Iowa attorney general, councilman push for more electric vehicles

By: - July 15, 2021 12:28 pm

The Des Moines area transit agency, DART, is experimenting with electric buses. (Photo courtesy of DART)

The federal government should set pollution standards that would encourage the proliferation of electric vehicles, Iowa officials and a national physicians’ group said Thursday. 

Physicians for Social Responsibility arranged a news conference featuring Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Des Moines City Councilman Josh Mandelbaum and others.

Dr. Maureen McCue, coordinator of the Iowa chapter of the physicians organization, called for four main actions by the federal government: 

  • Setting tougher clean air standards for combustion-engine vehicles
  • Controlling pollution from heavy duty trucks by setting emission limits
  • Strengthening the market for electric vehicles
  • Supporting the addition of electric-vehicle charging stations and related infrastructure 

McCue said transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions driving climate change. Her organization wants to see a switch to electric vehicles to protect public health and to fight climate change.

‘No silver bullet’

“Just as there’s no silver bullet for economic recovery, there’s no single solution to solving air pollution,  public health (issues) or climate change. Thus we have to take several actions simultaneously to support the economy while eliminating our various sources of pollution. We understand these efforts often represent tensions between economic benefits, jobs and public health,” McCue said during an online news conference.

“These actions can move not only Des Moines and Iowa forward but our nation forward to modernize our transportation sector” and improve the economy by adding jobs, she added.

Mandelbaum, who is senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the city of Des Moines now has 18 electric vehicles, and studies electric options every time a new vehicle is needed. While electric versions of garbage trucks and other heavy equipment aren’t on the market yet, the city has worked with Ames-based Renewable Energy Group to burn more biodiesel in the trucks, reducing emissions. 

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, or DART, is experimenting with electric buses, Mandelbaum added.

Building on Iowa’s alternative energy

Miller said he recently visited Reno, Nevada and San Francisco, California, where temperatures topping 100 degrees had him thinking about climate change. 

Iowa could build on its growing use of wind energy by also promoting electric vehicles to replace engines burning fossil fuels, the attorney general noted.

“It becomes more and more important to make huge progress in the area of transportation,” Miller, a Democrat, said. 

As is the case with other alternative energy industries, the switch to electric vehicles will help the economy, Miller said.

“There’s an enormous possibility for jobs in terms of electric cars and we really need to keep that in mind,” Miller said. “I would appeal to all Iowans to take climate change seriously.”

Iowa in recent years has had more severe weather events — including floods, drought and a derecho — which is in line with climate change predictions. Miller said he fears extensive damage to Iowa’s hallmark agriculture industry if climate change doesn’t ease.

President Joe Biden considers addressing climate change one of his top priorities. Biden has said the construction of electric vehicles will provide some of the millions of jobs he expects to be created as the nation address climate change. 

While Iowa’s nation-leading ethanol industry worries about its future, U.S. automakers are moving steadily toward electric vehicles, including an electric version of Ford’s popular F-150 pickup.

State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, said the issue combines concerns about climate change and health: “Whether we’re talking about air quality or extreme weather, there’s a direct link between our transportation infrastructure and the health of our constituents.”

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.