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Electric vehicles pose hurdles in rural AmericaElectric vehicles pose hurdles in rural America

House Ag hearing identifies hurdles to electrification while also recognizing need to utilize current solutions such as ethanol.

Jacqui Fatka

January 13, 2022

4 Min Read
Electric vehicle charging Getty1010794026.jpg
NEED A CHARGE: Rural America faces challenges in transitioning to all electric vehicles with fewer charging stations per person in rural areas. Getty Images/iStock Photos

Congress should not be picking winners and losers in its quest to help lower greenhouse gas emissions, shares House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., while Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says it’s important rural America isn’t left behind in the push to vehicle electrification.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to discuss the implications on rural communities and agriculture from the ongoing investment and adoption of electric vehicles.

As technology and environmental concerns have increased worldwide, countries and private companies are pouring billions of dollars of investment into electric vehicles and the required infrastructure needed to sustain them. “We cannot afford to have rural America left behind like they have been with electrification, broadband and other key infrastructure investments in the past,” Scott says.

Witnesses offered insight into the current developments to moving towards greater electrification, as well as the challenges that exist. But if the focus is on reducing oil use as well as reducing emissions, decisions need to be technology-neutral, several witnesses identified.

Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says electric vehicles will reduce oil only slightly, and have an even smaller impact on carbon dioxide emissions. Mills also states that the increased demand for EV batteries will lead to increases in the price for batteries, rather than decrease prices over time. Raw materials and minerals consist of 60-70% of the cost to fabricate a battery, and new mines take a minimum of 16 years to bring online.

Biofuels offer decarbonization opportunities today

Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, testified that even with the move to automakers making more EVs, it’s going to take decades to turn over the fleet. He called on legislators to ensure any future carbonization policies are technology-neutral and performance-based by encouraging increased fuel efficiency without dictating what sort of vehicle should be used to accomplish those goals.

“While increased deployment of electric vehicles will indeed play a vital role in reducing GHG emissions from transportation, other complementary solutions will also be required to truly decarbonize the sector by mid-century,” Cooper said in his submitted testimony. “That’s where agriculture comes in. Through the increased production and use of low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol, the U.S. agriculture sector offers an effective and immediate solution for further reducing carbon emissions from liquid fuels across all segments of the transportation sector.”

Today’s corn ethanol already reduces greenhouse gas emissions by roughly half, on average, compared to gasoline, Cooper told the lawmakers. According to the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, typical corn ethanol provides a 44-52% GHG savings compared to gasoline.

“With the rapid emergence of new technologies and more efficient practices, even greater GHG reductions are coming to the corn ethanol sector,” Cooper said, noting that RFA’s board of directors last summer adopted a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions, on average, by 2050 or sooner.

Cooper said this requires, in addition to a level playing for lifecycle GHG analysis, “certain policy and regulatory actions … to fully leverage the potential of agriculture and biofuels to decarbonize transportation.”

Trevor Walter, vice president of petroleum supply management for Sheetz on behalf of the National Association of Convenience Stores, also warned if a ban is made on internal combustion engines, the ban sets renewable fuels on a path to elimination. “Those farmers have made long-term policy decisions to gear for production.” To pull the rug out from under them now would be detrimental, he said.

This is why it is important for lawmakers to focus on reducing carbon emissions with technology-neutral goals that account for the lifecycle of carbon emissions – including electrician generation – as the foundation for sound policies, he added.

Walter noted fuel retailers are well-positioned to play an important role in decarbonizing vehicles by offering chargers at their sites. “When drivers are able to readily get electricity the same way as they fuel now, the availability of chargers is no longer an impediment.” He added that 86% of rural America is 10 minutes from a convenience store.

Future of EV pickup trucks

David Strickland, vice president of global regulatory affairs at the General Motors Company, shares GM plans to have its Chevrolet Silverado EV available by 2023, which can run on 400 miles before needing a charge. They’re also looking to expand their EV capacity to include 20% of their vehicles made by 2025 and 50% by 2030.

On the day of the hearing, Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Tom Rice, R-S.C., introduced bipartisan legislation to help farms and rural communities take advantage of the latest electric pickup trucks and tractors by allowing USDA’s Rural Energy for American Program to be used for the installation of EV charging infrastructure.

“Electric vehicles of the future are not just for cities — they also stand to deliver major benefits to farms, agribusinesses, and rural communities in Virginia and across the country,” said Spanberger. “The Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure for Farmers Act takes a successful and popular program — the REAP program — and makes sure its funding can be used to support expanded EV charging networks in all of our communities, large and small. This commonsense change would give our farmers and agribusinesses a competitive economic edge, greatly benefit our environment and establish new markets for homegrown manufacturers of electric pickups, tractors, combines and more.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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