Environmental justice and job security key to transition to electric vehicles, experts say
A shift to electric vehicle manufacturing could create thousands of new jobs for Indiana, while switching to zero-emission vehicles could bring billions of dollars in public health benefits, new studies show.
But with all this potential comes very big challenges.
Auto industry workers fear the transition will leave them jobless if they are not properly trained.
Environmental experts say manufacturers need to find a more holistic approach that moves away from a legacy of pollution that disproportionately affects low-income and minority neighborhoods.
State and local authorities, meanwhile, must act quickly to follow neighboring states such as Michigan and Ohio in the race to capitalize on new opportunities that could transform Indiana’s economy and environment.
“We are really at a crossroads when it comes to major investments in the state,” said State Sen. JD Ford. “We’re not going to see another opportunity on EV infrastructure like we have now.”
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The MIT Roosevelt Project recently released its study of the future of the auto industry as it transitions to electric vehicles and found that Indiana, Michigan and Ohio could see 3.1 million new jobs – including 265,000 in manufacturing – over the next 30 years if the right federal government policies are put in place.
Other employment sectors that would also benefit include dealerships, repair and maintenance, and auto parts stores.
“With a strong, worker-friendly policy framework in response to the climate crisis, electrification of the motor vehicle sector could bring an exciting new era of shared prosperity to communities in the industrial heartland,” said David Foster of the MIT Project. Roosevelt, in a statement.
Governor Eric Holcomb and the state legislature recently formed an electric vehicle production commission to bring in Indiana experts to formulate a way forward.
Ford, an Indianapolis Democrat who serves on the commission, said he hopes the group can offer policy recommendations in a final report within about a year.
Michigan and Ohio are light years ahead of Indiana in electric vehicle production, Ford said. With federal funding coming now, he said, Indiana needs to get serious about defining the state’s role in the new industry.
“Indiana will receive $100 million for electric vehicle charging, with more available in grants,” Ford said. “The work we do is essential.”
The money Ford mentioned is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that the US Congress passed in November.
Benefits and pitfalls for public health
The Roosevelt Project report released just ahead of another study by the American Lung Association, which found that a transition to zero-emission vehicles in Indiana would generate $36.8 billion in public health benefits.
Transportation is the biggest contributor to air pollution and climate change, Tiffany Nichols, the association’s advocacy director, said in a statement. Fuel burning is also “a major contributor” to the health burden in the United States, according to the report, and going to zero emissions would reduce harmful pollutants like greenhouse gases.
“We need Indiana leaders to act to implement equitable policies and invest in the transition to clean air,” Nichols said.
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The cumulative health benefits of Hoosiers by 2050 include averting more than 3,000 premature deaths, according to the study. The lung association used statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate the mortality.
While reducing pollution rates would benefit all Americans, the study notes that current emissions are also creating public health and environmental disparities in low-income communities and communities of color.
Jalonne White-Newsome, founder and CEO of Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, participated in the MIT study with a focus on how these communities are being left behind.
The transition to electric vehicles is not just about the importance of jobs and making new vehicles available to society, she said. The process must also consider the effect this transition will have on physical environments as well as people’s health.
“The thing is, there aren’t many black and brown people represented in the spaces and at the table of organizations and in leadership positions in local and state governments, and that’s where the problem lies. “, said White-Newsome. .
The transition to zero-emission transport should not move forward until it has addressed legacy pollution and created an equitable future for all, she said.
This work begins with collecting data related to health outcomes experienced by local populations, she said.
“We also need data on transport needs. How many of these public transportation options are available to low-income communities and communities of color? Are there adequate bus lines running on clean energy? This is the kind of granular data we need to make the best decisions,” White-Newsome said.
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Public health is a key selling point for this transition, Senator Ford said. The transition will reduce air emissions, he said, which would be a huge benefit for Hoosiers. But the new commission has yet to have conversations about public health and environmental implications in its first meetings.
“I really think it’s something we need to consider and the goal of this EV commission is to look at everything in its totality on how it will affect and affect the state,” Ford said. “I think that could be a potential topic for the commission to consider.”
The commission is meeting again on April 8, and Ford said that now that the legislative session is over, meetings will be held more often.
Train the workforce
While Ohio and Michigan are moving much faster than Indiana on the transition to electric vehicles, Ford said jobs in the state would also compete for pay and Hoosiers would benefit from the technology.
“It’s one thing to build a factory, but if you don’t have workers to work with, that’s a huge sticking point,” the state senator said. “How are we going to increase our numbers? There are so many tracks in front of us to talk about it.
David Konisky, a professor at Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, studied labor issues for the MIT report.
He and his colleagues set out to understand how people in the communities and those working in the industry would be affected.
“The transition to electric vehicles has potentially huge ramifications for those working in auto factories and communities,” Konisky said. “Our goal was to talk with them and find out their perceptions of the transition.”
A big takeaway: there is a lot of anxiety and fear.
“They see huge announcements or commitments that automakers are making to quickly transition to electric vehicles, and they worry about what that means for them, their families, and their communities,” Konisky said. “The impending disaster for them is very important.”
Workers fear losing their jobs or not being selected for the training needed to work in electric vehicle factories. Some have spent most of their lives working for these companies, Konisky said, and they feel they may be left behind in the transition.
However, there was optimism in the ranks of managers or community leaders.
“These people saw the changes that were happening as opportunities for communities and a chance to revitalize the economy and be part of the future economy where electric vehicles are a big part of the success,” Konisky said.
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Still, Konisky and his fellow researchers said workers believed they deserved to build the next car, and that was going to be taken away from them during a transition.
Konisky and his team arrive at much the same conclusion that White-Newsome did in his work: include everyone in the transition.
“There is much at stake for workers and communities, in terms of policy response, with serious implications for public trust and social and economic inclusion,” the IU report states. “At this critical time, the voices of those most affected by the coming transition should be at the forefront in discussions about policy change.”
The IndyStar Environmental Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the non-profit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.