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E-Mobility Access in Environmental Justice Communities

Electric Vehicle (EV) sales have seen a monumental rise in the past few years due to increased availability and financial incentives. In response to this shift, developers and parking lot owners are putting more effort toward providing EV charging stations for their patrons, allowing them to access the future of transportation and mobility. This is exemplified in the recent surge in electric vehicle charging installations in major hubs across the country.


The unfortunate reality of this is that for many communities across the U.S., referred to as Environmental Justice (EJ) communities, charging station installation deployments have lagged, becoming another barrier to entry for their citizens. As such, it is necessary for governments and utility providers to recognize these inequities and act on them as quickly as possible.


Environmental Justice communities are regions in the United States which are exposed to higher levels of pollution and disproportionate amounts of environmental hazards, and thus experience a lower quality of life. Their residents generally—though not always—live below the poverty line and have statistically higher rates of health issues, which are often directly related to their physical environment. Conditions like heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, and acute lower respiratory infections can all be linked to air pollution in these areas. These overburdened regions, specified as Disadvantaged Communities (DACs), carry the ever-growing weight of both the hazardous environment around them and socioeconomic stressors amplified by their surroundings.


These EJ communities can be found across the United States. Obvious examples are neighborhoods situated near an inner-city highway or an industrial complex. However, surprisingly, you might live or work in an Environmental Justice community and not even realize it. Areas may also qualify if there are chemical remnants from retired industrial practices, links to heavy agricultural runoff, or other forms of environmental hazards that seem inconsequential but can cause damage over time. These regions and their inhabitants can be subject to widespread pollutants, from their place of employment to the air in their homes and the water used by their families. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with other federal, state, and local organizations have put programs in place to identify these regions, promote the visibility of the issues they encounter, and address these inequities by creating more opportunities for eco-accessibility and e-mobility.


Statistically speaking, inhabitants of DACs are most often those who live in rental properties and frequently utilize public transportation, making it difficult for them to influence whether they could transition to electrically fueled vehicles in the first place. Currently, nearly 80% of EV drivers who own their vehicle charge it at home. Since many people in EJ communities do not own their homes, it increases their reliance on public infrastructures such as parking lots and garages to make parking and charging available to them. For those who do not own their own vehicle and rely on public transportation every day, it is additionally challenging for them to control their exposure to harmful transportation-related pollutants. This becomes especially relevant when you take into consideration the fact that the EPA has cited transportation as the largest national contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Many local delivery and at-home social service suppliers and their fleets are currently producing additional emissions in the very communities that they serve. Without the accessibility to EV fueling stations, organizations offering disability services, Meals on Wheels, and medical bussing are limited to traditional methods of transportation which expose their clients to further pollutants.


With these issues in mind, various utility providers nationwide have created incentives to increase access to EVs and EV charging in EJ community spaces. Thanks to this funding, multi-unit dwelling owners will now be able to install EV charging stations in their apartment parking lots or garages with minimal investment. There are additional incentives that can enable public transit companies with the ability to switch their bus fleets to electric more easily. This specific benefit is two-fold; it not only serves to modernize the technologies available to these communities but also reduces air pollution in the process, which affects their residents at a disproportionate rate. It has been estimated by the Environment America Research and Policy Center that electrifying fleet vehicles like buses could prevent up to two million tons of pollution each year. Utilizing these programs could serve as the next step in benefitting these underrepresented cities and reducing the pollutants that they are regularly exposed to.


Encouraging examples of financial incentive plans can already be seen in steps taken by the U.S. government to create programs like the Justice 40 Initiative, which allocates funding for DACs, public transit, and multi-unit dwellings (MUDs), enabling them to acquire electric vehicle charging stations. Many states have also begun opting to create programs for EV charging incentives. The Multi-Unit Dwelling (MUD) Electric Vehicle Program, which began in July 2022 in New Jersey, is a great example of a program that works to ensure funding for the hardware aspects of level 2 EV charger installations in disadvantaged communities. In other programs such as the PECO Make-Ready Program in Pennsylvania, up to 75% of utility upgrade and connection costs are covered in these regions, compared to 50% in non-EJ communities. Shedding light on the needs of these areas creates more visibility to issues of inequality and gives these communities access to more sustainable transportation alternatives.


These initiatives will benefit EJ communities by setting them up for the future, lessening the environmental hazards, and providing opportunities to access cleaner, cheaper energy alternatives. In addition, community programs that residents rely on, such as their local mail delivery services, emergency response vehicles, social service providers, and many others, could benefit from seeing their vehicles transitioned to electric, saving their cities money and the risks from harmful pollutants in the long run. The key to ensuring that EJ communities can reap the benefits of electric vehicles in their regions is accessibility. The more accessible these services are to disadvantaged communities, the faster they will have opportunities to move into future technologies that will improve their quality of life. EJ community-based incentive programs are how we can work to fight these inequities and ensure accessibility for a better tomorrow.

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