Advocates sound alarm as E-BIKE Act gets watered down on Capitol Hill

Posted by on September 15th, 2021 at 9:25 am

Elected officials and their staff joined e-bike advocates for a bike ride in Portland on September 10th.
(Photo: Kiel Johnson/Electric Bikes for All)

This week the U.S. House of Representatives has hosted “markup” sessions on the Build Back Better infrastructure bill and bike advocates say there’s a threat the E-Bike Act could get even weaker or be jettisoned altogether.

You might recall that it was Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer who introduced the legislation back in February. As first written H.R. 1019 would create a new tax credit to incentivize the purchase of electric bikes. The credit would refund taxpayers 30% of the cost of an electric bike (up to $1,500 or $3,000 for joint returns) for purchases up to $8,000.

Now advocates say the bill (which has since been introduced in the Senate as S.2420) has already been watered down and needs support to survive. In an action alert sent to members late Tuesday night, The Street Trust said the House Ways and Means Committee has already slashed the credit in half to just 15% of the purchase price.

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According to an update from the Systemic Failure blog on September 12th,

“the bill has gone into the Legislative buzzsaw of the House Ways and ‘Means-Testing’ Committee, and has been significantly watered down — to the point of being largely useless. The e-Bike refundable tax credit is now just 15% of the purchase price, capped at $1,500 total. And the credit phases out starting at $75,000 of adjusted gross income.

For comparison, the same bill would provide a $12,000 subsidy for the purchase of a $74,000 F150 electric pickup truck to a family with $800,000 annual income.”

And here’s the full section from the House Ways and Means Committee section-by-section breakdown:

(Source: House Ways and Means Committee Subtitle F – Infrastructure Financing and Community Development)

The Street Trust is part of the E Bikes For All coalition, a lobby group made up of nearly two dozen organizations and businesses in the Portland metro area that meets monthly. The group has recently begun hosting bike rides with elected officials to expose them to e-biking’s benefits and boost support for e-bike policy.

Electric Bikes For All has launched a campaign to urge Oregonians to contact Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and tell them to support and protect the E-Bike Act. Here’s a snip from the letter:

“… the fully refundable tax credit can open up new mobility and access for many people. Even the most expensive electric bike is substantially cheaper than a new car, making it possible – especially with a tax credit – for people who cannot afford to drive to buy an electric bike… By passing the E-BIKE ACT we can increase access to this useful, low-carbon, and low-cost way for people to get around. We urge you to sponsor this legislation.”

National nonprofit People for Bikes says a tax credit for e-bikes is smart climate policy because, “It will ultimately will make it easier for millions of Americans to displace a bulk of their passenger vehicle emissions with clean, easy riding.”

Markup sessions are happening right now so if you support this legislation it’s crucial that you reach out and tell these Senators how you feel. You can easily add your name to the letter and send it to Merkley and Wyden’s offices here.

UPDATE, 3:00 pm: People for Bikes reports that the e-bike tax credit has survived House markup. Here’s their statement about how it has changed since its introduction in February:

“Supporters who have followed the E-BIKE Act since it was introduced in February will notice that these differences shrink the credit from 30% without income restrictions. As fierce advocates for the original bill, we acknowledge that a lesser credit isn’t ideal, but we still celebrate the fact that a brand new tax credit for electric bicycles made it this far. We’ll continue to fight for the most effective policy available while working within the political reality.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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JasonsquaremanKen W NicholsOpus the PoetSteve C Recent comment authors
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All bikes
Guest
All bikes

Why not give the credit for all bikes, not just electric, which have more embodied energy and are worse for climate?

Jason
Guest
Jason

E-bikes do have some warts. I think a lot less warts than cars though. If someone is evaluating the choice of a car versus an e-bike, then hands down I would urge to choose an e-bike every time. I imagine a car free world and while I appreciate the ‘purist’ argument, it doesn’t scale well. For the reasons of accessibility, modern logistical concerns (such as how long it takes to run an errand or how much you can carry on that trip), and general aversion for the ‘sweaty biker’ lifestyle.

The practical benefits of an e-bike are sublime. You’ve got no idea how it feels to cruise at 20mph with four bags of groceries in your cargo box until you’ve done it. Or how magic it feels to zip along in the rain with your kiddos on the tail, on your way to school. Don’t discount the benefits just because there are a few warts. Warts which arguably cars have in spades, versus a few smatterings of warts on the e-bike industry.

I feel, e-bike adoption is a necessary, and sophisticated step toward a cleaner future. Filled with diverse transportation modes and options.

colton
Guest
colton

Jason-

All you say about the benefits of an e-bike are true…

But those benefits don’t preclude incentives for non-e bikes. Interestingly, they mirror the reasons I hear about why someone might pick an SUV over a Prius. If you wouldn’t want to encourage someone to buy a larger car than necessary, why would you do it with bikes?

I agree with AllBikes. All bikes, electric or not, should get equal incentives.

Jason
Guest
Jason

A positive statement for one is not a negative for the other. The reality is, people currently using cars would have more difficulty adopting an acoustic bike versus an electric bike. To say that I am advocating for an e-bike instead of an acoustic bike is a straw man. I’m not saying that. I am speaking specifically on topic, which is the cut back on e-bike incentives. Your concern is a distraction and could potentially divide the base.

I was very careful not to interact with All Bike’s question. Because it is a valid question, but I think it detracts from the current crisis.

squareman
Subscriber

“acoustic bike” — I like that.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I think I got that from a YouTube video, maybe even GCN. Seems like a clever, British idiom.

squareman
Subscriber

So if it’s a single-speed bike, does that make it a “fretless acoustic bike”?

Jason
Guest
Jason

That would make it a kazoo. Because there’s just one note. Hehe.

Opus the Poet
Guest

This is good. The choice is not e-bike or regular bike, the choice is e-bike or car, electric or gas. We want to incentivize the e-bike to be the better option.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Exactly! This is really just about getting people out of their snail shells and onto two wheels. And really, an e-bike is super liberating for car bound people.

Like I said, load up a cargo bike with four bags of groceries and be amazed. Most car trips need only just that much cargo space. If it’s kiddos you’re trucking, then you can put them in the box or you could get a long tail.

joan
Subscriber

Thanks for covering this. I was excited about the 30% tax credit originally proposed in the EBIKE Act and it was nudging me to think more seriously about getting an ebike. The shift to 15% is disappointing. Looking at Clever Cycles, their lowest price ebike is around $2300. 15% is $345, while the 30% credit would save $690.

This tax is refundable, which means that you don’t get the savings upfront. That’s already not great, as it means you have to fund the purchase and then get it back the next year. But given the halving of the credit, it’s hard to see that this will be as motivating for folks who might be inclined to make this purchase.

I noticed that the tax credit is per tax year, so you could get 15% on a new ebike every single year. I don’t see ebikes as something folks will buy every year. I’d much rather they make this tax credit available every other year, or every third year, for a much higher percentage.

EP
Guest
EP

If electric vehicles are going to save us, they’re going to need to be small to be efficient and use less battery resources. EBikes are a great use for this technology! Small, car-sized EVs are still good, but electric commuter pickup trucks/SUVs/Hummers are just the worst thing ever. Electrifying out “work fleet” is one thing, but incentivizing families to buy a big EV SUV/pickup for the family vehicle is not a good use of $.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

I believe the new credits for cars/trucks are staged to get policy purposes other than emission reductions so I’m not sure about the fairness of the comparison to the credits for the F150. Base credit for any electric car/truck and then additional credits for being made in the US and then additional credits for being made with union labor force. If you buy a US made F150, your credits are a better than if you buy a Mexican made electric Mustang or a non-union Tesla. Adopt that same scheme for bikes to address any fairness issues.

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

Does anyone know whether this would apply to a brand new electric conversion of an existing non-electric bicycle, or would it only be applicable to a whole bike?

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

It’s interesting wording, “put into service” rather than purchased. I suppose the price of the combined bike (if bought that same year?) and kit would count towards the $8k cap and 15% credit.

Ken W Nichols
Guest
Ken W Nichols

If you make if for only US made e-bikes, then you might get traction.