This piece is part of our Student Blog Series, featuring posts on climate, clean energy, and environmental issues from the State Impact Center’s legal interns and other students working with the Center.
One of the principal obstacles to electric vehicle (EV) adoption in the United States is the lack of available charging infrastructure throughout the country. This is why President Biden’s 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides $5 billion through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program to support EV infrastructure nationwide, signals an important step for America’s transition into cleaner roadways. Pending U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Energy approval, this program allows each state, D.C., and Puerto Rico to have up to 80% of their charging station construction and maintenance covered. Approval is contingent on compliance with the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration guidelines, which require each charging station to be within fifty miles of another station along “Alternative Fuel Corridors”, to be within one mile of the interstate, and to be able to simultaneously charge at least four vehicles at 150 kW, among other stipulations. After the five-year mark in the NEVI program, funding recipients will also have to manage the stations independently.
This blog post will focus on two states, New York and Wyoming, to discuss potential obstacles to building out EV infrastructure with NEVI program funding. While New York seems to have the technology and the public support necessary to successfully implement this program, accessibility gaps might leave some communities behind. Meanwhile, concerns about the economic viability of charging stations in Wyoming and a subsequent halt on building NEVI-compliant infrastructure have cast doubt over whether America’s roads will ever be fully electrified.
New York has much of the necessary infrastructure required for a relatively smooth transition into EV technology and a NEVI plan that aligns with federal goals. New York’s NEVI plan focuses on ensuring that its established Alternative Fuel Corridors comply with NEVI’s accessibility guidelines. This means building more charging stations in new areas with greater capacities in order to ensure that EV drivers across the state can access this technology. Many of these stations will be placed along state borders to facilitate interstate travel and near state-designated and federally-designated disadvantaged communities. For example, the EVolve NY program is planning on building new NEVI-compliant stations near the Allegheny and St. Regis Mohawk Reservations, as well as a station near Washington Heights and Highbridge in New York City. All of these communities are deemed disadvantaged by the state and federal governments. Groups like the BlueGreen Alliance and the African American Mayors Association (of which Mayor Adams of New York and Mayor Brown of Buffalo are members) have praised the NEVI program for promoting equity in its commitment to workers and compliance with the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Pledge. But there are still many disadvantaged communities throughout the state without access to nearby stations. Therefore, time will tell if New York’s EV transition is one that includes everyone. Another issue New York may encounter on the road to EV adoption is difficulty placing and locating these stations. On that note, EV charging ports may be located in public parking lots or garages, and in the city, where there is not a lot of space for this infrastructure, they may even be found on the sides of streets. Websites like that of the New York Department of Transportation provide maps detailing the location and charging capacities of new and existing stations, so as this infrastructure expands drivers can consult these resources to find the station most convenient for them.
Unlike New York, Wyoming is a large but wholly rural state with a small population and one of the lowest EV adoption rates in the country. Even with the NEVI program in place, that adoption rate is unlikely to change. In response to a Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) survey, just under half of the 217 Wyomingite respondents stated that they were not interested in any charging infrastructure, and 75% percent stated that they were not interested in contributing to the cost of this infrastructure. Consequently, the WYDOT worries that with so little interest in EVs, low demand would drive NEVI-compliant stations out of business once federal support runs out. In response to these concerns, Wyoming proposed eleven exceptions to the NEVI requirements that focus new construction around major tourist destinations (like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks) and the Wind River Indian Reservation of the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Tribes. However, eight of these proposed exceptions were rejected due to insufficient justification, and the Cowboy State has since refused to start building many new stations. As a result, EV drivers are now left with charging gaps on three interstate highways going through Wyoming, which could prove detrimental to the Biden Administration’s nationwide EV accessibility goals.
So, what can be done? NEVI’s rules hold that if state governments reject their funding, the money will then go to local governments, but with minimal interest in EVs across Wyoming, this may not resolve the issue. Consequently, private funding might be the only way Wyoming’s roads get energized, but with the economic challenges outlined above, this funding will likely be difficult to find. Additionally, although representatives from the Wyoming government and the Biden administration have been discussing how to build out charging stations in a way that works for everyone, the result of these discussions remains unclear.
One year after the NEVI program was established, states that already have NEVI-compliant infrastructure in place, like New York, are seeing a fairly straightforward transition into an EV-centered road system. However, with gaps in charging station access, not everyone is getting equal access to the technology. Meanwhile, states with rural characteristics and minimal EV adoption, like Wyoming, are struggling to navigate the road ahead. Over the next few months, it will be interesting to see how New York and other states improve EV accessibility for disadvantaged communities, and how negotiations between Wyoming and the federal government over NEVI program implementation unfold. If there is one thing to be sure, with the significant amount of funding flowing into this infrastructure, America’s roadways are on the fast track to charge up like never before.