There’s a lot to like about Sen. John Barrasso’s bipartisan highway infrastructure bill. 

It would add $287 billion to federal highway funding, including nearly $1.9 billion for Wyoming over the next five years. Those funds are desperately needed here and across the nation and would mark progress toward the only 2016 campaign promise by Donald Trump I liked: investing in our country’s infrastructure. 

The American Transportation Infrastructure Act was passed 21-0 last week by the panel Barrasso chairs, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. That’s an impressive result in a session that has rarely seen Republicans and Democrats agree. 

So I hate to be the spoilsport, but…

Maybe it’s my unlikely fiscal conservative emerging as I get older, but I’m not going to be comfortable supporting the measure until we know how it’s going to be paid for. It’s got to be done right, and that’s just not the way it’s headed now. 

Barrasso’s bill is a good blueprint for the end goal — more federal highway dollars — but it leaves finding a route to that vital destination up to the Senate Finance Committee. 

Barrasso has long wanted to remove subsidies for electric vehicles, and make their owners pay to register them. That’s precisely the wrong direction we need to go to create better transit systems that combat climate change by helping reduce carbon emissions. 

The federal government needs to keep encouraging domestic manufacturers to make electric vehicles, not make them more expensive to drive. Total elimination of the tax credit and slapping on a registration fee is Barrasso’s idea of “leveling the playing field” for owners of gas-powered and electric vehicles, but there are several problems with his concept.

First, the $7,500 tax credit for buying a vehicle powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells has helped reduce carbon emissions, but it’s really just a start. This isn’t the time to cut it off. Yes, there are a million EVs on the nation’s roads, but if the U.S. is going to reach its zero emissions goal, that’s a relatively small amount of progress.

It’s like telling a football team that it’s great it made it from the 1-yard line to its own 5, but now it must punt the ball on second down to make everything “fair.”

Current law already starts to phase out the EV tax subsidies. When a manufacturer sells 200,000 vehicles the tax credit is incrementally lowered until it completely disappears. Tesla hit the 200,000 mark last year, and its subsidy is scheduled to end next year. 

One legislative proposal would directly counter Barrasso’s plan by getting rid of the 200,000 cap and continuing the subsidy for big sellers. Another would remove the cap but end all tax credits by 2022.

Consumer and environmental groups have joined forces with GM, Tesla and Nissan to form the Electric Vehicle Coalition, which is pushing for removing the arbitrary 200,000 sales cap.  

More American consumers would buy electric vehicles if the cars were affordably priced. Thus far the tax credit has been instrumental in lowering prices for customers and encouraging EV manufacturers to keep investing in expensive technological upgrades to improve their products. 

If lawmakers want to stop EV innovation in its tracks — and drastically curb auto companies’ efforts to compete in a hyper-competitive global marketplace — they should support Barrasso’s plan. 

Years ago, General Motors sunk millions into research to develop an electric vehicle, the EV1, only to turn around and successfully keep the technology from being used so gas-guzzling cars and trucks would continue the fossil fuel industry’s vice-like grip on our country.

Who Killed the Electric Car?” is an amazing 2006 documentary that covers the outrageous sham perpetrated on American consumers when auto manufacturers, the oil industry and the Bush administration thwarted the electric revolution by filing countless lawsuits.

Prematurely removing an EV tax credit would have the same effect. 

There is a way, however, to raise the money for Barrasso’s bill and advance smart climate policy. If Congress wants to increase federal funds for highway construction and maintenance and bail out states like Wyoming that haven’t been able to adequately improve their highway systems, it should significantly raise federal taxes on gasoline and diesel.

Congress has not increased the federal taxes on gasoline or diesel since 1993, leaving it up to states to raise fuel taxes to help pay for road construction and maintenance. That hasn’t worked out well in Wyoming, where the Department of Transportation estimates a $135 million annual shortfall in its efforts to adequately fix the state’s highways. 

Wyoming raised its state gasoline and diesel taxes by a dime per gallon in 2014. Since then about 30 states have increased their fuel taxes.

The Joint Revenue Committee is working on a bill that would add 3 cents per gallon next year, but it will have a tough time making it through the state Senate, which has vehemently opposed any tax increases in recent years.

In addition to creating a much bigger pot of highway money, a federal fuels tax hike would also encourage consumers to make the switch to electric vehicles. Barrasso’s opposition to a tax hike on carbon-based fuels and his support of requiring EV owners to pay an additional registration fee only ensures that the fossil fuels industry keeps playing an outsized role in our economy — and our politics — into the future.

And it will freeze the efforts of innovative auto manufacturers to improve the environment in their tracks.

I don’t want to sell Barrasso’s ATIA bill short. It would be good for Wyoming, making $1.6 billion available in new rural transportation grants and an additional $247 million for smaller road projects. It’s the best news the grossly underfunded WYDOT has had in years. 

The measure also throws a significant bone to Democratic lawmakers by channeling $10 billion to reduce emissions and increase the resilience of infrastructure so that it will better stand up to the impacts of climate change.

Support informed commentary with a tax-deductible donation today.

“We know that the cars, trucks and vans that we drive have now become our nation’s largest source of global warming pollution,” Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on Barrasso’s committee, told The Washington Post. “These emissions accelerate and exacerbate the effect of climate change, contributing to the increasingly extreme weather events that contribute significantly to the degradation of our roadways and our bridges.”

Barrasso’s bill is paved with good intentions, but the devil is still in the details. Frankly, it made me nervous when Wyoming’s junior senator promised The Post that his transportation bill will “speed up project delivery, cut Washington red tape, so that projects can be done faster and better and cheaper and smarter.”

I’m all for removing unnecessary roadblocks to better transportation infrastructure. I want to see the cost of projects reduced, and if the bill contains enough money to improve technology to make our massive highway infrastructure safer, count me in.

But some of that D.C. “red tape” likely includes environmental and safety regulations that help protect millions of motorists. I don’t want crumbling bridges to be replaced with structures that will topple because highway departments were given the green light to move full speed ahead and lower safety standards by not considering environmental impacts.

Barrasso’s bill definitely merits further consideration. But let’s not create a funding scheme that discourages more electric vehicles and handicaps our essential move toward zero emissions.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

Join the Conversation

13 Comments

Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Finally,
    After letters, emails and blogs addressing EVs paying a use fee to the state for using state and Federal highways we see some states reacting.. Besides the subsidized purchase of and EV by taxpayers, the utilities are looking to rate payers to subsidize charging stations. Be aware.
    17 states have begun charging EV owners a use tax. EV owners will pay the yearly tax when they renew their tags.
    CA $100, GA $200 ID $150, NC $100, MO $75, , etc, Seven states have eliminated rebates.
    Did you buy your EV because you hate fossil fuel? All the hand wringing that the world is going to be destroyed by the USA is so narrow minded it is hard to grasp. Green thinkers want to shut down factories, get rid of airplanes and cows. Yes, even cows. So i ask the green people what you can do about the following: Since the year 2000 the world has doubled its coal fired power plants. There are now 78 countries using coal fired power plants up from 66 in 2000. Another 16 countries plan to join the club notably Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Indonesia is planning and enormous expansion of coal plants. You may have heard that China is closing coal fired plants. Yes, they are closing many small plants replacing them with new larger capacity coal plants..:So, you hand wringers had better travel the globe and get the polluting world to stop using coal. OH heck, you don’t want to be a hypocrite and fly on a plane that uses fossil fuel
    Maybe you can walk over to the inept UN and ask them to get this expansion stopped. Whoops, they failed?

  2. Has anyone considered the fact that one heavy rig, like a long-haul truck causes about the same roadway damage as about 9,000 automobiles, whether those automobiles are fully or partially fossil-powered? People are wasting time justifying unjustifiable surcharges on electric vehicles or hybrids while the real cause of road damage gets off scott-free. Barasso needs his head examined.

  3. Just a funny feeling I have. I’m 64 years old but, if I’m lucky enough to make it to old-manhood, I think I will see the end of the internal combustion engine. Too many moving parts, too many smart people, too many ways to move a human being from point A to point B. Too many things that have happened that I never thought possible. I called my wife from the top the Grand Teton; some guy put a metal tube in my coronary artery that kept me from certain death; we went from land-based transportation to putting a person on the moon in just 66 years. Yes folks, things change. The improbable becomes commonplace. We must stop looking behind and look forward!!

  4. There is nothing green about EV’s and there never has been. Power is created in one form or another and all of it has a effect on the climate. Their motors get hot, causing heat emission’s. The electricity has to be created in one form or another, All of which has created environmental impact somewhere down the line. The batteries have a limited life span, so they have to be replaced. Nope, nothing that will fill landfills with waste coming from EV’s. It is a joke. It is used to prey on those with brains the size of pea’s. Those who can’t figure out that the leather on their shoes come from the same dead cow that the meat in the burger they hate so badly came from. I believe the word is called a Hypocrite.

    I hate to tell ya, but very very few people that are buying the EV’s are doing it to go green. They are doing it because they are great cars. Some even have supercar performance for half the price. They are doing it for social status,” Hey look at me, I drive a Tesla!” They are doing it to take advantage of tax breaks that they do not deserve. The real crisis is the lack of honesty and all the blindfolding the Dems are doing instead of putting out true facts that look at the whole picture. Should we be compensating those that are truly buying these cars for performance and such? No way, not a chance!

    1. Todd- your view while reasonably accurate is also extraordinarily narrow and shortminded.
      We all know from junior high science class the unbreakable law that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted. Fossil fuels are in fact fossil sunlight stored by plants and animals who ate plants, converted to hydrovarbons and stored in the ground. When we humans mine coal and rill for poil and gas, we are extracting ancient sunlight in stored form and re-convert it to heat energy , very VERY inefficiently in that channel. Gasoline recovers all of 4-6 percent of the available energy. Meanwhile it has caused a massive oputpouring of wasted energy and CO2 and other byproducts to get it to the pump, where we as Americans pay a FRACTION of the true total cost of that energy . Just the huge subsidies and tax breaks given to fossil fuels alone should raise the eybrows to the ceiling, but do not. ( Hence the talk of a Carbon Tax)

      To your point about all-electric vehicles being weighed down with theose upfront energy demands and hidden costs, there are already much more efficient and hugely cost effective ways to get around that. A solar panel on my roof has one time costs, but after installation is all but free for 35 years. A lithium battery bank ( A Tesla PowerWall ) has a big up front cost , but then operates for next to nothing , storing the excess power from the PV array . Finally , if we moved to a hydrogen based fuel cell driven non-grid point of use energy system, all costs are reduced to minimal. ( I haven’t even broached wind power here, but it’s in te mix ) .Solar and wind power can break water into hydrogen and oxygen, release the oxygen and send the H2 to the fuel cell, which powers your entire household and charges the EV in the garage, and excess energy can be sent back out to the neighborhood or the local grid. Natural gas can also be ” reformed” tor elease the hydrogen and convert the carbon to another usable product…such as a Synthgas or biofuel or mineral compounds, if only we would scale up that tech.

      So there are solutions present and pending. You seem to be unaware that when the TRUE cost getting that electricity into the Tesla battery pack is computed and the batterys’ manufacture costs deducted, it is still vastly cheaper to drive Tesla than a gas or diesel engine at the end of the day . And the martgins will increase very soon.

      What I hear loudest from your opinion is your obvious disdain to Teslas and Prius’ based on lifestyles , social mores, conservative dogma, class elitism – but not electromechanical physics and economics.

  5. I fail to see a connection between the development of quantum physics (the basis for most technology, particularly in electronics) and the “free market”. Perhaps someone would be kind enough to inform me of how Einstein, Plank, etc. were influenced in their observations by the so-called free market.

  6. Electric cars use highways but the owners pay no tax like the gasoline and diesel tax. How do you propose that their owners should pay for highway construction, maintenance, snow plowing, highway patrols, other safety costs?

    BTW I bought a Lexus RX hybrid a few years ago. It got dreadful mileage at 80 mph and was extremely inefficient in winter; quite a disappointment. I was getting 14 mpg in the winter for short haul driving. The salesman later told me that many customers in the Colorado mountains had the same complaint. I am certainly not opposed to hybrids and electric cars but there are some issues to consider.

  7. There are more than a few issues with subsidizing EV’s. First, automakers to trading houses from North America to Europe are becoming more concerned about future supply shortages of key materials needed for electric vehicle batteries as spending on new production soars. Subsidizing a product that will experience raw material supply shortages only promises to cost taxpayers more.

    Furthermore, electric cars do nothing to curb global emissions. As recently cited by the International Energy Agency, “today we have 5m electric cars, even if there were 300m with the current power generation system in the world the impact on CO2 emissions is less than 1%.”

    Moreover, not only are taxpayers paying for the subsidies to purchase these vehicles, utilities are now gaining legislative approval for ratepayer subsidization for infrastructure build out…i.e. recharging stations. You’re electric bill will be paying for recharging stations whether you own an EV or not!

    Taxpayers are also helping pay for EV charging in government entities like museums, agency parking lots, RTD stations and more recently, toll roads like E-470 in Denver. EV purchasers get the tax credit to buy the vehicle, ratepayer subsidization for recharging stations developed by utilities and free taxpayer-provided charging stations on toll roads and by government agencies. Importantly, they pay only minimal fees for use of the public highways. Barrasso is spot on with his “paying their fair share” comments. Subsidies only exacerbate the “fair share” condition.

    Far from suggesting that alternative energies aren’t welcome or desirable, I believe that it’s time for policymakers to recognize that allowing the marketplace to determine winners and losers is preferable to a politicized, top-down approach that has produced more failures than benefits.

    What I believe we should be discussing is whether these subsidy programs should exist at all. Many would argue that subsidy programs should be abolished, along with all other energy subsidies—including those that benefit fossil-fuel production—because:
    1) government lacks the incentives to manage funds that private investors have;
    2) giving subsidies to some businesses puts other businesses that do not receive such subsidies at a disadvantage, distorting investment and other economic activity; and
    3) the existence of government subsidies increases the incentive to lobby and the power of special interests.

    Your opinion piece obviates your willingness to allow misperceptions of genuine climate benefits to focus on government (taxpayer funded) programs that pick economic winners and losers and attempts to force marketplace consumerism that is not sustainable economically nor from a raw materials perspective. Let’s rethink this mindset of subsidization for the sake of pie-in-the-sky, feel good, unsubstantiated long term results. Would it not be better to focus on cleaning up existing, well developed infrastructure of fossil fuels that will remain being 70% of transportation fuels by 2050, according to the Energy Information Agency? Emissions reduction in gasoline and diesel vehicles is well documented and improvements well documented. Let’s stay the course on improving upon emissions reductions on the fuel we know is going to be the mainstay of our transportation needs into the next decades.

  8. The hybrid is a joke especially in open country like wyo! It has a bigger carbon foot print than your typical pick up ! Battery life is max 3 years most less than that ! With a replacement price tag higher than cars worth! Quit subsidizing a farce for feel good fools ! Let the free market decide the fate of technology! Thats what has lead to the greatest innovations is the lure of prosperity.

    1. Your information is ancient, and suspect.
      Modern EV’s and even hybrids are showing huge cost savings in both operations and cost of manufacture and ownership over the life of the vehicle. ( Just Google for EV vs. gas engine automobile coasts and read till it gets dark where you are ).

      A totally electirc EV has a full cost of less than half compared to a similar sized gasoline car. Even a hybrid can sabve 35 percent on it’s worst days. My landlord’s plugin Prius has given him an equivalent mileage of 135 miles per gallon of the gas he actually burns in it. hard to argue with that . Might not be as competitive in the – 40° F situation , but your Dodge Ram diesel is hardly better .

      Oh by the way , the lithium powerpacks in the newer EV’s and hybrids should be good for 8 years or more depending on use load.

      I agree with you tha the market should decide the technology . It definitely will . beginning in 2022, longtime carmaker Volvo will no longer be using gasoline engines at all. Total phase out. Others are following. Tesla never did. The market is deciding. Same as the Green New Deal will come along entirely on it’s own… just try and stop it.

  9. Q: What is worse than a hardliner Wyoming Republican ?

    A: A hardline REGRESSIVE Wyoming Republican. Such as Barrasso.

    ( This conclusion is more observational than opinion after 13 years of Barrasso’s tenure in the Senate )

    1. Dept. of Energy EV help..
      1)Use accessories wisely. Use your A/C, your radio and your heater less. I’m beginning to laugh.
      2)Use the economy mode. Fed Gov’t suggests saving battery life by reducing electric equipment or tools near the vehicle. I guess I’ll park across the street when I edge my lawn and I had better cancel the electric mower.
      3)Love this one. Plan ahead.If you need to climate control your vehicle consider pre-heating or pre-cooling while still plugged in. Electric meter must be humming. (Laughter).
      4)Ahem! Anticipate braking and avoid sudden stops or hard braking. Hard braking circumvents the EVs regenerative braking system and wastes energy, I’ll be darn. I”ll coast up to all stop signs at least a 1/2 block away from a sign.
      5) Fed suggest you follow the speed limits. Of course the real reason to slow down is your EV efficiency is known to decrease rapidly above 50mph reducing your range. I must add at this point, STAY OFF THE 80 MPH INTERSTATES.
      This is long but I subsidize EVs and this is my payback. It’s really nice we fossil fuel lovers provide power to charge your EV. You’re welcome
      Names withheld, but two short EV owner stories.:
      One fellow has permission to work from his laptop while his car is charging during the workday. He commutes 51 miles one way. The next guy leaves the ofc and eats lunch in his EV every workday.while it charges.

      Did they buy their EVs to save the earth or because of the mileage?
      Rich Lloyd