Electrified Transportation’s Big Week in Washington

While lawmakers were approving billions of dollars to entice auto buyers into moderate fuel-efficiency progress this week, the Obama administration was ramping up its push for electrified transportation.

gm_chevy_volt_b001.jpgThe Chevy Volt (Photo: TreeHugger)
The president awarded $2.4 billion in grants to electric battery companies on Wednesday, with more than half of General Motors' $241 million share going to the hyped Chevy Volt.

Johnson Controls, which has worked on battery packs for Ford's "Transit Connect" hybrid van and other plug-in vehicles, was the biggest grant winner at nearly $300 million. 

The electrification elation continued yesterday in the Senate, where Department of Energy (DoE) assistant secretary David Sandalow told environment committee members that half the nation's autos could be run on electricity within 20 years without having to build a new power plant.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff echoed the sentiment: "If we want to move off of foreign oil, we have to electrify that transportation system and ensure that we have the clean, reliable electric energy to provide that energy for the transportation system," he testified.

Of course, generating clean electricity free of new power plants would be impossible without expanding the use of wind and solar, not to mention achieving significant efficiency savings from the existing grid -- a goal that's about to receive the next wave of economic stimulus money from the DoE.

The environmental merits of electric vehicles are the subject of much debate among sustainability advocates, but the need for clean power affects transit and inter-city passenger rail on a substantial level, as Yonah Freemark has observed.

In addition, a Georgia Institute of Technology study released earlier this year found that a comprehensive approach integrating hybrid vehicles and local land-use reform has the potential to maximize carbon-emissions reductions.

Could the Obama administration's focus on electrified transport ultimately become a boon in the fight against climate change? Much depends on whether emissions limits can actually win approval in the Senate this fall.