Transportation is the No. 1 source of U.S. climate pollution and a major source of deadly air pollution.
EDF’s goal is to have 100% of new cars, trucks and buses sold in the U.S. emit zero pollution by 2035. How will we get there?
Jason Mathers, EDF’s electric vehicle expert, who rebuilt a 1961 MG Midget in his backyard as a teen, knows better than just about anyone.
Q: Why is electrifying cars, trucks and buses such an important part of the climate fight?
A: A few years ago, transportation edged out power plants as the leading source of America’s climate pollution, and these emissions are still growing. So we can’t reach our climate goals without big cuts in pollution from transportation.
EDF analysis has found that a rapid shift to electric vehicles could cut more than 800 million tons of CO2 emissions every year by 2040. That’s more than Canada’s entire yearly carbon footprint.
Q: We’ve had EV technology for a while. How do we know electric cars are really ready to go mainstream?
A: Electric cars are more fun to drive, deliver more power, require less maintenance and have lower operating costs. The cost of an EV battery has dropped 86% in the last 10 years.
Then, follow the investments: Ford and GM are putting billions of dollars into this space. EDF has been working with a number of leading companies, and they’re coming through with ambitious commitments.
Truck and bus battery technology has come a long way, too. These vehicles need big batteries — as much as 10 times the size of a car battery because they work six or seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. Now we have that technology, and manufacturers are embracing it.
Plus, sales of electric transit buses and electric tractor-trailer and box trucks are growing rapidly.
Q: Is an EV cleaner than a gas-powered vehicle today, even though we’re still burning coal for electricity to charge it?
A: From a climate perspective, from an air pollution perspective, EVs are significantly cleaner over their lifetime.
If you buy an electric vehicle today, it’s going to get cleaner every year because we are decarbonizing the electric grid. That doesn’t happen with a gas vehicle. Also, an EV has zero tailpipe emissions. So you’re immediately taking out the toxic emissions that are poisoning people.
Q: What about the minerals needed for the batteries, given their scarcity and the impact of mining them?
A: These are real concerns, and they need to be addressed. But it’s important to note that even with the current battery situation, EVs still have a lower total life-cycle footprint than conventional vehicles.
We have work to do to create a clean supply chain for batteries, just as we do for all of our products. We should have supplier responsibility requirements that protect the environment, human rights and workers’ rights.
And we should recapture and reuse these minerals — really maximize recycling. And we need to invest in developing new battery technologies. Researchers are already looking at different battery chemistries that minimize the need for certain elements.
Q: Can you give us a timeline for the transition to EVs?
A: I think that five years from now, electric cars will be commonplace. Everybody will know someone who has an electric vehicle — perhaps a pickup truck, such as the new electric Ford F-150, which has been the best-selling car in the country for something like 40 years.
Ten years out, I think most new car buyers are going to choose an EV. There will be options for every use. I think you’ll see city transit buses, garbage trucks and school buses starting to go almost 100% electric.
Q: What about charging? Is range anxiety still a concern?
A: Here’s how my family looks at it: Our EV’s battery gets about 300 miles per charge. We maybe need that full range twice a year. So I’ll have some range anxiety twice a year. I figure I can manage that with a little planning.
Most cars are parked 90-95% of the time. And soon — maybe five years from now — buyers will be able to choose a battery with a 400-mile range. President Biden wants to build out a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers over the next 10 years.
Q: Can EVs be affordable?
A: If you’re driving 12,000-15,000 miles a year, it clearly makes sense from an economic perspective to buy an electric car because of what you’ll save on fuel and maintenance.
And now there are models for less than $30,000 — before rebates.
By 2025, if the Biden administration supports the development of electric cars with things like tailpipe pollution standards, we expect the total ownership cost to be about the same as a conventional car. And beyond 2025, people will start saving thousands of dollars over the vehicle’s lifetime by buying an EV.
Q: What’s the most important thing Washington could do now?
A: The most critical thing for the administration to do is put forward durable emission standards for cars and trucks. We’re calling for the EPA to adopt a new generation of emissions standards that will reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and move us to 100% of new cars, trucks and buses being zero emission by 2035.
Q: Why is there so much buzz around electrifying trucks and buses?
A: Trucks and buses have an outsized impact on local air pollution and a significant impact on global climate. In many cities and regions across the country, these vehicles are the leading source of the pollution that causes ozone and contributes to asthma.
So it’s really important to move things like school buses, transit buses, delivery vans and tractor-trailers to zero-emission vehicles, so kids don’t miss school because of asthma and we don’t have these stark health discrepancies between communities.
My colleagues on EDF’s health team studied the health impacts of air quality in Oakland, California, and found that death rates from air pollution were more than twice as high in West Oakland, where there’s a lot of diesel pollution, compared with Oakland Hills, a wealthier neighborhood where’s there’s less diesel pollution. That is a great tragedy. We need to deal with the really devastating impacts of diesel pollution on our country.
Q: How meaningful is it when companies like FedEx and Walmart make zero-emission commitments?
A: It solidifies that zero emission trucks are the future. EDF has been working with both FedEx and Walmart for decades to reduce pollution from their operations. Seeing them set ambitious EV targets is very exciting — it raises the bar for other companies.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing about your work right now?
A: There are a lot of old trucks that pull those big shipping containers out of ports, and they do a lot of idling. That really adds to pollution hotspots. EDF has been working on a 17-state initiative to move to hundreds of electric trucks. That will deliver really important air quality benefits in a fairly short amount of time. People will notice the difference.