The US government is pouring billions of dollars into building a network of charging stations to help increase the use of electric cars. But some advocates worry that charging sites will bypass disadvantaged communities that have so far found electric vehicles beyond their reach.
In Indiana, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has complained that the state’s draft plan to roll out electric vehicle (EV) chargers has not properly consulted with people of color, does not specify any black-owned chargers . businesses and focuses new infrastructure on highways that cut through neighborhoods, rather than the neighborhoods themselves.
“We feel the process is flawed and rigged against black communities, black businesses and other frontline communities of color,” said Denise Abdul-Rahman, Indiana state chair of the NAACP’s environmental justice program. “There was no real contact here.
“We also want the economic benefits of these chargers, modernized grids so we don’t have so many blackouts, to get our diesel school buses off the ground. We don’t want two Indianas and two Americas, one with roundabouts, clean air and charging stations and the other driving through fossil fuel cars and breathing all the pollution. We want a fair transition.”
Joe Biden’s administration has set a goal of having 500,000 fast-charging EV points across the US, and last year’s infrastructure bill earmarked $7.5 billion to help with the early stages. A limiting factor for the popularity of EVs in the US, which account for less than 5% of car sales, is driver anxiety over range, with many parts of the country lacking adequate charging infrastructure.
In February, states were required to submit grid toll plans to receive $5 billion of that federal money. However, funding requires chargers to be concentrated on highways or within a mile of a major intersection, which could leave out communities of people who have so far been unable to afford electric vehicles because of their relatively high cost. .
Critics point out that there is a long history of communities of color being overlooked when it comes to infrastructure decisions, and it is unclear how a Biden administration pledge, called Justice 40, to dedicate 40% of climate spending to disadvantaged areas will shape the new alignment. the chargers.
“Often, communities of color aren’t consulted until the very last stages, where they’re put in a situation where they’re seen as enemies of progress, standing in the way of things that need to happen,” said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute. and an architect of the Green New Deal.
Gunn-Wright said the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was passed this month and includes rebates for people to buy electric cars, are a “double-edged sword” as they provide the funding needed, but little direction as to how it is spent.
“The troubling thing about Justice40 is that it’s not made clear whether it applies to all or just some programs,” she said.
“It should be made clear so that localities take this into consideration. We’re at a point where the clean energy transition is happening, but if it’s not structured well, the people who will benefit will be the rich, the investors and the corporations who are able to lobby for things. That is a real fear.”
Some states have sought to redress the EV imbalance, which has seen the vehicles become largely the domain of wealthy white people, despite a surge in overall interest. California’s energy commission, for example, has pledged that half of state funding for chargers will go to disadvantaged communities.
“When you put these chargers on highways, it’s hard to say it’s benefiting the community, so we’ve pushed for those kinds of commitments,” said Alvaro Sanchez, vice president of policy at the Greenlining Institute in California. “We have to do this in a coordinated way so that the desert is not burdened. But it will be a priority for some states more than others, it will be a different experience in each country.”
Indiana plans to spend $100 million on at least 44 EV chargers, potentially adding 28 more if funds allow. The state transport department insists it is committed to ensuring all people in the state have fair access, predicting that 95% of people in disadvantaged communities will be within 35 miles (56 km) of a charger.
“The federal government’s requirements are pretty prescriptive, they don’t make the off-highway deployments that some communities are interested in feasible,” said Scott Manning, deputy chief of staff at the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“We’ve had five public meetings and we’ve offered one-on-one meetings, I think we feel pretty good about the efforts in this process. But there is a long way to go in all of this, so I would welcome people to get involved.”