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Taking Tennessee Electric with a Private Vehicle Charging Market: An EV Infrastructure Policy for Conservative States

Posted by on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 in Notes, Volume 25, Volume 25, Issue 3.

Claire Bonvillain | 25 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 569 (2023).

The transition from petroleum to electricity as a fuel source for vehicles is an essential step in the effort to stop harmful climate change. The transportation sector currently produces more carbon emissions in the United States than any other area. Recognizing this, the federal government and several states have recently devoted resources to facilitating the transition to large-scale electric vehicle (EV) use. In particular, there must be a nationwide network of EV charging infrastructure so that EV drivers can confidently drive EVs anywhere. Much of the legal research on increasing the number of EV charging facilities and consumer EV purchases focuses on states and areas where support of EVs is more likely, dismissing conservative-leaning Southeastern states, some Midwestern states, and rural areas as places where people “do not recognize climate change as a problem.” However, it is not enough to successfully prepare for and achieve mass EV adoption in liberal states. To sufficiently reduce US carbon emissions, the transition to EV use must be widespread across all states and regions, types of communities, and demographics. If environmentalists want to reduce emissions as much as possible in today’s polarized political environment, they must take a new approach to creating policy solutions. Instead of pushing large-scale, public EV projects across the board, policy makers should tailor state-level policy proposals that specifically appeal to conservative-leaning states. They should incorporate conservatives’ preferred instrument choices—namely, private businesses—as the drivers of EV infrastructure growth. While some environmentalists may prefer government-driven climate action, a privatized system of EV charging infrastructure will be more likely and more easily adopted by both governments and consumers in conservative states. In the context of climate change, decarbonizing the transportation sector as quickly as possible is more important than the policy tool used to do it; therefore, choosing a politically feasible policy is the best strategy.

With this approach in mind, this Note proposes specific policies that enable and support the growth of privately owned charging station businesses within the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) region. Using Tennessee as a case study, this Note first explains how the TVA Act and state law would grant TVA a monopoly on the EV charging market in Tennessee. It then proposes changes to state and federal law that could remove the legal barriers to privately owned charging station businesses in the TVA region. Lastly, this Note argues that allowing a private EV charging market will increase conservative Tennessee’s EV charging capabilities and encourage the purchase of EVs by Tennessee consumers.

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