Switching to Electric Vehicles Could Save State $4B by 2050

Breaking transportation sector of the gasoline habit could also reduce asthma attacks, visits to emergency rooms, and premature deaths

electric charging station
By 2050, the state could avoid more than $4 billion in healthcare and climate costs — the impacts of rising sea levels, more intense storms, and longer droughts — if it can convince motorists to switch to electric vehicles, according to a new report examining the impacts of petroleum-based transportation by passenger vehicles.

Nationwide, the health benefits from reducing pollution from passenger cars fueled by gasoline could grow to $20 billion a year by 2050, according to a study by the American Lung Association of California. Another $13 billion in reduced climate costs could occur.

The study is likely to bolster the hopes of clean-energy advocates who are pressing the state to do more to usher in electric or zero-emission vehicles as a replacement for the conventional gasoline-fueled car.

The health benefits from making that happen would include fewer asthma attacks and emergency room visits, along with a decline in premature deaths attributed to vehicle emissions that cause particulate pollution and smog, the report argued.

By some accounts, New Jersey is lagging behind other states in the Northeast, which all have agreed to adopted a California program that mandates that an increasing percentage of passenger vehicles must be zero emission. The program is considered a crucial component of the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions among the states participating in the California program, accounting for approximately 49 percent of carbon pollution, according to the report.

New Jersey has only about 400 public charging stations — far fewer than some neighboring states — and it has fewer tax incentives aimed at encouraging the building of a charging infrastructure.

The study projected the health and climate costs associated with pollution from passenger vehicles in 2015 at $37 billion nationwide. In New Jersey, those costs were estimated to run $4.6 billion.

“Air pollution makes people sick and it can even kill,’’ said Norman Edelman, a doctor and senior scientific adviser to the American Lung Association. “Emissions from the tailpipes of cars includes pollutants that trigger asthma attacks, cause lung cancer, and shorten life.’’

The reduced healthcare costs and benefits from avoided climate expenses is based on the assumption that 100 percent of the new cars sold in 2050 are zero-emission vehicles and approximately 65 percent of the passenger vehicle fleet are zero-emission cars.

That assumption is optimistic given slow sales of electric vehicles to date, but with as many as 20 models about to be offered by auto manufacturers and extended mileage ranges, the report’s authors said the goals can be achieved.

“We do believe we’re moving forward with deployment of ZEVs,’’ said Will Barrett, a senor policy manager for the association’s California branch. “Automakers will have to step up their efforts to sell ZEVs.’’

For the average driver, every tank of gas burned costs $18.42 in health and climate costs,’’ said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director of air quality and climate change for the California association. “Relying almost exclusively on oil for transportation hurts our air, our health, and our environment.’’