Green Guilt, Really? A Response to Slate’s Daniel Gross and the Concept of Green Privilege

, Senior policy and legal analyst | June 26, 2015, 11:32 am EDT
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Slate contributor Daniel Gross suffers from a bad case of green guilt. Not to be confused with Catholic or Jewish guilt, green guilt arises from green privilege, which Gross defines as having access to public benefits that “flow almost exclusively to individuals who are already well off and don’t need the help.”

The most glaring example of green privilege, Gross argues, is the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles (EVs). Not only are federal and state tax credits for EVs helping yuppies save money on fuel and reduce their emissions, but Gross’s town of Westport, Connecticut is allowing EV drivers to get preferential parking at train stations too. Oh the horror! Someone get this guy a gas guzzler and a crappy parking spot, stat!

Are green vehicles only for those who can afford Tesla's and Fisker's?

Are vehicles incentives only for those who can afford Tesla’s and Fisker’s? Source via Wikicommons

But let’s get real. If you can afford a $70,000 Tesla, you probably don’t need too much financial help. But the federal EV tax credit and the additional state incentives for EVs aren’t just helping the rich. They are helping drivers from a range of income brackets access advanced vehicles that cost less to fuel, lower transportation-related global warming emissions, and are a key solution for cutting our oil use in half in twenty years.

Putting Tesla aside for a moment, it is important to note that automakers are offering EVs priced more toward car buyers who don’t have huge vaults filled with gold coins. For example, the federal EV tax credit lowers the purchase price of the 2015 Nissan LEAF to $21,150, the 2015 Chevy Volt to $26,670, and the 2015 Kia Soul EV to $26,200. Considering that the 2014 average prices of a new midsize car like the LEAF or Volt and a small SUV like the Soul EV were $24,800 and $26,100, respectively, the post-tax credit prices of these EVs are in-line with what people are spending on vehicles on average anyway. So, I would argue that tax credits for EVs are helping middle-class drivers afford advanced clean vehicle tech – not just yuppies.

I agree with Gross that we need to talk about green privilege. Incentives and programs should be structured to help people from low to moderate economic backgrounds and should not be merely a handout to wealthy car buyers. We’re already seeing this sort of structuring happen in California, the leading state for EV adoption in the U.S. California’s Air Resources Board just approved policies that would provide additional incentives for EVs to lower income families and eliminate state rebates for California’s highest earners. This sort of progressive policy is exactly the kind that will continue to spur EV sales, and can serve as a model for other states and ultimately the federal government to follow.

The Golden State is also required to direct significant portions of the revenue generated from their cap and trade program to disadvantaged communities. This past fiscal year, for example, California spent more than $200 million to benefit these communities, including investing in electric trucks and buses.

As Gross notes, EV incentives and policies are helping create a market for this advanced vehicle technology, thus helping EVs reach economies of scale and lowering the price for everybody. But the many types of EVs for sale today are not just for the rich, and neither are the policies spurring their adoption. I wouldn’t classify owners of a $20,000 vehicle like the Nissan LEAF as rich, necessarily. Yet these drivers take the train and would like preferential parking too, right? It takes a small leap of faith to become an EV driver, but it’s a leap that needs taking; let’s reward it beyond a little help with the purchase price.

So, let’s ditch the green guilt, and work together to help the 42 percent of American drivers who could own an EV today access this critical oil saving technology.

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  • Mark Renburke

    My huckleberry – you responded in force again to a misleading anti-EV hit-piece…but the bad news is this “story” has been picked up by Business Insider and perhaps other sites. The truth will again be lost in the noise and mis-information.

    Beside misleading about the tax credit, the author (Mr. Gross) makes several factual errors and key omission in order to support his “green privilege” thesis.

    First of all, he claims the Prius Plug In gets a $7,500 tax credit (either to buyer or off the lease; clearly he leased) That’s incorrect, it only gets $2,500 based on its smaller battery size…but his claim, whether due to poor research or intentional misleading, will foment false outrage that a vehicle with such a low EV range gets such a large credit.

    Much more seriously misleading is his other claim:

    “that the state of Connecticut…has a pool of $800,000 to give to state residents…(Tesla doesn’t have any stores in Connecticut yet.)…In essence, then, my fellow residents were offering to bear a portion of the comparatively higher cost…”

    There are two key factual omissions from his misleading statements:

    1) The fund being used for the state “CHEAPR” EV rebate is NOT tax payer or resident funds; rather it “comes from money made available to the state as a condition of the merger of Northeast Utilities and NSTAR to form Eversource Energy” So it’s VERY misleading for Mr. Gross to claim that “fellow residents” are paying for part of someone’s EV is grossly misleading,

    2) Omitted from his comments is the fact the cars with MSRP over $60k are NOT eligible for the CT up to $3000 rebate. So all of Tesla’s current models are not even eligible for it.But including this info would put a serious dent in the “green privilege” myth, so again, either by incompetence or intention. Mr. Gross excludes it.

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  • Carlton

    This big subsidy is like food stamps for the rich…about 5 years worth of food stamps…and everybody knows about it now. Oh lord, I would be embarrassed to be seen parking in one of those gaudy green vehicle spaces. They may as well have strobe lights and loud music, maybe heralding trumpets. How smug! Let’s make sure everyone knows I have been sucking rich subsidy off the teat of big government. Plus, how many of those parking places will be roped off in middle class neighborhoods? How many in the inner city neighborhoods? This is too much class conscience, too much in everyone’s face. Recipients of corporate welfare aren’t singled out and stigmatized in this fashion, why should wealthy buyers of EVs be subjected to such scrutiny? A lot of people stopped buying Hummers because of the stigma, remember? Now we’re setting up owners of environmentally friendly vehicles for similar sneering mistreatment.

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    You should also consider that Carbon neutral synthetic hydrocarbon replacements for gasoline and Diesel oil might be more effective ways to reduce petroleum use and they would not require the replacement of our transportation capital, investment in large changes in vehicle manufacturing capital, or increases in battery production that might not be possible.

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