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NJ Spotlight Misleads Readers About Benefits of NJ Electric Vehicle Program

Comparison Of NJ’s EV Program With ALA Report Amounts To Journalistic Malpractice

Today’s NJ Spotlight story on a Report by the American Lung Association (ALA) is highly misleading and grossly exaggerates the benefits of NJ’s electric vehicle program.

The ALA Report modeled the economic, public health, air quality, and climate benefits of conversion of the transportation sector to 100% electric vehicles powered by 100% renewable energy. The “transportation sector” is defined narrowly as gasoline and diesel powered on road vehicles, with no consideration of pollution from aircraft, rail, and ships and off road vehicles.

Basically, NJ Spotlight Reporter Tom Johnson used the ALA Report to tout the benefits of NJ’s electric vehicle program.

But Mr. Johnson compared apples to oranges and in doing so grossly exaggerated the benefits of NJ’s EV program. Johnson wrote:

NJ pitches in with zero-emission vehicles

New Jersey is one state that has embraced that approach, adopting a comprehensive program to electrify light-duty vehicles under a law approved in 2004. What’s more, New Jersey should have more than 300,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, as well as charging infrastructure around the state to ease range anxiety among drivers that their vehicles can be refueled. It also aims to have 100% of its electricity come from clean-energy sources by mid-century.

If such strategies are followed nationwide, the study found it could have a significant impact on public heath, as well as reducing air pollutants in a state widely recognized as a transportation corridor.

The “NJ pitches in” section follows the lead 4 paragraphs of the Spotlight story, which summarize the ALA Report. The ALA Report includes estimates of various benefits that would accrue to NJ. Clearly, the intent is to compare NJ’s EV program with the ALA Report. That is highly misleading.

First of all, NJ has not embraced that approach. The phrase “that approach” clearly means the ALA Report’s electrification transition.

There is a huge difference between the ALA “approach” as presented in the ALA Report and the NJ EV program. See below.

Second, the phrase “if such strategies are followed” is highly misleading. This is because the phrase is contained under the header “NJ pitches in” that describes NJ’e EV program and directly follows a paragraph about NJ’s EV program. Thus, the phrase clearly implies that the “strategies” are NJ’s strategies and that those strategies will produce the various benefits estimated in the ALA Report.

That is so false and misleading it amounts to journalistic malpractice. Tom Johnson is an experienced reporter who has a basic facility with data. He could not do this inadvertently, because he clearly knows the difference between the NJ EV program and the ALA Report’s assumptions.

Here’s why the story was so misleading  (and I’ll keep this short).

1. The ALA Report assumes that 100% of the on road vehicle fleet is converted to electric vehicles which are powered by non-carbon based energy (renewables).

The ALA Report methodology is found on page 17. Here is the core ALA assumption:

The electrification scenario was developed by the American Lung Association to illustrate the benefits possible if local, state and federal actions were to meaningfully prioritize the transition away from the combustion of fuels. This ALA electrification scenario is scoped to achieve full transition to zero- emission passenger vehicle sales by 2040. It also includes penetrations of a range of electried heavy- duty vehicles on pathways to fully zero-emission technologies over the coming decades.

According to the ALA Report  “Full transition” means that: a) all passenger vehicles actually operating on the road would be 100% zero emission (electric) vehicles; b) those vehicles would replace – 1 for 1 – polluting gas and diesel vehicles; and c) the source of power would be zero carbon (renewable) energy (I was not able to find quantification in the ALA Report the phrase “penetration of a range of heavy-duty vehicles” so I limited comparison of ALA to NJ EV to the passenger vehicle fleet)).

All assumptions are not only very aggressive (many would argue infeasible and unrealistic) but are far more aggressive and far broader in scope than NJ’s EV program.

While the ALA Report’s 100% renewable power assumption is consistent with **NJ‘s Energy Master Plan goals, the NJ goal is timed for the year 2050, while the ALA Report assumes benefits begin far earlier than the year 2050, so again we have an apples to oranges comparison that is highly misleading. (check out the charts in the ALA report to confirm this)

** Correction – A knowledgeable reader corrects my error, which only strengthens my point:

NJ energy master plan does not call for 100% renewable by 2050 – it’s 100% clean energy that includes , incineration , nuclear , bio gas , carbon Capture sequestration, bio mass , mitigation  etc

2. NJ’s EV program is not even close to the 100% fleet conversion to ZEV’s assumed by the ALA Report.

I won’t rehash all that here. For details of NJ’s EV program and the various benefits modeled in the ALA Report, see:

NJ Spotlight’s story is again highly misleading. Spotlight reports that:

New Jersey should have more than 300,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025

Keep in mind that the context for this statement is the ALA Report, which assumed a 100% EV fleet (passenger cars, trucks, buses).

In contrast, NJ’s 300,000 EV vehicle goal (it’s actually 330,000) is less than 10% of of NJ’s current fleet of passenger vehicles, which is not even close to the 100% of the entire on road transportation fleet (car, trucks, buses) assumed in the ALA Report.

3. Environmental Justice Benefits

To their credit, NJ Spotlight mentions environmental justice:

The study follows up on an earlier report this year from the association that found nearly half of Americans are living with and breathing unhealthy air, a problem linked to the transportation sector, a leading contributor to both climate change and air pollution. More often than not, those impacts are likely to fall on counities with people of color.

But, in light of the grossly exaggerated benefits of NJ’e EV program, this again misleads NJ’s EJ communities.

Additionally, NJ’s EJ communities are impacted by huge air pollution from NJ ports (from airplanes, ships, and rail). These are significant pollution sources which are not even included in the ALA Report, a significant fact NJ Spotlight fails to report.

Worse, NJ Spotlight fails to note the larger context, i.e. the fact that an seriously flawed environmental justice bill is now on Gov. Murphy’s desk.

That EJ bill totally IGNORES exactly the impacts and benefits that are quantified in the ALA Report, i.e. the pending EJ bill ignores mobile source pollution, ignores greenhouse gas emissions. As I wrote:

4. HUGE Benefits Resulting From the Social Cost of Carbon Are Ignored

The ALA Report quantifies benefits that result from the Social Cost of Carbon.

These benefits are HUGE and EXCEED the health benefits: (from the ALA Report)

The widespread transition to zero-emission transportation technologies could produce emission reductions in 2050 that could add up to $72 billion in avoided health harms, saving approximately 6,300 lives and avoiding more than 93,000 asthma a acks and 416,000 lost work days annually due to signi cant reductions in transportation-related pollution.

In addition to the health bene ts noted above, the bene ts to our environment in the form of avoided climate change impacts, as expressed as the Social Cost of Carbon, could surpass $113 billion in 2050 as the transportation systems combust far less fuel and our power system comes to rely on cleaner, non- combustion renewable energy. This value reflects a range of negative consequences to health, agricultural productivity, flood risk and other adverse impacts generated by carbon emissions in the form of global climate change.

Yet, NJ Spotlight reports only the health benefits and ignores the larger benefits associated with “Social Cost of Carbon”. NJ Spotlight reported:

In New Jersey, the changeover could avoid $1.9 billion in health costs, 169 premature deaths and 2,306 asthma attacks, the study projected. Nationwide, the benefits of switching to a cleaner transportation sector could avoid 6,300 premature deaths, more than 93,000 asthma attacks and $72 billion in additional health care costs based on pollution reductions, according to the study.

Why would NJ Spotlight ignore the LARGER SCC benefits?

I have long criticized NJ Spotlight’s failure to cover the issues related to the Social Cost of Carbon (a news blackout that is just what the corporate polluters want because it hides a $2.3 BILLION annual subsidy).

Perhaps failures to mention the SCC could be because I previously exposed the fact that the NJ EV program would have negligible – if any – greenhouse gas emission reduction benefits.  It would be a real stretch to report on SCC benefits when NJ’s EV program has virtually no GHG emissions reductions.

And once again, we have an apples to oranges misleading presentation, because the NJ economic benefits that NJ Spotlight reports result come from the ALA Report and its assumptions, not the actual far smaller NJ EV program. The NJ program will not produce anywhere near the benefits the ALA Report projects.

A reader would conclude the opposite: i.e. that the NJ EV program mentioned favorably in the story produces these huge benefits, when they don’t.

Look, I support a strong EV program, but, if we’re going to really address the climate emergency, we need to begin with an honest assessment of reality.

All in all, NJ Spotlight is engaged in cheerleading and not journalism – in fact, this story is gross journalistic malpractice.

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