Senator Barrasso Submits to the Subsidizers

This week brought the unfortunate news that Sen. Barrasso, normally a steady hand in energy policy discussions, has reportedly agreed to Democrat demands for new subsidies for expensive green dreams. The senator from Wyoming has apparently given the nod to include subsidies for electric vehicle charging stations in an infrastructure bill expected to be unveiled today. Left unclear is why, exactly, federal taxpayers should be on the hook for subsidizing the build-out of a retail network for a niche consumer product.

It should be obvious that subsidizing retail outlets for a particular product is not a proper role for government, but since we are here, let’s look at this in other contexts. Should federal taxpayers subsidize the construction of gas stations? After all, the vast majority of cars are gasoline-powered. Or speaking of niche products, should federal taxpayers pay for the construction of E85 pumps, which can dispense fuel with up to 85% ethanol? There are far more flex-fuel capable vehicles on the road than electric vehicles. Or more speculatively, compressed natural gas (CNG) is a potential transportation fuel, should federal taxpayers pay for that? Is there a limiting principle here? Drone ownership is growing rapidly, should the federal government subsidize charging stations for drones? Should the federal government subsidize the construction of Apple stores, too?

Subsidizing retail outlets for a particular product should be facially ridiculous. The rationale for federal funding for infrastructure is to provide the kinds of goods that everyone uses: roads, bridges, ports, maybe even stretching to cover sewerage or water treatment if local governments are not able to provide. The point isn’t to pay for private infrastructure. Amazon’s nationwide infrastructure of warehouses provides a valuable service to millions of Americans, but no one would suggest that the federal government should subsidize those buildings.

Other than electric vehicles being a fetish for environmental leftists, there is no reason for their charging infrastructure to qualify for special treatment. Electric vehicles are less than 2 percent of the vehicle fleet in the United States. Electric vehicles already receive a federal tax credit for purchase, preference in federal regulations like the fuel economy mandate, as well as extensive state and local level subsidies and mandates. The federal government under the Obama administration even forced Volkswagen to commit $2 billion to building electric vehicle infrastructure as part of a legal settlement.

Now Sen. Barrasso seems to have agreed to add on yet another layer of support for electric vehicles. The question has to be asked: when is enough, enough? Sen. Barrasso is on record in numerous other contexts opposing federal support for particular products, picking winners and losers. He has even introduced legislation to eliminate the electric vehicle tax credit. So why is he making an exception for electric vehicle charging stations?

Fundamentally, taxpayers should not be paying for private infrastructure. Many people enjoy the convenience of having a coffee shop on every corner, but it is not the federal government’s job to support the build-out of this caffeine infrastructure. Where there is a need for electric vehicle infrastructure, private companies can provide it. Electric vehicles should be no exception. Senator Barrasso shouldn’t let the Democrats inject their Green New Deal into the highway bill.

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