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President Obama's draft budget for 2012 hasn't made as many headlines as it might've due to the current Middle Eastern political turmoil, but tucked away inside the $3.7 trillion dollar document is something that should interest electric vehicle fans. The budget contains funds for a $200 million grant program that will allow communities across the U.S. to pave the way for EVs.
Obama's idea is to divvy up those funds between 30 communities to help subsidize infrastructure and EV purchases. Recipients could use the money to buy EVs for their city fleets, or they might spend it on charging infrastructure to keep those EVs humming. The grant program (and the budget, for that matter) are both still in the draft stage, so before any specifics are released, the budget will need to be approved, and the grant program will have to be fleshed out.
It's important to note that this isn't an entirely new initiative. The feds already have numerous programs to support advanced vehicle technologies, totaling $320 million or so. This would expand that program, and, the president hopes, put America one step closer to Obama's goal of having one million advanced-tech vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.
It's also important to note that in these lean economic times, Obama hasn't just added this program to the budget without making cuts. The president has also proposed cutting a program aimed at retrofitting diesel vehicles with clean-diesel technology, and he's 86ed spending on fuel cell technology (which, to be fair, has been an iffy project to some). John Voelcker discusses those cuts at our sister site, GreenCarReports.
In DC's partisan atmosphere, it's not surprising that Republicans have come out against the program, but unfortunately, they're hating it for the wrong reasons. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said, "This budget continues to advance policies in which the federal government picks winners and losers, rather than letting the American people and the power of competition identify the most efficient, effective investment of resources." Clearly, Upton has forgotten that America does this all the time, subsidizing everything from corn and soybeans to foreign countries. There are legitimate reasons to dislike Obama's proposal, but that's not one of them.
On the plus side, Obama's proposed grant program seems like a sensible, pragmatic move. A growing number of EVs will arrive on showroom floors over the next few years, and cash-strapped municipalities need money to prepare for them. Since most states aren't in a position to help fund infrastructure transition, it makes sense that the feds would step up to the plate.
Also weighing in the program's favor: $200 million is a relatively small amount in the $3.7 trillion federal budget -- not insignificant, and certainly big enough to make change possible, but it's not budget-breaking either. It's slightly more than the government spends on the arts. We also like the fact that its being done as a grant program, which makes it competitive.
On the negative side, some of program goals could be met with private dollars. We've already seen companies like McDonald's install charging stations to lure EV customers through its golden arches, and outfits like Coulomb Technologies could easily contract with cities to install hook-ups on city streets, creating infrastructure and generating money for the municipality all in one fell swoop.
Also in con territory: we're not a fan of cutting clean diesel retrofits. Many diesels made before 2007 are heavy polluters; retrofitting them with clean tech cuts pollution today and health care costs tomorrow. For folks who judge projects based on ROI, the clean diesel program has an excellent return.
We'll keep you up to date on Obama's proposed program as the budget moves through the long, arduous approval process. In the meantime, here's an interesting, interactive map of the budget as it stands today.