To Achieve National Climate and Equity Goals, Federal Electric Vehicle Investments Must Match the Scale of the Opportunity

April 30, 2021

By Matthew Goetz and Ryan Levandowski

A black car is parked along a sidewalk on a main street, plugged into a charging station. There are trees lining the streets and people walking around in front of business buildings.

Image: A car charges at a public charging station in a downtown district. President Biden's American Jobs Plan aims to expand U.S. charging infrastructure to include 500,000 ports.

On Earth Day, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a new national target to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This ambitious goal represents a whole-of-government strategy to address the climate crisis while creating jobs and advancing environmental justice.

One key to this strategy is tackling emissions from transportation—the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US—by investing boldly in the deployment of electric vehicles—including cars, trucks, and buses—and the charging infrastructure needed to support them. 

Electrifying our transportation system and achieving the 2030 national climate target will require federal investments at a transformative scale, and these investments represent a critical opportunity to reduce air pollution in overburdened communities, improve access to transportation, and create high-quality jobs.

To help federal policymakers meet this historic opportunity, the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) and M.J. Bradley & Associates (MJB&A) recently published a report, Towards Equitable and Transformative Investments in Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure, which draws on lessons from state and regional initiatives and analyzes existing federal legislative proposals to describe how new federal investments can create jobs, grow the economy, and ensure equity and environmental justice for overburdened and underserved communities.   

Meeting the Scale of the Opportunity

Recent analysis from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley has shown that electrifying all new vehicles in the U.S. by 2035 is not only technically feasible and consistent with the level of emissions reductions needed to meet climate targets, but would result in millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in consumer, environmental, and human health benefits through 2050. However, in order to realize the benefits of electrifying cars, trucks, and buses, we need to invest in a national network of EV charging infrastructure. 

Preliminary cost estimates by GCC and MJB&A suggest that most of the EV infrastructure proposals in front of Congress are only a fraction of the level of investment needed to drive widespread electrification and meet climate targets. This finding is supported by new analysis from Atlas Public Policy that suggests a need for more than $87 billion in investments in nationwide charging infrastructure to support 100 percent passenger EV sales by 2035, including $39 billion to fund 495,000 public and workplace chargers. 

This estimated scale of necessary investments also aligns with the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan, which proposes to expand the national network to 500,000 charging ports, from the 100,000 public charging outlets currently available in the United States. The American Jobs Plan proposes to invest $15 billion in incentives and grant programs for EV charging infrastructure as part of a $174 billion investment strategy for electric vehicle research, manufacturing, and deployment.  

While the federal government has a key role to play in providing funding and catalyzing a robust market for EV charging infrastructure, investments will be made by a range of entities, including state and local governments, electric utilities, automakers, private EV charging providers, and other businesses. In addition to funding, comprehensive planning and coordination across levels of government and with the private sector are needed to ensure an efficient build-out of EV charging infrastructure across the country.

Ensuring Equitable Investment and Environmental Justice

Federal investments in transportation electrification are not only important to meet climate targets—funding for charging infrastructure can also ensure an electric transportation system that advances environmental justice and equity for communities overburdened by air pollution and underserved by the current transportation system. Electrifying freight movement—including trucks, port equipment, and trains—and electrifying our transit and school bus fleets present immediate opportunities to reduce particulate matter and other diesel emissions that have severe consequences for peoples’ health. The devastating impact of cumulative exposure to air pollution, particularly in communities of color, has been acutely felt during the COVID-19 pandemic, with recent research from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health showing that communities with even a small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 have a significant increase in their COVID-19 death rate.  

Federal policymakers can build on innovative and community-led transportation and climate justice initiatives at the state, local, and Tribal levels to ensure that federal investment programs promote equity and environmental justice. Key elements of such programs include dedicating a significant portion of overall investments to projects located in and benefiting communities overburdened by pollution or underserved by the transportation system, as well as establishing equitable processes in which these communities have a leading role in planning, prioritizing, and implementing investment programs. For example, legislative frameworks in California, New York, and Washington state, and the multi-jurisdiction Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), each dedicate a significant portion of investments to benefit underserved and overburdened communities.

Realizing the Benefits of Transportation Electrification

Transitioning to a zero-emission, electric transportation system is a critical element of the bold federal leadership needed to address the global climate crisis and reduce harmful air pollution. Federal investments at a transformative scale, with equity at the center, can help to bring about climate and public health benefits while creating jobs, expanding mobility, and advancing environmental justice. 

About the Authors

Matthew Goetz' headshotMatthew Goetz is a Senior Associate and Program Manager at the Georgetown Climate Center, where he works on climate change and transportation policy development. He provides staffing support to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, and Matthew also develops legal and policy documents to inform state and federal climate and transportation electrification policy.



Ryan Levandowski's headshotRyan Levandowski is a Partner Fellow at the Georgetown Climate Center. He works with the mitigation team, focusing on analysis of clean vehicles and climate policy at the federal and state levels.