Clean air can last

The power of electric vehicles

Morgan Folger

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America

The air has been noticeably cleaner the last few months, even when viewed from space. U.S. government satellites have detected markedly less nitrogen dioxide and airborne particulate pollution since people began self-quarantines in March in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The connection between air quality and transportation pollution is well-documented, so it follows that air quality would improve as Americans have sheltered in place. My friend Cailyn, who lives in Los Angeles, recently remarked how beautiful the city is now that you can see the snow-capped mountains surrounding the valley. That’s an incredible change in a city infamous for a canopy of smog hovering over waves of gas-powered vehicles that clog freeways and spew pollution from their tailpipes. But as every state in the country reopens, both traffic on America’s roads and carbon emissions are returning to pre-lockdown levels

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for us to experience cleaner air. Resuming business as usual will mean at-risk communities once again will suffer the adverse consequences of tailpipe emissions — from respiratory ailments to global warming.

But we don’t need to return to business as usual. A game-changing solution already exists. To address the climate crisis and achieve clean air, we need a mass transition to zero-emission electric vehicles. Dozens of electric models are already on the market in the United States. If all our vehicles were electric, there would be no tailpipes, and therefore no tailpipe pollution to darken the skies with heavy smog.

Recognizing the broad health and environmental benefits of electric vehicles over gas-powered ones, states and the federal government have offered rebates and tax credits for years to consumers who make the switch. Now, more than ever, we need those incentives for Americans considering a new car purchase. Understandably, Americans are wary of making a big new financial commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. But if drivers can get some help up front to afford an EV, they will then benefit from long-term savings on fuel and maintenance, keeping costs low over the life of the vehicle. Therefore, Congress needs to ensure that more people can take advantage of the Federal Electric Vehicle Tax Credit and increase the number of vehicles that are eligible.

Electric vehicles are getting more popular every year, and even many automakers that have profited from gas-powered cars for more than a century are coming along for the ride, recognizing that otherwise, they’ll be left behind. In June, Ford released its 21st annual sustainability report, which contained commitments to invest $11.5 billion in electric vehicles over the next 5 years and build the largest electric vehicle charging network in America. 

Despite the forward-looking plans of Ford and several other carmakers, special interests whose profits come from oil and gas extraction or usage are trying to limit the growth of the electric vehicle industry. We can’t let them use this crisis as an excuse to halt progress toward clean air. The promise of an electric future should be a priority for legacy brands. It’s not only good for society, it’s smart for them. Otherwise, they risk being left in the dust by Tesla and other cutting edge electric car manufacturers.


Morgan Folger

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America

staff | TPIN

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