A Senate Democrat recently began pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the sale of new, gas-powered vehicles by 2035 as a part of new, strict anti-pollution standards. Washington state has put the pedal to the floor and is speeding toward a ban by 2030.
While electric vehicles are the future, outright banning the sale of gas-powered cars will only impede progress. Blanket bans slow innovation, disrupt markets, and hurt at-risk groups.
Right now, only well-off people are able to go the extra mile for the environment and purchase electric vehicles. Those who lost their jobs during the pandemic may care for the environment just as much, but they simply can’t afford the switch to electric.
The truth is electric vehicles are a luxury good. On average, they’re about $20,000 more expensive than your standard gas-powered vehicle. To the average household, that kind of money is the difference between getting a new car or sticking with the old gas guzzler.
Banning the manufacturing of new gas-powered vehicles won’t take them off the roads — or the markets, either. Unable to afford the price of electric vehicles, many vehicle owners will hold on to their older, less fuel-efficient cars for longer. And many people looking to buy a car will purchase used gas vehicles. This will have a negative impact on the environment.
With 86% of people in the U.S. driving to work, fuel efficiency matters. Newer cars with better gas mileage aren’t as inspiring as electric vehicles, but they do help the environment. Even a small marginal benefit is a good thing when multiplied across the population.
As time passes, electric cars are getting cheaper. In just the past 10 years, they have gone from an average of $64,300 to $55,600, and hopefully by the time 2030 rolls around, they will become much more accessible to all. However, by removing cheaper, gas-powered cars from the equation, politicians take away electric vehicle manufacturers’ incentive to lower prices.
Currently, electric vehicles are competing with traditional vehicles. As a result, they have to lower prices and hope that the savings on fuel will tempt those on the margin to choose electric. But with gas cars gone, electric vehicles will only have other high-priced electric vehicles to compete with. This will likely keep prices higher for longer.
Our environmental goals don’t need to clash with the people’s economic well-being. In fact, market incentives will force innovators to produce better, cheaper, cleaner alternatives. People are demanding environmentally friendly options across industries. The government doesn’t need to remove the competition to ensure electric vehicles succeed.
For some, distorting the market and making people pay more to drive is a small price to pay for the environmental benefits. Sadly, the environmental benefits are minimal. Banning electric vehicles wouldn’t fix our reliance on fossil fuels. It will only divert the problem to electricity producers and give politicians a chance to virtue signal about the difference they are making. Until the U.S. shifts to greener electricity sources such as nuclear and hydropower, we aren’t fixing the problem; we are simply transferring it to another department.
Banning gas vehicle sales will put a speed limit on progress while hurting many families who simply can’t afford luxury electric cars. Instead, we should let companies compete to create affordable electric vehicles. America needs to let gas and electric cars race to win customers. If we don't, environmental enterprises will get stuck in the slow lane.
This article first appeared in the Washington Examiner on 6 May 2021.