Casten Opens Hearing on Solving the Climate Crisis Through Much Needed Investments in Transportation Infrastructure, Highlighting Need for Market-Based Electric Vehicle Incentives to Lower Costs for Consumers

July 1, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Congressman Sean Casten (IL-06) highlighted the need for market-based electric vehicle incentives to lower costs for consumers in the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing on "Transportation Investments for Solving the Climate Crisis."


Rep. Casten also emphasized the need to invest in Chicago’s rail commuter lines, which often face delays to freight trains.


“One of the great frustrations in Chicago is, I think, something like 40% of rail freight traffic comes through the city,” said Rep. Casten. “The people where I live do not want to spend all day in traffic on the Eisenhower, but because of our rail line, the commuter rail fights for service with the freight rail service. They don't have a lot of other choices.”


You can watch a Rep. Casten’s questioning by clicking here or on the image below. The full hearing can be found here.

Rep. Casten speaking at the hearing, hyperlinked to a video of his remarks.

Find a transcript of the questioning below:


Rep. Sean Casten

Thank you Chair Castor and thank you to all of my friends on the Committee for allowing me to help you order a little bit. Mr Van Amburg, I'd like to start with you. At number one I cannot thank you enough for stressing that it's vehicle-first costs that really drives these decisions. I come from 20 years in the power industry and maybe it's my curse but I always think of a car as a power plant you don't run very often. And, for power plants you run all the time you think a lot about, you know your operating costs and therefore fuel efficiency. For power plants that don't run it's the first cost. And, I introduced last time the Efficient Vehicle Leadership Act which was essentially Senator Jeff Bingaman's old Feebates bill, but updated for modern vehicle technologies and we'll be reintroducing that shortly. The economics I think is easy to understand that the overwhelming majority of the cost of the vehicle is the cost of the vehicle, not the operating cost. Have you done any research on actual, you know, consumer behavior to flesh that out as far as what really drives consumer choices, particularly as we think about how to aggressively to shape these feebate structures.


Mr. Bill Van Amburg

It's a really good question, I think, and it's different to be real frank with you, between consumers on the passenger car side who make our set of decisions based on different things than what a fleet decides on. A fleet is very much driven by total cost of ownership, so they really do kind of factor in how do I make this tool pay off for me. And in that case, it is upfront cost but it's also looking at the life cost of the vehicle on fuel and maintenance and the like. And that's really why in the commercial world fleets are starting to look at electric drive. So there's one set of tools I think I would suggest for the heavy duty or the, or the commercial space, and maybe a slightly different set for passenger vehicles, you know passenger vehicle buyers are really sensitive to what is this vehicle going to do for me there is a range issue involved, so there are some of those issues that they want to factor in for themselves, but they actually do want to say hey look, I am getting a feebate is really interesting because it gives you a reward for one choice, and if you want to make another choice that's fine but you pay for the privilege. It's kind of allowing people to pay for their choices based on a new set of metrics. And I think that signal is actually really important to somebody, they'll go, wait a minute I could buy this one that's more fuel efficient and I might get a kickback or I buy this thing is less efficient, and I'm gonna have to pay a little surcharge. That's a pretty powerful signal to a Consumer


Rep. Sean Casten

Thank you. I'm a stickler for market forces so I appreciate that. I want to shift to Ms. Osborne and ask, see if you can solve a thorny problem in the Chicago area for me. I love your idea about like we need to not only shift to more efficient vehicles but get vehicle miles traveled down. One of the great frustrations in Chicago is I think something like 40% of rail freight traffic comes through the city. And so, you know, the people where I live do not want to spend all day in traffic on the Eisenhower, but because our rail line, the commuter rail fights for service with the freight rail service. They don't have a lot of other choices. There are obvious solutions, they cost a lot of money and they pick a lot of NIMBY fights. Have you heard any, any real robust solutions for for the Chicago area specifically but also for regions like Chicago, where you have this wonderful rail network, but a rail network that really wasn't designed with commuters in mind.


Ms. Beth Osborne

Yeah, that's a very good question and you really gave me a tough one too. All the real problems in Chicago. I grew up in New Orleans, and we also have a confluence of a ton of rail lines that go through areas that, you know, don't necessarily work with the community that exists there now. It is a complicated issue and especially in these urban areas that need to accommodate not just the traditional modes of rail from or modes of transportation from freight rail and commuter rail, but all kinds of new modes of travel, it's getting more complicated and it's one of the reasons I think our old tools that we continue to rely on are so unhelpful in addressing some of these circumstances, but when it comes to these cities that have a confluence of not just freight, and people moving but people coming in and out of the region. I think we're probably going to have to put some real money into separating those various users.


Rep. Sean Casten

So with 20 seconds left, this is totally unfair Commissioner Kelliher, but do you have any thoughts on, I know you've put some thought into shifting to a VMT based fee structure, and I'm always struck by the fact that people will willingly give private information to Google that they don't want to give to the United States government, any guidance on how, what have you done to get to ease the uptake to a VMT system in Minnesota.


Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Well thank you for the question and I think that the, the first thing is we're working in partnership with our other states around the country on the issue of what is going to be the replacement for what typically is called, you know, the fuel tax cliff at some point into the future. I think we, we shouldn't overblow that cliff right now is still a workhorse of what we do. We are working on voluntary pilots with Missouri with Kansas with Iowa to work on these issues of particularly how rural users feel about vehicle miles traveled, and adoption of vehicle miles traveled, not so much focused on what the fee will be, but focused on the technology and comfort with the technology. So I think that is one of the main places that we are going to put our effort is working with our rural and suburban users on how we can share information.


Rep. Sean Casten

Thank you and I'm overtime I appreciate the Chair's indulgence. I yield back.