While the nation grapples with consumer costs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks to add to that strain. Through its recently proposed tailpipe emissions rules, which stand alongside stringent electric vehicle (EV) mandates across the country, auto dealers will be required to have an inventory built up of more than one-third EVs.
These proposed rules may seem like a step forward in the fight against climate change. However, they overlook the unique challenges faced by rural communities such as ours. A mandate for passenger vehicles to go electric, such as 2021’s Clean Cars law, is problematic enough, but the EPA’s extension of this requirement to heavy-duty vehicles, such as big rigs and farm equipment, is another animal entirely.
Transportation is the lifeblood of our industries. Every day, trucks and tractor-trailers are used for hauling, processing and delivering forest products, as well as the daily operations of our farms. The proposed EV mandates do not consider the practicality of electric big rigs and farm equipment, nor the infrastructure required to support them.
As a lifelong resident of Waverly, I am a witness to the relentless effort and commitment required to maintain our agricultural and forestry industries, which are integral to the economy of the commonwealth. However, these recent proposals to boost EV adoption threaten to disrupt the delicate balance of our industries and way of life.
Our region, like many rural areas, suffers from a lack of EV charging stations. According to a map from the U.S. Department of Energy, the nearest public charging stations from Waverly, in any direction, are at least 20-40 miles away. The infrastructure required to support a fleet of electric vehicles simply does not exist here, and it costs an average of $1,200 to $2,500 to install chargers on your own property.
In addition to the costs of new vehicles and charging infrastructure, we would also face a shortage of professionals able to service these vehicles.
Imagine the challenges posed by a breakdown during a haul. With our current diesel-powered vehicles, a local mechanic can usually get us back on the road quickly. But with an electric vehicle, we could be stranded hours from the nearest service center, with a load of perishable goods, or even livestock, in the back.
Lawmakers should keep in mind that agriculture and forestry, combined, are Virginia’s number one industry, and any policy changes that could potentially disrupt them should not be made lightly.
While we all agree on the importance of reducing emissions and combating climate change, the proposed EV mandates won’t work unless they work for all of us. These policies suffer from a huge blind spot, as they don’t consider the unique challenges faced by a large part of our state.
We need a more balanced approach, one that considers the needs and limitations of all sectors and regions. We need to invest in renewable energy and cleaner fuels for our existing vehicles and improve the efficiency of our current operations. We need to ensure that any transition to electric vehicles is gradual, affordable, and supported by the necessary infrastructure. An abrupt change caused by the implementation of the proposed mandates would create chaos and confusion for our farmers and consumers who have relied heavily on the utility of internal combustion engine vehicles.
As vice chair of the Sussex Board of Supervisors, I am committed to advocating for the needs of our community. Our policymakers should reconsider these mandates and work with their constituents who would be directly impacted to find practical, sustainable solutions that support our state’s industries and lifestyles.
We are not against progress, but progress should not come at the expense of our livelihoods.
Susan Seward is the vice chair of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors.