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Electric vehicles are a new flash point in the culture wars

Good luck finding a public charging station in the Deep South or the Great Plains.

A public charging station for electric vehicles in New York. President Biden has aggressively pushed to help accelerate the country’s shift to electric vehicles.GABBY JONES/NYT

Americans are on track to purchase a record 1 million electric vehicles this year, but it’s no thanks to Republican lawmakers, who are doing everything they can to thwart the transition away from carbon-spewing gas-guzzlers on the nation’s roads. Across red-state America, electric vehicle owners are getting shocked with extra taxes and punitive registration fees, as Republicans try to make electric vehicles another casualty of the climate culture war, along with LED light bulbs and induction stovetops. “I never thought I would see the day when our products were so heavily politicized,” William Clay Ford Jr., chairman of the Ford Motor Co., said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “Some of the red states say this is just like the vaccine.”

The transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, almost all of it from cars and trucks. Yet the nation is starkly divided on the solution. An overlay placed on the states most hostile to electric vehicle policies would dovetail almost perfectly with those that voted for Donald Trump in 2020. According to a trade association quarterly report, deep red Wyoming, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi, and North Dakota have the nation’s lowest rates of EV sales. And good luck finding a public charging station in the Deep South or the Great Plains.


Conversely, the five states doing the most to electrify driving — California, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Colorado — are reliably Democratic. Some of this can be explained by the fact that densely populated urban areas, more amenable to the shorter trips that EVs handle well, tend to vote Democratic. But it’s also clear that a state’s welcoming attitude (or not) makes a big difference.

And the red states are hardly laying out the red carpet. A bill filed last year in North Carolina would remove all public EV chargers unless a gasoline pump is installed along with them. Wyoming is bucking a federal requirement to install charging stations every 50 miles along interstate highways, hobbling President Biden’s goal of building 500,000 chargers by 2030.


In September, Texas imposed a $400 registration fee for first-time electric purchases (plus $200 for annual renewals). This is supposed to compensate for a loss in gasoline tax revenue, but Consumer Reports found that the EV fee is three times what the average Texas driver spends in gas taxes. North Dakota has the worst record for EV adoption, and no surprise, since it offers no tax credits or rebates for buying an electric vehicle and has only 82 public chargers in the whole state, despite being seven times as big as Massachusetts, which has 2,344 stations.

The Republican presidential candidates are united in their disdain for EVs, calling them everything from “a Democratic play toy” to a foreign security threat. (Surely they’re not groveling before caucus voters in Iowa, a major producer of ethanol.) As usual, Vivek Ramaswamy is the most florid in his rhetoric, saying at a recent event in Hampton, N.H., that Biden’s pro-EV policies “subsidize some other guy to feel cool about himself because he doesn’t have self-esteem, so he wants to own an electric vehicle.” In other words, real men don’t drive plug-ins.


Is the Republican campaign to undermine EVs working? Earlier this month several auto manufacturers announced they were slowing investments in EV development because the growth in consumer demand, though healthy, was not as high as expected. Inconvenience and uncertainty are impediments to any new technology, and these Republican tactics may keep the electric revolution just off balance enough to prevent it from taking hold.

Still, EV supporters, Biden chief among them, are not without countermeasures. The administration is channeling billions of dollars toward consumer tax credits, the charging infrastructure, and manufacturing incentives, with special attention to made-in-America cars. Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia is one Republican who supports the EV transition (so long as he doesn’t have to credit Democrats), given the $22.7 billion and 28,400 jobs in EV-related projects the state has attracted in recent years. Other Republican governors in Ohio (with a $3.5 billion new battery factory) and Tennessee (a $5.6 billion Ford plant) are happily cutting ribbons. And despite high sticker prices, EVs undoubtedly save consumers thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs. When it comes to bridging the red-blue divide, there’s nothing like green.

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.