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Energy and Transportation departments team up to help states develop electric vehicle charging infrastructure

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

Two key federal agencies are joining forces to speed things along as billions in federal funding for a national network of electric vehicle charging stations goes out to states.

The Transportation and Energy departments are creating a joint office devoted to electric vehicle charging infrastructure on Tuesday, focused on helping states fast-track planning and construction of electric vehicle chargers along highways around the nation, as well as in hard-to-reach communities. The funding was part of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, passed by Congress last month.

In a statement to CNN, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called the new office a “significant milestone” in the administration’s overall electric vehicle goals.

“Not only are we helping to protect our planet from the dangers of climate change, but we are also facilitating a shift in the accessibility of electric vehicle charging and creating good-paying jobs that support the manufacturing of sustainable technologies right here at home,” Granholm said in a statement to CNN.

An administration official involved in the new office told CNN it is meant to be a “think tank” of sorts, helping state departments of transportation troubleshoot any issues as they arise, along with providing feedback and advice.

“The goal here is how do we bring the best expertise to the national EV charging program,” another Biden administration official said. “We work together quite a bit now, but we all recognize this is a huge opportunity in terms of EV charging.”

Vice President Kamala Harris first announced the joint venture on Monday morning, alongside Granholm and White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy. On Tuesday, Granholm and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will sign a memorandum of understanding to create the joint office.

“With this announcement by DOT and DOE, we are taking a big step forward in tackling our climate crisis by helping make the benefits of EVs more accessible for all Americans,” Buttigieg told CNN in a statement.

Together, the agencies will help advise and guide states who are starting to plan out and build networks of EV chargers. They will also work with public utility commissions in different states on improvements to electrical transmission and the grid, ensuring there’s enough power available to charge new cars.

Around $5 billion has already been allocated to states over the next five years to establish an interconnected network of charging stations. Large states like Texas and California received large chunks of money — $408 million and $384 million, respectively. States are eligible to apply for grants from an additional pool of $2.5 billion.

Expanding charging station infrastructure in the US is an important step to incentivize more drivers to switch from gas vehicles to electric.

Electric vehicless and plug-in hybrids accounted for just 2% of US vehicle production in 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As Biden has laid out an aggressive electric vehicle goal — that half the vehicles sold in the US will be electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids by 2030 — the administration is trying to quickly expand the number of available plugs on the nation’s roadways.

There are currently around 45,000 publicly available chargers in the US, prompting anxiety from some drivers that there simply aren’t enough places for them to recharge when driving from one place to another. Biden’s goal is to expand that to 500,000 chargers, both located on highway corridors and in communities — especially under-served and rural areas that don’t have much existing electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

“The investments we make in charging infrastructure today are going to be critical in the years ahead as more and more Americans make the shift to electric vehicles,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, in a statement.

Ultimately, state departments of transportation will have a large say to determine the location and types of chargers installed around the country. For instance, states will have to decide whether to purchase more expensive DC fast charges (which can charge a car to mostly full in 20-30 minutes) or cheaper L2 chargers (which can take hours to charge).

Administration officials told CNN that quelling anxiety about available chargers is an important step to getting more people to drive electric vehicles. Another key piece is lowering the cost of the vehicles themselves, which would happen through electric vehicle tax credits in Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Some states want to know when more electric funding will make its way to them from the federal government, federal officials told CNN.

“This is a very helpful investment, but a lot of folks are wanting the additional support that’s provided in the Build Back Better Act,” an administration official said.

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