Are electric cars worse for the environment?

  If you believe the headlines, traditional automobiles are speeding toward a dead end. All those V8s, V6s and turbocharged vehicles we’ve grown to love will soon be replaced by squadrons of clean, whisper-quiet, all-electric vehicles. And if you believe the headlines, the environment will be much better off.

Policymakers at every level have done their part to push electric vehicles by creating a tankful of subsidies. All of this might make sense if electric vehicles, as their supporters claim, were truly likely to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change. But are they?

Here’s the comparison: using the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s most recent long-term forecasts for the number of new electric vehicles through 2050, estimating how much electricity they’d use, and then figuring out how much pollution that electricity would generate, looking at three key pollutants regulated under the U.S. Clean Air Act—sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOX), and particulates—as well as CO2 emissions, then comparing them to the emissions of new gasoline-powered vehicles, using the EIA’s “real world” miles-per-gallon forecast, rather than the higher CAFE standard values.

Widespread adoption of electric vehicles nationwide will likely increase air pollution compared with new internal combustion vehicles. You read that right: more electric cars and trucks will mean more pollution.

Here’s why…


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