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  • Noah Garcia and Mark Szybist

Pennsylvania Driving Toward an Electrifying Win

For those who have been keeping score, Pennsylvania has been on a winning streak. Between the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship in 2017 and this year’s triumphs by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Villanova men’s basketball team, Keystone State residents have had plenty to celebrate. Well, they have in sports.

In matters of clean energy, it’s generally been a different story. Although Pennsylvania voters agree that climate change is causing problems now – and 69% want the state to prioritize renewable energy over fossil fuels to drive down greenhouse gas emission – legislators haven’t updated the state’s woefully outdated Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard for fourteen years. Nor have most shown any interest in passing legislation that would keep Pennsylvania on track to meet the Paris Accord’s targets for reducing carbon pollution.

Now, though, Pennsylvania stands on the edge of a major win for clean energy: the passage of House Bill 1446 (HB 1446), the Pennsylvania Clean Transportation Infrastructure Act. If the state General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf enact the bill, which enjoys support from utilities, vehicle manufacturers, electric vehicle (EV) charging service providers, business associations, renewable energy companies, faith-based organizations, and environmental organizations, Pennsylvania will pave the way for a bold, modern, and clean transportation future.

HB 1446 mainly does two things:

  • It would establish a goal to expand transportation electrification – the use of electricity to power cars, buses, trains, etc. -- by at least 50 percent above 2030 market projections, statewide. The bill gives the governor six months to set a goal.

  • It would charge Pennsylvania’s electric utilities and EV charging service providers with creating and implementing plans to build out charging infrastructure where Pennsylvanians live, work, and play. These plans, which would be approved and overseen by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) would take local needs into account, explicitly including those of low-income communities and residents in multi-family housing.

You may be asking yourself: “Why should those things be more important than the Penguins, Eagles, and Villanova? We’ve already got three championships in the last year!” Well, two things. First, unlike many of its neighbors in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Pennsylvania lacks legally binding goals for raising the number of EVs on the Commonwealth’s roads or reducing greenhouse gas emissions across Pennsylvania’s economy. Such goals are critical to combatting climate change, driving economic growth around clean technologies, and helping asthmatic children, people with respiratory illnesses, and other vulnerable Pennsylvanians to breathe easier. This bill sends a clear signal that Pennsylvania is committed to electrifying and modernizing its transportation system.

Second, the state has fewer than 300 public EV charging stations. (All states have a long way to go, but Maryland, with a quarter of Pennsylvania’s land area and half its population – already has nearly 500, and New York has more than 600.) Virtually all EVs can handle a typical day’s driving needs on a single charge, but people still shy away from driving them over doubts that they’ll find enough places to charge at home, at work, or on the road.

HB 1446 addresses this barrier by giving electric utilities a role in developing a strategic, comprehensive charging network designed to make it easy to “go electric.” The idea is to supercharge EV usage in the Keystone state, where currently only around 12,000 EVs are on the road. The charging network would also ease the transition to medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles, such as transit buses and trucks. Diesel trucks and buses generate a disproportionate share of harmful emissions that harm human health – particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Pennsylvania is not alone in trying to expand transportation electrification. New Jersey has joined the Multi-State Zero Emissions Vehicle Task Force, which coordinates efforts to scale EV adoption to 3.3 million vehicles by 2025 in participating states, and is advancing similar legislation to drive utilities to support investments in EV charging infrastructure. Maryland utilities have developed proposals that would create the second-largest EV charging network in the U.S. In New York, a coalition of more than 40 groups is calling for utilities to get more involved in transportation electrification to complement existing state EV programs. And across the northeast, states involved in the Transportation & Climate Initiative have kicked off listening sessions to get input on how best to build a modern, clean transportation system that responds to people’s needs.

In 1913, Pennsylvania pioneered the first drive-in gas station, a development that catalyzed the growth of our modern transportation system. Today, HB 1446 represents a significant opportunity for a new milestone in the Commonwealth’s automotive history: modernizing the state’s infrastructure to enable more Pennsylvanians to drive the cleanest and most technologically advanced vehicles on the road. Now it’s up to the legislature and Governor Wolf to adopt the Pennsylvania Clean Transportation Infrastructure Act and create a cleaner, more equitable transportation future for all Pennsylvanians.

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