Bryan Lamble


2010 will not be remembered as the year when the domestic energy landscape changed, dominated as it was by environmental catastrophe and human calamity and tragedy caused by the search for and extraction of traditional fossil fuels. In fact, clean(er) energy and greater efficiency seem, in some ways, to be less of a reality at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century than many would have predicted (and hoped). Furthermore, a contentious mid-term election season (stoked by fears of massive deficits, rising national debt and ballooning government) dominated the headlines at the expense of what could prove to be a watershed moment in domestic life—the release of the first two (of several) electricity-powered light-duty passenger vehicles with range enough to allow for travel without petroleum.

More than a novelty, automakers (and the U.S. government and most developed nations) are betting on, and investing in, the transition to a future automotive transportation sector with an increasingly larger number of plug-in electric vehicles. The legal and policy questions that face the automotive industry and the governments that plan to facilitate and regulate this transition are the subject of this article. Part I discusses the possibility that such a transition holds for twenty-first century life: cleaner skies, more energy efficient appliances, increasing use of renewable energy to produce electricity, investment in electricity infrastructure, and cheaper electricity. Part II directs the discussion toward the potential pitfalls of an automotive sector dominated by electricity (and, therefore, computers): huge capital costs to remake the electrical grid, imbalanced reliance on digital gadgetry which could increase domestic vulnerabilities to cyber attack, and greater institutional control over an individual's daily life.

Part III then introduces the primary legal and policy issues of the debate, which range in scope from individual to community to state to federal to international; involve hard questions of exactly how to invest scarce funds and when to do so; and will undoubtedly require international agreement and cooperation. Part III concludes by examining recent legislative efforts to facilitate the transition, including Senate bill 3442 (Electric Vehicle Deployment Act), and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus package). Finally, the article briefly imagines what an America infused with electric vehicles might look like.