Author: Max Witynski                    Published       July 31, 2019  Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted unanimously Tuesday morning to advance a broad bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes funding for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is working to bring it before the full Senate this fall.
  • S. 2302, the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, earmarks $1 billion in funding for competitive grants to support the development of fueling infrastructure for electric, natural gas and hydrogen-powered vehicles. The bill also directs federal agencies to transition their vehicle fleets to hybrid-electric, electric and alternative fuels within a year of enactment.
  • Sponsors are optimistic about passage, and President Donald Trump also tweeted in support of the bill on Tuesday morning. However, the bill faces more deliberation over expected amendments, such as expanding ‘alternative fuels’ to include biofuel-powered vehicles.

Dive Insight:

The bill aims to establish a grant program that would be available to states, counties, municipalities, tribes and agencies working to make public charging infrastructure more widely accessible. It also seeks “to foster enhanced, coordinated, public-private or private investment in [alternative fuel] infrastructure.”

EV industry stakeholders welcomed the prospects for collaboration between the public and private sector.

“We see this as a major step forward in America’s global leadership in transportation electrification,” David Schatz, director of public policy at Chargepoint, told Utility Dive. Schatz said Chargepoint, one of the country’s largest EV infrastructure companies, “absolutely” foresees potential partnerships between grantees and industry.

“We already see a lot of private investment activated today in the market: this would only accelerate it,” Schatz said, “by allowing there to be natural partnerships that form around these funds and allow for the build-out nationwide of EV charging stations.”

Other stakeholders were more cautious in their response to bill.

“We’re pleased the alternative fuel grants look to spur private sector investment, but we want to be sure that it doesn’t allow abuses by electric utilities,” Doug Kantor of Steptoe & Johnson, counsel to both the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA) said in a statement.

NACS and SIGMA are concerned that utilities could “double-dip” on infrastructure projects by charging customers for electric vehicle chargers while also qualifying for taxpayer-funded grants to support the buildout of that infrastructure.

Midwestern Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also said the section on charging and fueling infrastructure unfairly leaves out advanced biofuels as alternative fuel sources, and said they would introduce amendments to have them included.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Ernst stressed that she has “no problem” with the technologies and fuels already supported by the bill. However, “If all emissions-reducing fuels aren’t going to be treated equally by this program, then my preference is to do away with the program entirely,” she said.

Still, the bill has been touted by both the committee leadership and the president as a good example of bipartisan transportation legislation.

We had a 21-0 vote today in the Senate. We don’t get a lot of coverage of the fact that we do things bipartisan,” Chairman Barrasso told reporters after the hearing.

“And there is the will to get it done. I’m visiting with Senator McConnell to get it floor time in the fall,” he said.