Missouri Republicans want to ban local mandates on electric car charging stations
A Missouri House committee heard testimony on legislation that would require cities and counties to pay for electric vehicle chargers in order to mandate businesses install them. The proposal is backed by fossil fuel interests and groups like the Missouri Retailers Association.
Requiring business owners to install electric vehicle chargers is an infringement on their freedoms and a mandate they can’t afford, members of a Missouri House committee argued Wednesday.
Primarily Republican lawmakers voiced support during a committee hearing on legislation that would require cities and counties to pay for electric vehicle chargers in order to mandate businesses install them. Even then, they could only mandate five spots, regardless of the size of the lot.
“We’ve gotten the cart before the horse in many, many ways,” said Republican Rep. Jim Murphy, from St. Louis County, who is sponsoring the bill. “When we look at electric vehicles, are they the future? Maybe. Probably. But not assuredly.”
Murphy introduced similar legislation last year after St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis passed legislation to require businesses install chargers in some situations — such as when they redo parking lots or expand.
“What we’re doing now is using building codes to push political agendas, and what this is — really it’s a new green deal piece of legislation to force people into something that they really can’t afford to do,” Murphy said.
Murphy remarked at how many parking spaces are “tied up” for handicap-accessible parking, military personnel, curbside pickup and pregnant women.
“If I put in 10 or 12 or 15 more spots that have electric charging stations and that parking lot is full and you pull in in your gas-guzzling pickup truck, are you going to park in that spot anyway?” Murphy said. “Is there going to be fistfights?”
Committee members and lobbyists representing business and fossil fuel interests were largely in agreement that the free market should determine the transition to electric vehicles. If businesses want to install chargers, a lobbyist for grocery stores and retailers said, that should be their decision.
“We can’t charge what it costs per hour to pay for these. It is very expensive,” said David Overfelt, who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Missouri Retailers Association, the Missouri Grocers Association and the Missouri Tire Industry Association.
In a committee discussion on the bill, legislators remarked that the government did not require businesses to install gas pumps to accommodate conventional vehicles and argued with environmental advocates who spoke against the bill.
Jack Meinzenbach, testifying for the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, argued the bill would prevent local governments from encouraging enough chargers as more affordable electric vehicle models hit the market and it’s not just Teslas on the road.
“I don’t like the fact that you are taking away local control from cities and counties,” he told the committee. “That’s what you guys have been doing for years.”
Meinzenbach said he bought a Tesla four years ago and only goes to hotels, restaurants and shopping centers that have chargers. He said a grocery store in Columbia that installed chargers has seen a surge in its business.
“And those businesses that have them — they put them in at their own expense,” replied Republican Rep. Darin Chappell, of Rogersville.
He went on: “And then your experience is that those businesses have seen an uptick in their business because of that. So is it your basic testimony that the free market does indeed work?”
Meinzenbach said it does in places like Columbia.
“But in rural areas? They need help,” he said.
Chappell said his district is rural and asked: “How much time do you drive your Tesla in the rural areas?”
Meinzenbach said he drives to Springfield and Joplin.
“So we’re good. We’re good. Even down in the hills, we’ve still got electricity — we’ve had electricity for a while,” Chappell said.
Meinzenbach asked how many people in Chappell’s district have bought electric vehicles, and Chappell said that could be a philosophical decision.
“They’re not going to buy one if they can’t plug it in,” Meinzenbach said.
Chappell replied: “We may not buy them anyway.”
Earlier in the discussion, Chappell opined on the way electronics manufacturers change chargers to make people keep buying new ones. He worried about the same in electric vehicle charging technology.
“It seems to me rather presumptuous not only to assume that electric vehicles will be the future, but that this version will be the future,” he said. “I’m just old enough that I remember when the first question that they asked you at the filling station was, ‘regular or unleaded?’”
He went on to say that lead as an additive in fuel has fallen away — “not because government stepped in and imposed it as such” but that the market bore it out.
Lead is a neurotoxin, and its inclusion in gasoline for most of the 20th century polluted the air and poisoned generations of children, lowering average IQs and causing ADHD and other issues.
The government did, in fact, ban lead in gasoline. The Environmental Protection Agency began phasing it out in the 1970s. It was fully banned in the late 1990s.
Lead poisoning among children plummeted as the prevalence of leaded gasoline fell over the last decades of the 20th century.
And even without lead, Meinzenbach said pollution from gasoline-powered vehicles is a public health threat.
This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.