State to Encourage Electric Vehicles

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new, $70 million rebate program this week aimed at getting more electric vehicles on the roads. This is an important step, especially in light of hostility from the Trump administration to rational efforts to protect the global environment and fight climate change, though dollars and cents play a role as well.

In a historically anomalous period of dirt-cheap gasoline, American consumer interest in electric and hybrid motor vehicles has declined. This has caused a temporary slowdown in the rate at which drivers are switching to less-polluting cars and trucks and a setback for greenhouse gas reduction. Meanwhile, the White House has said it might reverse national fuel economy regulations. This would lead to more pollution and increase the rate of global warming. It also would result in drivers eventually paying more at the pumps to fill their gas-guzzlers when prices inevitably rise again. 

Weakening federal rules that encourage innovation also could harm this country’s traditional auto industry over the long term, as high-tech startups, like the all-electric Tesla, make revolutionary advances while the industry remains mired in the past. Foreign manufacturers could also gain more market share, the way Japanese auto companies did when gas prices soared decades ago.

In New York State, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, which is the main reason why Mr. Cuomo’s expanded rebates — up to $2,000 per vehicle — are good policy. Increasing the number of cleaner cars and trucks will help New York meet its goal of reducing global warming emissions by 40 percent by 2030. For coastal communities, like those on the South Fork where sea level rise is already presenting massive challenges, reductions are essential.

Money will also be set aside for promoting electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell technology, as well as increasing the availability of charging stations. According to the state, there are now more than 30 electric models to choose from, including the new Chevrolet Bolt, a battery-powered subcompact that can travel about 230 miles on a single charge. Because only about 1 percent of all vehicles driven in the United States now are electric, public awareness will be key.

Another way the Trump administration might discourage the use of alternative fuel vehicles is by rolling back the federal tax credit that now provides up to $7,500 for eligible vehicles. There is considerable risk that the credit could be eliminated in the Republican budget. House Speaker Paul Ryan is no fan of solar and other alternative-power incentives and is likely to seek to cut the credit from future spending plans with little resistance from the White House.

New York’s effort is one way to counteract federal retrenchment and is to be applauded.