Envisioning cars that can go “coast to coast without using a drop of oil,” President Barack Obama on March 15 urged Congress to authorize another $2 billion over the next decade to expand research into weaning automobiles off gasoline.
“The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices — the only way to break that cycle for good — is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil,” the president said.
But the recent track record of politicians attempting to fight the twin realities of physics and economics to force-feed such a change is littered with the bankruptcies of heavily subsidized enterprises.
Fisker Automotive halted work on a Delaware auto factory to make plug-in sedans a year ago after the U.S. Energy Department blocked access to its federal loan, citing unmet milestones. Chinese automakers last week pulled back from talks to buy Fisker, the dispute hinging on that federal loan. A123 Systems Inc., a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of batteries for electric cars that received a $249-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, filed for bankruptcy last October. Also apparently gone are Bright Automotive, Aptera, Think Automotive (a Norwegian firm that hoped to build electric cars in Indiana), and battery maker Ener1.
In fact, energy prices are high right now in large part because this administration has worked hard to get them there. Mr. Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 that “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. … People will say, ‘Ah, Obama and Al Gore, these folks, they’re going to destroy the economy, this is going to cost us eight trillion dollars,’ or whatever their number is.”
Newly discovered reserves and shale fracture technologies mean there are lots of ways to lower the price of gasoline and keep it down. For starters, the administration could approve more drilling leases offshore and on federal lands, approve more refineries, approve more pipelines, stop siphoning off gasoline excises taxes from highway maintenance to subsidize “urban transit” boondoggles that can never pay their way. But Mr. Obama purposely declines to do any of this, because it doesn’t fit his stated agenda, which is to make fossil energy more costly in order to fool us into buying battery-powered junk from his campaign contributors.
It also turns out electric cars don’t really do much to help the environment — even if we assume carbon dioxide is somehow a pollutant.
(In fact, since carbon dioxide is necessary to life on earth, it’s about as much a “pollutant” as oxygen or water. Its contribution to the “greenhouse” effect” — which keeps us from freezing to death every night, by the way — is small in relation to its volume, which in turn is affected hardly at all by mankind. For the record, in ruling carbon dioxide somehow “endangers” us by promoting non-existent “man-made global warming,” the Environmental Protection Agency, an extraconstitutional tyranny which should be disbanded immediately, failed to submit said proposed “endangerment” finding for independent scientific scrutiny as required by their own Clean Air Act. This caused a case — actually a request for Certoriari — to be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court March 21, titled Pacific Legal Foundation v. United States Environmental Protection Agency. It may be worth watching.)
At any rate, electric cars run on electricity, which has to be generated somewhere. Unless the president is planning a massive initiative to build hundreds of new nuclear power plants — which he hasn’t mentioned — the source of most of that electricity will be coal, oil, and natural gas — carbon-based fossil fuels.
In the March 11 Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” writes: “Electric cars are promoted as the chic harbinger of an environmentally benign future. Ads assure us of ‘zero emissions,’ and President Obama has promised a million on the road by 2015. With sales for 2012 coming in at about 50,000, that million-car figure is a pipe dream.” Meantime, “Consumers remain wary of the cars’ limited range, higher price and the logistics of battery-charging.”
Read John M. Broder’s account of the failure of his Tesla electric car — equipped with the highest-capacity battery available — to manage a modest trip from Newark, Delaware to Milford, Conn. in the Feb. 10 New York Times Automobiles section. Or consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour — a bit faster than your average jogger.
But for those who do own an electric car, at least there’s the consolation that it’s truly green, right? “Not really,” Mr. Lomborg explains. “Sure, electric cars don’t emit carbon-dioxide on the road. But the energy used for their manufacture and continual battery charges certainly does — far more than most people realize.”
Yet the federal government subsidizes electric-car buyers at $7,500 apiece, while more than $5.5 billion in federal tax-funded grants and loans have already gone directly to battery and electric-car manufacturers like Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors.
“This is a very poor deal for taxpayers,” Mr. Lomborg concludes.