House highway bill includes $4B for EV charging, alternative fueling stations

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday began debating a $547 billion highway bill that includes $4 billion for electric-vehicle charging stations and alternative fuel infrastructure.

The bill would create a formula-based program that would establish designated "Clean Corridors" to strategically place EV charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure along major national highways and the freight network in an effort to combat range anxiety.

The legislation authorizes $1 billion annually over four years for states to acquire and deploy this infrastructure along the designated corridors, and to maintain and share data about the network. 

A vehicle charges at the Electrify America electric vehicle charging station at the Meijer store in Roseville, Mich. on April 19, 2021.

States would be required to develop a plan laying out how they'll deploy their allocated funds. And if a state's plan isn't carried out, the federal government may claw back the money or award the funds to local governments within the state.

The bill text tasks Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's department with developing guidelines within 90 days of enactment for states and localities to deploy the charging and fueling stations along the relevant corridors. 

The broader legislation, dubbed the INVEST In America Act, is a five-year surface transportation reauthorization that reflects many of the priorities in President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan.

The bill is being marked up by the committee Wednesday and Thursday. Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, stressed the bill is not Biden's infrastructure proposal but the federal highway reauthorization legislation that needs to be done by October of next year.

The legislation includes other provisions meant to tackle climate change, including $4 billion for zero-emission buses, and over $8 billion for highway, rail and transit projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

"We can deal with climate change if we modernize. We can electrify the national highway network," DeFazio said at Wednesday's markup. "We can also accommodate the potential future of green hydrogen and hydrogen charging, particularly for bus fleets and others. ... You're dealing with climate change, creating jobs, and you're actually in the end saving money."

Republican lawmakers panned the bill as too expensive and a partisan "blue-state giveaway" that will be "dead-on-arrival" in the narrowly divided Senate. The EV charging station provision in particular drew criticism from GOP members who said it would be a waste of taxpayer money.

"In states like Mississippi, building electric vehicle infrastructure would not be the best use of federal transportation dollars," said Rep. Michael Guest, a Mississippi Republican.

"The demand for electric vehicles in Mississippi is extremely low, but this legislation would provide previously unheard of investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and take funding away from states that don't comply."

An electric vehicle charging station and Ford vehicles are displayed inside the automaker's Rouge Electric Vehicle Center for President Joe Biden's visit Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

It's unclear how the EV provisions might come together and move forward with legislation aiming to boost EV adoption being considered by other panels, such as the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and in the Senate.

Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction over legislation such as U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell's USA Electrify Forward Act, which would in part provide grants for large-scale projects to electrify the transportation sector and would require states to consider new means of encouraging deployment of EV charging stations.

Legislation by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, to raise consumer tax credits for electric vehicles to $12,500 for the next five years passed a Senate committee last month.

Biden's budget proposal, released last month, calls for at least $600 million in spending for electrifying the federal fleet. It also allocates $71 million in tax credits for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles; $394 million for EV charging station credits; $2 billion for electric school buses, and $795 million to "spark widespread adoption" of EVs. 

The highway bill considered Wednesday in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee envisions a national clearinghouse to track the use of autonomous vehicles, including research into the land use and social equity impacts of AVs, according to a bill summary.

The committee also incorporated 68 Michigan roads and transit projects into the federal highway bill, totaling nearly $210.5 million in earmarked spending requested by Michigan lawmakers. 

The legislation also calls for $3 billion to "reconnect" neighborhoods — often communities of color — that were divided by the construction of arterial highways decades ago.

An aerial photo of Interstate-375 and what used to be the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit on Monday, March 8, 2021.

The legislation authorizes $750 million annually over four years for the Transportation Department to award funding to remediate, retrofit or even remove transportation facilities to restore mobility or access within "disadvantaged and underserved communities."

The grants could go to state and local governments or metropolitan planning organizations, according to the legislation.

Interstate 375 in Detroit is an example of a highway that plowed through the predominantly Black districts of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in the name of urban renewal the 1950s and '60s. 

The construction of Lafayette Park and I-375 displaced more than 130,000 people and hundreds of drugstores, barbershops, restaurants, churches, banks and other institutions.

State and city officials have plans to alter the sunken freeway to raise it and transform it into a boulevard that's integrated with the community, lined with shops, restaurants, residences and pedestrians.