Putting the family back in the driver’s seat | WORLD
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Putting the family back in the driver’s seat

A House bill would stop the EPA’s misguided electric vehicle mandate

A Nissan Leaf charges at a recharge station in Denver. Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski

Putting the family back in the driver’s seat
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This week, the United States House of Representatives voted to block a proposed environmental regulation from the Biden administration that could have huge unintended consequences for American families.

Under Biden, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to implement a partial ban on gas-powered vehicles. The proposed rule would require that two-thirds of new vehicles sold in the United States have no tailpipe emissions by 2032. Even low-emission hybrid vehicles—long pushed by progressives as a responsible alternative to gas-guzzlers—would find themselves banned under the rule. And as many have warned, the odds are extremely unlikely that the United States will be able to build enough charging stations to service all of these all-electric vehicles before the next decade.

Much of the debate over the proposed rule is about the logistics and costs of transitioning to these vehicles versus anticipated benefits the transition will bring, such as less pollution and lower fuel costs. But none of the EPA’s 263 page justification for implementing this rule ever once considers its potential impact on families, despite the clear lessons to be learned from relevant research on car seat laws.

Car seat laws are supposed to be about child safety, plain and simple. But it turns out they function as unintentional “contraception.” While most families want to have more than two children, these laws make it less feasible. Families often have to choose between an expensive vehicle upgrade or having fewer children than they hoped, because many vehicles are not capable of fitting three car seats in the back row. According to researchers, car seat laws have resulted in somewhere around 150,000 fewer births since 1980. By contrast, we can charitably assume that these seat belt laws have saved as many as 5,000 lives in the same amount of time. That is: for every life that was saved, three hundred children were never born as a result of these laws.

The poet Robert Burns warned that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Nothing could be more laudable than policies aimed at protecting children, and no one could ever convincingly argue that a child’s life is worth less than the car seats mandated by laws in every state in the country. Yet even these “best laid plans” that directly save scores of children’s lives every year have invisible costs that run much higher than a car seat. And no one seems to have thought about designing a safe car seat that would allow for three children in the back seat.

It’s not hard to imagine that electric vehicle mandates could have negative impacts on families.

But if Biden’s electric vehicle mandate remains in place, it could quickly eclipse car seat laws in its negative effects on family life and birth rates. For example, there are serious differences between gas- and electric-powered vehicles. The average drive range of an electric vehicle is about half that of its gas-powered alternative. Less range means more stops, which mean more time waiting with impatient young children on your commute or road trip. And each of those stops will be longer. Rather than a couple minutes to refuel on gas, families will have to wait hours to recharge. Car trips and road stops are already hard enough on young families; this rule could make them agony.

If car seat laws can drive away hundreds of thousands of potential new lives, it’s not hard to imagine that electric vehicle mandates could have negative impacts on families as well, whether by discouraging couples from fruitful multiplication—being stuck in a car with screaming infants could surely do that!—or dissuading families from going on long road trips to visit and care for extended family and friends.

Because we know that the family is a cure for so much of the isolation and hyperindividualism that plagues our country, administrative rules that make it harder to form and sustain families demand far more scrutiny from policymakers. While the vote against the rule in the House this week succeeded, it now moves over to the Senate, where, all too often, bills go to die.

But this critical effort need not die. While anything touching environmental policy typically gets locked into tired left-right political struggles, there is a small sliver of hope that this issue could be different. Despite benighted voting on other critical moral matters, some Democrats have been reexamining broader cultural issues that bear closely on the family’s wellbeing, Senator Chris Murphy foremost among them. And the Brookings Institution's Richard Reeves has spurred renewed interest on the left in considering how boys are being left behind, and other critical family matters that used to be treated as nothing more than ‘conservative talking points.’

However, no matter the truth of our talking points, conservatives won’t succeed in rolling back harmful policies like the EPA mandate until we learn once again to think and speak with moral clarity. All the abstract statistics about GDP and greenhouse gases could only ever matter insofar as they hint at the kind of world we hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Surely, they deserve better.

John Schweiker Shelton

John Shelton is the policy director for Advancing American Freedom. He received degrees from Duke Divinity School and the University of Virginia, and he lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Katelyn, and their children.

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