Plug-in Electric Cars Can Lower Global Warming Emissions, Oil Consumption and Unhealthy Air Pollution

Media Releases

Environment America

Increasing America’s use of  plug-in electric (PEV) and plug in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) would dramatically reduce emissions that cause global warming and air pollution and would curb our dependence on oil, according to a new white paper released today by Environment America, at the North American International Auto Show. 

“With more Americans focused on the environmental and economic consequences of our oil dependence, carmakers are scrambling to offer customers the cleanest, most fuel efficient cars,” said Shelley Vinyard of Environment Michigan, a member of the Environment America Federation of state environmental groups.   “Dramatically ramping up electric cars can bolster America’s efforts to wean ourselves off of oil and to reduce pollution that causes global warming.”  

A “plug-in” car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Some plug-in cars run on electricity alone, while others are paired with small gasoline engines to create plug-in hybrids. Many plug-in hybrids can get over 100 miles per gallon, while plug-in electric vehicles consume no gasoline at all.   Plug-in vehicles produce direct no tailpipe pollution when operating on electricity and there is already a vast electric power infrastructure to fuel them.   As renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, meet a larger share of our electricity needs, electric car could contribute to little or no air pollution.  

“America’s current fleet of gasoline-powered cars and trucks leaves us dependent on oil, contributes to air pollution problems that threaten our health and produces large amounts of global warming pollution,” said Rob Sargent, Environment America’s Energy Program Director.  “With the automobile industry in transition, we have a once in a generation opportunity to transform our nation’s vehicle technologies.  We can do so in a way that reduces pollution and improves our energy security.” 

According to the report, the current electric system has the capacity to fuel up to 73 percent of American vehicles without building another power plant by charging vehicles at night or using solar panels by day.  However, the nation will need to clean up its electric grid to reap the full environmental potential benefits of plug-in cars.  Some utilities; such as Austin Energy, a large municipal utility in Texas, are already gearing up for a future that includes large numbers of electric cars. 

“Austin Energy is preparing to pilot several of the key recommendations outlined in this excellent report,” said Roger Duncan, Austin Energy General Manager. “We will be installing public charging stations, considering new voucher programs to set up charging in homes and partnering with local dealerships in anticipation of possibly up to 200,000 PEV light duty vehicles in the Austin area by 2020.”

The technology needed to build workable plug-in vehicles exists today, and plug-ins has several advantages over gasoline-powered cars including the fact that they require far less regular maintenance and no oil changes.

Plug-in Cars: Powering America Toward a Cleaner Future answers many questions about plug-in vehicles and lays out a strategy for how to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road. It highlights data from existing research to show that electric vehicles can help to improve Americans’ standards of living. The key points of the paper include the following:

Powering a car on electricity would result in 93 percent less smog-forming volatile organic compounds and 31 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions than powering a car on gasoline. [1]

If half of the light vehicles in the United States were electric vehicles powered by completely clean electricity in 2030, total fleet emissions would be reduced by 62 percent. [2]

If three-fourths of American vehicles including cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs and vans were electric, oil use would be reduced by about one-third.[3]

Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those of gasoline-powered cars. Electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, or the equivalent of $0.75 to $1.25 per gallon of gasoline.

“We urge our federal officials to pass a comprehensive global warming bill that caps emissions, invests in clean energy options, including electric vehicle technologies,” said Rob Sargent of Environment America.   “We also urge members of Congress to oppose industry efforts to eliminate or weaken EPA authority to regulate sources of global warming emissions.”

“At the same time, it is critical that Michigan fully harness the power of plug-in hybrid vehicles by passing policies such as a low carbon fuel standard,” said Michigan State Representative Lee Gonzales, from Flint.”This legislation can provide strong policy incentives for hybrid plug-in vehicles while setting clean car standards, promoting renewable energy and creating green manufacturing jobs in our state,” he continued. 


[1] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 2007

[2] University of California, Berkley, 2009

[3] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 2007