The bill isn’t a complete loss for bike advocates, and there’s an expectation they’ll have another swing at the ball before the end of this year.
The much-ballyhooed, $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that’s on its way to President Biden’s desk as I write this, is an unprecedented win on the front of the climate change battle. But there’s a big group of folks who are feeling like losers: People who understand the transformative power of electric bikes and the role they could play in curing Americans’ addiction to cars and fossil fuels.
Despite intense lobbying from national bike advocacy groups, the electric vehicle provisions in the IRA apply to only one type of electric vehicles — cars. Once again, bicycles were left at the side of the road.
So what happened? Why couldn’t Oregon senators and representatives bring home the bacon on this one — especially with Oregon’s bike-loving House Representative Earl Blumenauer and the Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden on our side? Advocates got an answer to that question from a political insider at a meeting at the E-Bikes for All Working Group Thursday.
E-Bikes for All is an informal group of advocates from across Oregon who’ve been meeting since 2019. Each month they come together via Zoom to plot strategies aimed at pushing e-bikes into the political mainstream. E-bike purchase incentives — either at the state and/or federal level — are their top priority. At their meeting this week an Oregon-based congressional aide (who I’ve chosen to keep anonymous at their request) stopped in to explain what happened.
As political aides are known to do, the aide first played to the crowd by pointing out that the IRA isn’t a complete loss for e-bikes. Current federal law provides a tax credit that applies only to four-wheeled vehicles and states those vehicles must be operated only on streets, roads and highways. Portland’s Earl Blumenauer authored a small but potentially significant that will change the language surrounding that credit.
“Rep. Blumenauer authored a small tweak,” the congressional aide pointed out, “so that there’s a provision now that makes the credit available for two and three wheeled vehicles that operate on streets, roads or highways.” It’s a small provision, but it leaves the door open for the private sector to build charging stations with e-bikes and even e-scooters in mind — and still get the 30% tax credit.
The language starts on page 407 of the 730 page bill (PDF). It effectively expands the definition of “motor vehicle” to anything that has two or three wheels and is “propelled by electricity”. (Sorry electric unicycle riders!)
Another potential boon for bike lovers tucked into the bill (but not related to electricity) is the “Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program” laid out on page 704. It’s a $1.9 billion (with a “b”) grant program to be administered by the FHWA for projects that , “improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access.” Specifically, the grants can be used to, “build or improve complete streets, multi-use trails, regional greenways, or active transportation networks and spines; or to provide affordable access to essential destinations, public spaces, or transportation links and hubs.”
Any time federal law includes the words “complete streets” “multi-use trails” and “active transportation networks” it’s a very good thing.
Those little wins are nice, but many folks at the E Bikes For All meeting wanted to know why bikes were left out of the biggest prize of all — purchase incentives. People who want to buy an EV car can get a tax credit worth up to $7,500. But there is zilch for bikes in the bill.
Turns out the language in the bill that included Blumenauer’s E-BIKE Act and tax benefits for bicycle commuters, were both dropped during last-minute negotiations aimed at getting West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s vote. The congressional staffer at the meeting said when Sen. Manchin demanded to cut the size of the bill down from its initial $550 billion, cuts had to be made. “As Mr. Manchin started to look at where the spending was, and started to look at what he supported and what he didn’t support, unfortunately, the E-BIKE Act and the bicycle commuter benefits, both fell off and fell onto the cutting room floor.”
And then, choosing his words carefully to not hurt the feelings of the crestfallen e-bike advocates, the aide added, “There was not the same level of advocacy among senators for the bike provisions as there was for the electric vehicle credit. And often the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. I think that there were just more senators that were pushing for electric vehicles than there were electric bikes.”
But all is not lost and there’s still hope for a federal e-bike purchase incentive to be passed (“I don’t think we’re back to square one, it’s more like square two or three” is how the aide put it). All eyes are on an upcoming tax bill that Capitol Hill lawmakers are already laying the groundwork for. It’s likely to be passed before the end of this year and the aide said, “I think represents our our best chance moving forward.”