Electric cars, government incentives, and pollution (and an Open Thread, if you want one)

Nissan LeafAside from domestic responsibilities and computer problems, the main reason for my slowed blogging has to do with cars.  Electric cars, to be specific.

Years ago, when I was living my life as a round of carpools, we bought a lovely Honda minivan. I really do mean lovely. It’s the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned. I’m petite, but it provides me with a perfectly elevated seat; it handles like a dream; I like the doo-dads and thingamabobs it offers; and I’m just generally happy with it. The only downside is that it gets around 18 or 19 miles per gallon, which is not a plus with Obama gas prices.

Actually, there’s now another downside, too. With my kids in high school, I’m no longer driving that endless round of carpools. Instead, it’s mostly just me in a car that can seat passengers, not including the driver. Sometimes I add a passenger or two, and I often have groceries, but it really is a shame to burn up so much expensive gasoline to transport a few people and some shopping bags.

We started looking into alternatives and decided that the all-electric Nissan Leaf would be good. It’s a surprisingly spacious car, it handles well, it’s range easily encompasses my daily Marin roamings, and  then there’s the real kicker:  Between federal and state incentives for electric vehicles, we get almost $12,000 towards a three-year lease.

That last factor makes the car eminently affordable. We’ll be paying only slightly more per month on the lease than I was already paying for gas. We’ll keep the old car for short trips or heavy loads (or for times when all three drivers in the family are heading in completely opposite directions), but we’ll use only the Leaf for the local trips.  Our electric bill will increase negligibly, our gasoline bill will decrease dramatically, and our monthly cash flow will be affected minimally.

Nice as they are, I’m actually somewhat embarrassed by those incentives. Yes, it’s true that I pay substantially more in taxes than someone who doesn’t live a nice upper middle class life in Marin. But precisely because I am able to live this nice upper middle class Marin lifestyle, I don’t really need the incentive.

The incentives certainly encourage me to buy or lease an electric vehicle, so they fulfill the government goal of getting more people into EVs, but I think it’s wrong that lower-income taxpayers are compelled to support me in any way. They, after all, are still paying taxes but, even with the taxpayer-funded incentive, they still can’t afford a lease.

A Democrat in the California legislature finally figured out just how unfair this is and has a bill pending to add means-testing to the rebate:

Since 2009, California gave a $2,500 tax rebate on zero-emissions vehicles like the Tesla Model S and Prius plug-in hybrid. And here’s something that should surprise no one: The majority of those rebates went to households earning $100,000 or more. Now that could change.

A bill sponsored by California Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) attempts to address the fact that nearly 80 percent of those rebates went to households bringing in more than $100k and that almost half of Tesla Model S owners receiving a rebate are making at least $300,000.

“A $2,500 rebate to purchase an electric vehicle is not likely to matter to someone earning over $300,000 a year, but it does make a big difference to someone earning $60k a year,” said de León. “Every community deserves clean air, regardless of wealth.”

(Read more here.)

Although I think that bill is the right thing to do, I’m not going to stand on principle here and turn my back on any money the government wants to give me — or, more accurately, give back to me.  After all, thanks to the highest income tax in the nation, a lot of our family’s hard-earned money routinely goes to fund all sorts of ridiculousness, such as California’s infamous “train to nowhere.”  Getting some of my money back towards an affordable, practical car is a good thing.

I’m also ambivalent about the vehicle because I find the whole “zero emissions” thing stupid.  Yes, it’s true that there are no emissions coming out the back of my vehicle, but you can’t escape the fact that it nevertheless generates a lot of pollution elsewhere.  It has a honking big battery, which currently pollutes China even more than China is already polluted.

Additionally, the car relies upon electricity that’s produced by generating a fair amount of dirt.  As I understand it, most American electricity comes from burning coal or gas, or from a nuclear plan (clean, but always unpopular in Progressive circles).   Water’s great, but it’s a distant third, with all the clean energies coming in far behind.  And of course, those clean energies aren’t so great either, given that their unreliable, and that they either slice and dice birds or fricassees them.

It still seems to me that the best way to power our world is to continue to rely on fossil fuel — that most reliable energy source — but to continue to work on ways to decrease the pollutants flowing from its use.  All these other things are pie-in-the-sky stuff.  Indeed, the fact that government needs to coerce and bribe people to use electric vehicles perfectly demonstrates just how ridiculous they are.  If they really were an affordable form of clean energy transportation, private business would be cleaning up on them without any help from the government.

And while I’m on the subject of government’s role in all this, I’d like to put in my application to immigrate to the Republic of Bill:

Speaking of Newspeak — how about Kerry and Boxer on energy?

Even working together, Babs Boxer and John Kerry are still unable to beat Palin’s clear message and, instead, come out with meaningless government speak.  I can’t resist a very light fisking of their opinion piece for the WaPo, which does precisely what my blog slogan says Democrats do:  they take conclusions and try to sell them as facts. I’ll be so light that I won’t dive into underlying facts. I’ll just expose the nonsense on the face of the document.  Also, out of deference for fair use principles, I’m not going to fisk the whole thing, just bits and pieces.  And with those caveats, here goes:

Palin argues that “the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!” The truth is, clean energy legislation doesn’t make energy scarcer or more expensive; it works to find alternative solutions to our costly dependence on foreign oil and provides powerful incentives to pursue cutting-edge clean energy technologies.  [Objection your honor:  non-responsive!  Have Babs and the French-looking guy said anything here that belies the claim that new energy will be scarcer and more expensive?  They've said they'd like to cut spending on foreign oil, but that has nothing to do with scarcity or cost.  They've also said the government will provide financial incentives for new energy, but that sounds costly -- and there's no guarantee that there is affordable and clean new energy to be had, at least in the short term.  In other words, they've said nothing at all that counters Palin's claim that new government clean energy proposals will make energy scarce and costly.]

Palin asserts that job losses are “certain.” Wrong. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and American Clean Energy and Security legislation will create significant employment opportunities across the country in a broad array of sectors linked to the clean energy economy. Studies at the federal level and by states have demonstrated clean energy job creation. A report by the Center for American Progress calculated that $150 billion in clean energy investments would create more than 1.7 million domestic and community-based jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.  [Again, Babs and Kerry take the known problems expensive energy creates (inflation, job loss, a slowing economy and, against those history-proven facts, make the groundless promise that they'll make some new jobs in a private sector devoted to trying to figure out ways to come up with a better solution than fossil fuel.  As to that dream, it would help if, at the very least, they'd work out how to make fossil fuel cleaner and more efficient.  But noooo.  This wagon is hooked to stars such as biofuels, which take food out of the mouths of poor people; electric cars, which use lots of fossil fuel to create the electricity and which work only in densely populated areas where people can tank up quickly; solar energy, which works only where the sun shines (tough luck for those in cold, foggy areas); wind energy, which has proven to be spectacularly unreliable, etc.  One day, alternative energies may be the answer, but to make traditional energy sources impossibly expensive, while sucking money out of the economy to fund pie-in-the-sky "alternatives" is certain to lose jobs.]

[snip]

Take the acid rain program established in the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. The naysayers said it would cost consumers billions in higher electricity rates, but electricity rates declined an average of 19 percent from 1990 to 2006. Naysayers said the cost to business would be more than $50 billion a year, but health and other benefits outweighed the costs 40 to 1. Naysayers predicted it would cost the economy millions of jobs. In fact, the United States added 20 million jobs from 1993 to 2000, as the U.S. economy grew 64 percent.  [This may true.  However, since I don't trust the source, how am I do know that, but for the Clean Air Act Amendments, the economy wouldn't have grown by a vastly greater amount.  As it is, I happen to enjoy clean fresh air.  I'm interested in reasonable, market-driven responses to cleaner energy that doesn't fund terrorists.  That doesn't justify crap-and-tax, though, does it?]

The carefully crafted clean energy bill that we will present to the Senate [pardon me while I laugh hysterically as Babs uses the phrase "carefully crafted" to describe anything that's coming out of the House right now], building on the Waxman-Markey legislation passed by the House, will jump-start our economy, protect consumers, stop the ravages of unchecked global climate change and ensure that the United States — not China or India — will be the leading economic power in this century. [And this will work because we're sending to China and India, countries unconstrained by these bills, all the jobs that American employers can no longer afford to pay for?  Help me.  I'm confused.]

Anyway, you get the idea. Go to the WaPo, and read the article for yourself. See if you find it more convincing than I do.