Home > Uncategorized > Electric Vehicle Advocates Risk Backlash By Ramming Through Regressive Funding Bill In Lame Duck

Electric Vehicle Advocates Risk Backlash By Ramming Through Regressive Funding Bill In Lame Duck

Teslas For Tewksbury – Power Shutoffs For Newark

The Ends Do Not Justify The Means

Let me start by making it clear that I agree that we must radically and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and that electric vehicles have a role to play in doing so.

But not by sacrificing other core principles and policy objectives.

So, I must ask: Why are so-called “progressive” and “green” groups supporting ramming through controversial and deeply flawed legislation in the lame duck session?

NJ Spotlight reports:

Looking to break up a logjam, a coalition of conservation, transportation and other groups yesterday launched a campaign to push a comprehensive bill to transition the transportation sector to plug-in electric vehicles in the lame-duck Legislature.

By doing so, they risk the kind of backlash that spawned the “Yellow Vest” movement in France. That movement – mistakenly reported by US media as public opposition to a climate driven gas tax increase – was actually spawned by unfair taxes and strong opposition to neoliberal and austerity policies that benefit the wealthy while ignoring the poor.

But decades before the Yellow Vests, NJ experienced a similar political dynamic in 1992 – a formative moment in right wing reaction to what was dubbed “the runny egg rule” . That backlash essentially made Jim Florio a one term Governor, led to a Constitutional amendment that authorizes the Legislature to veto regulations, and spawned NJ’s right wing anti-government radio outlet, NJ 101.5 (and gave us “open for business” Christie Whitman and energy deregulation, the source of many of our current energy & climate challenges).

By seeking to ram the electric vehicle subsidy program through the lame duck session, the “green groups” are risking exactly that type of backlash against the entire renewable energy and climate program, particularly given recent climate and energy controversies that are being falsely framed by media and corporate hacks as heavy new burdens on electric ratepayers.

For example, even “liberal” NJ Spotlight is falsely framing the issue that way, relying on spin and lies like this from the business community:

Some groups, like the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, support the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) as an option for achieving the carbon pollution goals but have problems with putting those costs on utility customers.

“However, we can promote EVs without spending hundreds of millions of dollars for rebates on expensive cars and for an overbuilt charging system while forcing electric ratepayers to pick up the tab,’’ said Ray Cantor, a vice president of the association. “We cannot afford to pay more, and not when there are other, less expensive options.’’

It is easily demonstrated that Ray Cantor is lying again.

Contrary to Cantor’s claim about “more”, the bill [S 2252 SCS] diverts existing revenue – it does not generate new revenue or “more” money from ratepayers.

Specifically, see Section 16, which creates a new “EV Rebate Fund” and authorizes BPU to deposit BPU’s funds generated from the Societal Benefits Charge (SBC) and RGGI. Section 24 would allocate $20 million of RGGI money to the EV Fund.

The bill authorizes BPU to increase the SBC to pay for the EV rebate program, but it does not mandate that they do so or otherwise appropriate money.

But even without running the risk of a political backlash, the green support for the bill and its lame duck passage is a HUGE mistake, because the bill is seriously flawed. Let me explain.

1. Lame Duck Legislation Is An Abuse That Undermines Democracy

For many years, environmental groups have railed against lame duck legislation being rammed through after elections as a gross abuse of the legislative process and democratic accountability.

The public is shut out of the legislative process, there is virtually no legislative deliberation, dirty deals are pervasive, and legislators dodge electoral accountability for their often highly controversial votes.

Some of the worst special interest legislation gets passed in lame duck.

Now, in a hypocritical U-turn, they are engaging in the same abuse. Shame on them. The ends do not justify the means.

Note: And it’s not just those transactional “greens” who completely miss the fundamentals of democratic politics.

Check out how those paragons of “issue journalism” over at NJ Spotlight describe the upcoming lame duck session. NJ Spotlight co-founder John Mooney writes:

… the next few weeks should prove to be a busy time for the Legislature, as a lame-duck session opens the way for yes-no votes on a host of controversial measures that may have been tough sells for legislators on the campaign trail but not so much anymore.

And with a truncated window to act, the time between Election Day and the day the next Legislature is sworn in January is when legislative leaders traditionally push their agendas fiercest — and often quickest.

Lah de dah!  “tough sells for legislators on the campaign trail”  you say?

No sense in burdening an electoral campaign with pesky trivialities like issues and talking with voters about the bills you will vote on.

This is what passes for politics and journalism these days in The Corrupt Garden State.

2. The Bill Diverts Existing Revenue – There Is No New Money, Despite Need for $ Billions

As I noted above, the bill would divert existing revenue from three sources:

1) the BPU Societal Benefits Charge.; 2) the BPU’s allocation of RGGI funds; and 3) the statewide RGGI fund, which is divided among EDA (60%), BPU (20%) and DEP (20%) – see this table for allowable uses of the money:

There is no revenue in the bill, despite the fact that transition and conversion to an electric transportation sector will cost billions (EV’s are one component of electrification of the entire sector). There is a mere authorization for BPU to increase the SBC. With all the political pressure on BPU and the business community’s efforts to kill the current SBC, it is far more likely that BPU will divert existing SBC revenues than to increase the SBC charge to generate new revenues to pay for the program.

The bill is not a serious commitment to the level of investment that will be required to achieve Gov. Murphy’s stated renewable energy goals –  it’s not even a down payment or deposit on the small piece of the program contributed by electric vehicles.

Gov. Christie’s public finance austerity slogan was “no new taxes – no new debt” (which is just a nicer way to implement Grover Norquist’s “starve the beast” – “small enough to drown in the bathtub” strategy to dismantling government).

The EV subsidy bill reflects exactly that same policy (coupled with the cap on ratepayer increases to pay for renewables). 

I would have thought the “green” groups and Senator Smith would have learned from their disastrous diversion of existing State Parks and DEP funds to pay for their open space program.

Shame on them for again robbing Peter to pay Paul.

3. Diversion of Existing Funds and EV Subsidies Are Deeply Regressive

The BPU SBC (about $300 million/year) and RGGI money (about $20 million) is primarily distributed to energy and social programs that assist low income residents. BPU webpage says:

Historically New Jersey utilities included funding for programs in their rates that provide societal benefits such as low income programs, nuclear decommissioning, and funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Many of those low income residents that will suffer from reduced funding don’t own cars, and are dependent on public transit, which has seen disinvestment and been starved for money for many years.

Electric vehicles tend to be expensive. Those that drive them and will benefit from EV subsidies do not to rely on public transit and tend to have higher incomes.

The bill would subsidize the wealthy’s discretionary purchases (new cars) from poor people’s essential services (energy and public transit). That’s exactly backwards and a classic example of a regressive policy.

So, as suggested by Ray Cantor’s spin about “expensive cars”, opponents will be able to argue credibly that poor people in Newark – who benefit from BPU SBC and RGGI funds – are subsidizing the purchase of Teslas for people in Tewksbury.

Don’t think they won’t do just that.

And don’t think those kind of politics are not toxic to renewable energy and the climate fight

4. The Bill Let’s The Private Sector Off The Hook For Necessary Massive New Funding 

Finally, the bill relies exclusively on public sector revenues, thereby letting the private sector off the hook for funding the huge investments necessary to finance the transition to renewable energy.

We can not possibly get to those goals with existing public sector funds, regressive incentives, corporate subsidies and tax breaks, which is the current approach.

5. Lack of Integration With Local Distributed Energy and Micro-Grids

Electric vehicles will need to be technically integrated with radical changes to the current electric grid and a fundamental restructuring of the private electric utility model and regulatory framework.

The bill fails to even address those issues – it actually makes them worse by reinforcing the power of PSE&G and monopoly private corporate “utilities”.

This is a complex set of issues beyond the scope of this post.

For those interested, please read this superb overview article by Dave Roberts at Vox:

For all these reasons, the current version of the EV bill should be abandoned and completely re-written to generate new revenues that are proportionate to the scale and timing of the climate emergency, to assess and distribute those revenues equitably based on wealth and income, to allocate far more burden to the private sector via mandates, and to integrate EV’s with publicly owned, renewable, distributed energy and micro-grids (and a public transit component would help ease the fairness issues).

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