Environment Column

Niles: Cuomo’s electric car initiative sticks it to greedy, fossil fuel-guzzling corporations

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 with his Drive Clean Initiative.

Take that, BP.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently launched a $70 million Drive Clean Initiative, with $55 million toward rebates of up to $2,000 per single purchase of an electric vehicle and the other $15 million toward outreach projects and — most importantly — electric vehicle charging stations. Whether it was intentional or not, Cuomo has sent a message to the White House and big dog, fossil fuel corporations including BP, Exxon and Koch Industries that renewable energy is a policy priority.

The Cuomo administration is hoping the effort will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, according to Cuomo’s website. Environmentalists, however, are hoping the plan is one of the first steps in changing the United States’ fossil fuel culture. Electric cars emit zero carbon dioxide, and while not every charging station is run on renewable energy, they are certainly the safest and cleanest alternative to regular cars.

Even though electric vehicles seem like a no-brainer, the cars of the future are being met with a surprising amount of resistance. Consumer concerns include the lack of charging stations, expenses and mileage efficiency. Five years ago those concerns were perfectly valid, but due to the expanding electric vehicle industry, they simply aren’t anymore.

The average noncommercial vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and these emissions are high contributors to global warming. The release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, creates a blanket in the atmosphere that expands every time someone drives a diesel car. In addition to heightening the global temperature, vehicle exhaust worsens asthma and respiratory illnesses and can cause cancer.

Companies like BP and Exxon have a tendency to ignore these scientific facts. BP representatives have repeatedly made naive remarks about the growing clean energy and technology fields. The oil company claimed in January that electric vehicles would not be a “game changer” for BP. The company also predicts the fossil fuel industry would still account for 80 percent of energy by 2035, according to The Guardian.

Consumers’ financial concerns for the electric vehicles can be attributed to the assumption that only people who can afford Teslas can have an electric car. But in recent years, car manufacturers including Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford and other more affordable brands have been breaking into the field.

Money aside, one of the biggest issues facing the electric vehicle industry is the lack of infrastructure supporting it. Now, thanks to toddler steps taken by states like California, Rhode Island and now New York, that outlook has changed dramatically. These state governments have implemented initiatives, like Cuomo’s, that add charging stations and rebate incentives.

“In my view, state standards, especially those set by California, are vital to promoting the innovation necessary to keep raising energy efficiency standards,” said Tod Rutherford, a professor of geography at Syracuse University, in an email.

Rutherford added, though, that these states’ rights to set a separate and higher standard for clean air may be under threat if President Donald Trump’s administration refuses to let the states continue to operate under the Clean Air Act.

But despite potential roadblocks from Trump’s administration, these state efforts will hopefully create a global culture shift toward electric vehicles. In this way, it’s up to actions like the Drive Clean Initiative to create real change and show the fossil fuel industry they are getting a run for their money.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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