Government subsidy of zero-emission cars ignores economics

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Oregon is among eight state governments pledging to boost the number of zero-emission electric cars on the nation’s roads. The states are pledging to work together to create more car-charging stations.

The idea hinges on the fact each of these states have separately adopted rules to require a percentage of new vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2025. The California mandate, for example, calls for 15.4 percent of the vehicles on its roads to be zero-emission cars in 12 years. Right now, just 2 percent of the cars are electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids.

So if the green state of California has that large of a gap to bridge, the other states — Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Oregon — likely have as much or more ground to make up. The goal of this eight-state group is to have 15 times the amount of clean cars on the road in a dozen years.

“The idea is to make it easier for customers to operate and use zero-emission vehicles. This in turn will help pave the way for success of the auto industry,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board.

That means increasing — dramatically — the number of charging stations available to support the huge influx of electric cars. So who is going to build them?

Well, some of the states are considering partnerships with private industry. That’s a euphemism for taxpayer subsidy.

The state governments should keep their noses and our tax dollars out of it. It’s not government’s responsibility to build charging stations.

If building the stations is economically feasible and a sound long-term investment, private enterprise will step forward and do it.

But if it only pencils out because of a large subsidy, the market will ultimately collapse when the subsidy ends. The windmill industry, built on subsidies and government mandates bolstered by ignoring hydropower as renewable energy, could be heading in that unfortunate direction.

Mandating a certain percentage of zero-emission cars is also a problem. It ignores the marketplace and forces private enterprise to make bad investments, which too often are offset by governments offering taxpayer relief.

We have nothing against zero-emission cars (or windmills). In fact, we are all in favor of conserving energy and weaning America off gasoline.

State governments, or the federal government, are not the answer. Creating an artificial market does not make good sense.

In order for electric cars to be a real solution they have to be economically viable for consumers and private enterprise. Government should stay out of it.

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