Despite Investing Billions, Biden’s EV Charging Fund Hasn’t Yielded Much

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The amount the United States has been spending to advance the proliferation of all-electric vehicles in recent years has been genuinely staggering. However, the allocated funding doesn’t appear to be doing much good. EV adoption rates are slowing and the $7.5 billion earmarked exclusively for the construction of charging stations has only resulted in a handful of operational locations.

One of the Biden administration’s earliest goals was to set the U.S. to have 50 percent of all new car sales be electric by 2030. Two years ago, the government earmarked $7.5 billion to build EV charging stations to help the cause. The goal was to fund construction, with an end goal of having 500,000 completed sites by the same 2030 deadline.

The Washington Post reported that the above efforts had only resulted in a grand total of seven charging stations by the end of March 2024. By May, Autoweek reported that only one more station had been completed.

“I think a lot of people who are watching this are getting concerned about the timeline,” Alexander Laska, deputy director for transportation and innovation at the center-left think tank Third Way.

From WaPo:

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden signed in November 2021, included $7.5 billion for EV charging. Of that, $5 billion was allocated to individual states in so-called “formula funding” to build a network of fast chargers along major highways in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, or NEVI, program.
But after two years, that program has only delivered seven open charging stations with a total of 38 spots where drivers can charge their vehicles, according to a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration. (The funding should be enough to build up to 20,000 charging spots or around 5,000 stations, according to analysis from the EV policy analyst group Atlas Public Policy.) Stations are open in Hawaii, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and under construction in four other states.
Twelve additional states have awarded contracts for constructing the charging stations; 17 states have not yet issued proposals.
Last month, Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Biden administration with a list of questions about the slow rollout of EV chargers.
“We have significant concerns that under your efforts American taxpayer dollars are being woefully mismanaged,” wrote Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.). “The problems with these programs continue to grow — delays in the delivery of chargers, concerns from States about labor contracting requirements and minimum operating standards for chargers,” the letter continued.

Your author is permanently skeptical whenever government funding is involved, regardless of which party is running the show. While I’ll readily admit it doesn’t have to be this way, a significant portion of the money that is set aside for corporate subsidies or economic stimuli always appears to end up vanishing down a black hole. Thankfully, the EV charging endeavor has been relatively easy to track insofar as the results are concerned. We know in December of 2023 there wasn’t a single completed charging station built under the scheme. The Biden administration actually made its initial announcement later that month, stating that the very first locations had just opened in Ohio and New York.

“Thanks to President Biden, more and more EV chargers are coming online around the country as we work to deliver a nationwide network of charging stations by the end of the decade,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at the time. “Securing America’s position as a world leader on EVs will grow our economy and create a new generation of good-paying jobs.”

But the announcement only encompassed a few functional stations and underscores just how little has been done since then. This is despite there being an additional $2.5 billion available as part of the Department of Transportation's Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program. In January of 2024, the White House likewise announced a fresh $623 million in grants to continue building out U.S. electric vehicle charging networks.

At the current pace, the Biden administration is on track to build about 100 charging stations by 2030. That really doesn’t appear to be moving the needle on the nationwide goal of 500,000. But government agencies are suggesting that the program is just getting spun up, pivoting toward better technologies, will only accelerate in the months ahead, and that the literal fortune being invested by Americans via government action isn’t being wasted.

“We are building a national EV charging network from scratch, and we want to get it right,” a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration told The Washington Post in March. “After developing program guidance and partnering with states to guide implementation plans, we are hitting our stride as states move quickly to bring NEVI stations online.”

“More Americans are buying EVs every day — with EV sales rising faster than traditional gas-powered cars — as the President’s Investing in America agenda makes EVs more affordable, helps Americans save money when driving, and makes EV charging accessible and convenient," added a spokesperson from the White House.

But is it? While EVs are starting to see some pretty juicy discounts on dealer lots, they’re still saddled with above-average MSRPs. Price cuts are the result of EVs losing market share in Q1 of 2024 as automakers added new models to the market, and that’s after these vehicles spent over a decade being subsidized by the government in a bid to build sales momentum. Improving the United States’ charging infrastructure was presumed to further the cause by making it easier for drivers to charge away from home. But surveys continue to show that most people aren’t that impressed with any charging station that isn’t operated by Tesla and that there remain massive regional gaps in terms of charging availability.

Based on the best data available, there’s an estimated 168,000 EV charging stations available to drivers in the U.S. right now. Private companies are presently building about 1,000 new locations every six months. Accounting for the eight that the government is responsible for getting under way and this is shaping up to be a massive shortfall. But the reality is that we’re actually losing charging stations, as roughly 25 percent are nonfunctional at any given time due to a mix of environmental factors (e.g. freezing climates), wonky payment systems, or broken equipment. More recently, thieves have realized that charging stations utilize a lot of copper and have been making off with the cables.

The Biden administration has made provisions to deal with that by requiring chargers to be operational 97 percent of the time and be rated for a minimum of 150 kilowatts. But the work remains slow and none of the above addresses the individual electrical grid loads each locality can accommodate. Bizarrely, the energy requirements involved for this massive undertaking seems to be largely ignored and will undoubtedly create all-new problems in the future if they’re not addressed in the present.

Then there are the political aspects to this. Rather than everyone taking a calm-and-measured approach, the trend has been for individuals to tie party allegiance to their opinions on electrification and vice versa. This makes it easier for politicians to push through bad legislation and massive spending packages (as they’ll likely have some default blind support) and likewise allows for the catch-all rebuttal to any valid criticisms via claims that it stems from an outgroup that can be discounted. This goes both ways and is hardly limited to any singular issue. But it has certainly manifested here.

We’ve seen plenty of Republican-backed legislation targeting EV-related spending over the last couple of years. In 2023, a Senate bill entitled the “Stop EV Freeloading Act” attempted to force EV owners to help subsidize the Highway Trust Fund that’s currently paid for through gasoline taxation. Last February, House Representatives Eric Burlison (R-MO) and Harriet Hageman (R-WY) similarly introduced the “Undoing Nationwide Programs and Limiting Unnecessary Grants for Electric Vehicles Act.” And, earlier this month, Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and John Barrasso (R-WY) dropped the Eliminate Lavish Incentives to Electric Vehicles Act — which seeks to repeal tax credits for both new and used EVs while also ending the federal investment tax credit for charging stations.

However, there’s still a good bit of infighting within the Republican party on this due to the fact that there’s a lot of industrial lobbying taking place. There are literally billions of dollars on the line for the relevant companies and they don’t want to lose out just because they forgot to invest in the preferred politicians, many of whom would likewise benefit financially from the companies doing well. Even among the Republicans (and some Democrats) hoping to curtail government spending around EVs, there are varying opinions as to why. Some are simply worried about the negative economic ramifications or limitations of the free market and others are fearful that pivoting toward all-electric vehicles would disproportionately advantage China due to the fact that it absolutely dominates the globe in terms of battery production. Interestingly, the last item seems to be something the White House also appears at least marginally concerned with.

But those all feel like distractions from the core issue of whether or not government funding is being used effectively. We could go round and round on whether the push for electrification is organic or the result of NGOs and government actors pressing the issue. The same can be said for the benefits and setbacks of EV ownership or how all of this impacts China’s plans. However, it all feels kind of irrelevant when the resulting actions (which have massive financial implications) being taken appear impotent and wasteful.

[Image: ZikG/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Dartdude Dartdude on May 15, 2024

    Joe Biden and the democratic party have to reimburse their donors. So any government contract first go the donors and then that have to take out their donation with interest and what money is left to build the project. That's the money cycle and why the government never gets anything accomplished on time and on budget. The climate change is just a POWER and MONEY grab plain and simple!

  • Tassos Tassos on May 15, 2024

    Worthless, senile, serial liar, Idiot Joe Biden managed to shoot himself, GM and FORD all in the foot with his IDIOTIC Tariff.

    GM and FORD (this is not my opinion, watch AUTOLINE DAILY TODAY) will be those who will hurt the most by Idiot Joe Biden's tariff.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 15, 2024

      @Tassos, let's try some light editing of your comment:

      "I am not convinced this tariff is ideal as currently implemented. Specifically, it could backfire on GM and Ford. Here is an interesting take on the subject. Thank you for your kind attention, have a good day."

  • Wolfwagen What I never see when they talk about electric trucks is how much do these things weigh and how much does that detract from the cargo-carrying capacity?
  • Wolfwagen I dont know how good the Triton is but if they could get it over here around the $25K - $30K They would probably sell like hotcakes. Make a stripped down version for fleet sales would also help
  • 3SpeedAutomatic You mentioned that Mitsubishi cars had lost their character. Many brands are losing that that element as well. GM is giving up on the ICE Camaro and Dodge on the ICE Challenger. There goes the Bad Boy image. Might as well get your teeth pulled and dentures put in place. Would like to see a few EVOs with cherry bomb exhaust and true 4 cylinder BIG blower turbos; 4 wheel drift capacity is mandatory!!🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos Here in my overseas summer palace, I filled up my tank twice in May, at 68 and 52 euros (a full 90+ liter tank fillup has taken 130-135 Euros in the past, and I am 23 miles from downtown here, while only 1-2 miles in the US)Still, diesel here is MUCH cheaper than gas. Yesterday, I paid 1,488 a liter while gas was at least 1,899 (regular).Multiply by almost 4 for gallons AND by an additional 1.1 for $.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic IIRC, both China and the EU use a standardized charger connection. About time the US & Canada to follow.Would take some of the anxiety out of an EU purchase and accelerate adoption. 🚗🚗🚗