actually increase total greenhouse gas emissions without similar assistance for second-hand buyers, concludes a new study led by Ashley Nunes, Ph.D., Fellow of Harvard Law School. Program of work and life at work. Nunes says that’s because many buyers of new EVs – typically from more affluent households – don’t use them as their primary vehicle or keep them for very long, making the miles traveled by subsequent owners of the car necessary. to achieve an overall reduction in emissions.

“Our study shows that electric vehicle subsidies disadvantage poor households in the United States, who tend to be used car buyers and are largely responsible for providing the emissions benefits of an EV. Achieving “reimbursement fairness,” as well as emission reductions, is forcing the political establishment to rethink the design of subsidies for electric vehicles,” Nunes says.

As many U.S. consumers seek to reduce their impact on the environment, electric vehicle sales have surged in recent years, fueled in part by federal grants of up to $7,500 for the purchase of a new vehicle. electric.

But the Nunes study suggests that switching from gasoline to volts may actually increase, not decrease, overall emissions in some cases. Indeed, many electric vehicles are purchased by wealthier households as secondary cars – which typically travel fewer miles than a primary vehicle and are kept for fewer years. And because the manufacture of any car – electric or gas-powered – produces a set amount of emissions, the study showed that electric vehicles must, when used as a second car, stay in service longer to deliver a overall environmental benefit.

By subsidizing wealthier households and not second-hand buyers, we reward those who don’t always contribute to emissions targets, while ignoring those who actually do. This is both unfair and detrimental to our climate goals.

Ashley Nunes

However, Nunes says there is still a chance electric vehicles will have an impact, as they can be bought by those in the used-car market, buyers who tend to have less wealth but keep their cars. Longer.

“That means the poorest households are the ones who, by driving more miles for more years, are actually responsible for the emission reductions we’re trying to achieve through switching to electric vehicles,” he says.

Problem, however, is that the federal government offers no incentives for buying used electric vehicles, Nunes says.

“By subsidizing wealthier households and not second-hand buyers, we reward those who don’t always contribute to emissions targets, while ignoring those who actually do. This is both unfair and detrimental to our climate goals.

Nunes says his research suggests the federal government should partially redirect existing subsidies toward the purchase of used electric vehicles. Alternatively, it could take a more targeted approach, rewarding usage by subsidizing charging costs or vehicle maintenance costs.

“It’s the poorest households that are likely to ensure electric vehicles are in use long enough to reduce emissions,” Nunes says. “We need to make sure that our economic incentives not only reflect that, but reward it.”

“Households that buy and own vehicles for a long period of time, use their vehicles frequently, and would be looking for a vehicle regardless of the availability of electric vehicles would be – our work suggests – the best targets for producing environmental benefits at from electric vehicles,” echoes Lucas Woodley, a junior student at Harvard College and one of the study’s co-authors. ‘a policy that encourages the retention and use of EVs rather than just procurement,’ he says.

Woodley, who is majoring in economics with a secondary in psychology, says his research interests lie in understanding decision-making, and that he and Nunes came up with the study last summer after completing one of Nunes course on behavioral economics.

In addition to helping design the study, “my role also included formulating equations and developing the analytical tools for our study, as well as writing many of the technical components of our paper,” he says. “As an undergraduate student, this project has been extremely rewarding. Dr. Nunes has been a wonderful mentor and I am extremely grateful for the many experiences and lessons he taught me throughout my time working alongside him.

The research was published in “Nature Sustainability” and was co-authored by Woodley and Philip Rossetti, Nunes’ colleague at the R Street Institute.

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