Congress should support Utah’s bold infrastructure investments

During the last few months, you have likely seen more electric vehicles (EVs) on Utah roads than ever before. In fact, you may even be one of those drivers who recently purchased one of the more than 60 different EVs, hybrids, or plug-in hybrid vehicles that are now available. 

According to recent data from Cox Automotive, electric vehicles accounted for 7.8% of all auto sales in the first quarter of 2021. That’s up almost 3% from the first quarter of 2020.  EV sales in the United States increased—in just one year—by a whopping 45%. In Utah alone, we have seen the number of registered EVs skyrocket from 1,646 in 2016 to 10,789 in 2021. That is an increase of 555%!

As our state faces another year of drought, and we continue to see evidence of a changing climate, these consumer changes are welcome news. Who can help but be heartened when we couple increasingly “clean” consumer tastes with bold commitments from corporations all across private industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality? In some cases, well-known companies have even promised to reach net zero emissions as early as 2030.

This is one of the reasons that during the 2020 legislative session I sponsored H.B. 259 (“Electric Vehicle Charging Network.”) This bill, signed into law by Governor Herbert, was an important step in developing a backbone of electric vehicle charging stations across Utah. It instructed the Utah Department of Transportation to work with private entities to lead in the creation of an electric vehicle charging plan, establishing a network along our public highways. This will help address “range anxiety” and meet future consumer demands.  

Although it was a step in the right direction, we cannot stop there. Utah is leading the way, but Utah cannot do it alone. Our state and our entire country need to develop more clean energy through a national technology infrastructure network. In fact, as a free market conservative, I believe that this market for clean energy is not being driven by the heavy hand of the government, but by consumer choices and private businesses supporting a healthy environment for generations to come.

From a distance, things in Washington may look a bit grim. I was disappointed that President Biden and Senate negotiators recently decided to end talks on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, which included grants to invest in and expand the national EV charging infrastructure.

However, there is still hope. I am optimistic when I see the thoughtful and bipartisan approach to difficult issues by leaders like Senator Mitt Romney. He was an integral part of the negotiations on the recent infrastructure bill, which ended up with bipartisan support and should be a model for negotiations on difficult issues in the future. I also believe discussions like these hold the promise for a holistic and forward-looking vision of infrastructure for Utah and for the rest of the country—one that aims to make healthy growth both economically and environmentally sustainable. 

I am also encouraged by Representative John Curtis creating the Conservative Climate Caucus and Representatives Burgess Owens, Chris Stewart, and Blake Moore all joining as inaugural members of the committee. Their leadership shows a commitment to finding free market solutions to climate change – that simultaneously grow the economy and control government growth. I wholeheartedly agree with the committee statement that “reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices.”

It is vital that America continues to follow Utah’s lead by helping plan for vital clean energy projects like a national EV charging infrastructure, which is essential to planning for consumer demand and keeping the United States as the global leader in technological innovation. 

Robert Spendlove represents Utah House District 49, and serves as the Chair of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.