Cooper: US EV Transition Shortsighted

Ethanol Group Leader Says Biden Administration Move to EV Adoption Shortsighted

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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Geoff Cooper, CEO and president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said during a keynote address on Tuesday at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Omaha that ethanol and other biofuels need to be part of the so-called energy transition. (DTN photo by Todd Neeley)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The photos are striking.

Renewable Fuels Association CEO and President Geoff Cooper put up on a large screen a 1900 image of New York City streets filled with horse-drawn buggies and one, lone motor-powered car weaving about. Flipping to a 1913 photo of the same section of street, there are motor vehicles as far as the eye can see and one horse-drawn buggy.

On Tuesday, Cooper told an audience of ethanol and other biofuels industry representatives during the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Omaha that electric-vehicle supporters like to use the photos as proof that large energy transitions can happen quickly.

"But they're forgetting something very important, and that's the quality-of-life factor," Cooper said during a keynote speech.

He said the Model T and other early automobiles made life better and easier for millions of Americans in tangible ways. They could get where they were going faster and with half the hassle.

They didn't need to feed and care for horses and mules anymore.

"So, a transition to automobiles actually improved in very obvious ways the quality of life for millions of Americans," Cooper said.


The Biden administration has a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, primarily through electrification of the transportation sector.

The move from horses to motor vehicles at the turn of the 20th century was fairly quick, but Cooper said modern-day consumers have a number of concerns about electric vehicles that will make the transition take longer.

The Biden administration's efforts to push EV adoption on the American public, Cooper said, was not the best approach to make a lasting energy transition away from fossil fuels.

Cooper said the approach ignores the carbon-reduction benefits ethanol and other biofuels can achieve in the near term.

Instead, the administration seeks to transition to electricity light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicle fleets.

"They're saying we've got to get away from liquid fuels," Cooper said. "For many, when they hear energy transition, that's shorthand for universal electrification."

Cooper called the "headlong rush" into electrification shortsighted and said it would "almost certainly not accomplish the carbon-reduction goals" behind the strategies.

"And here's the thing about massive market transitions: They take a really long time," he said. "They take a lot of money. They often have unforeseen or unintended consequences. And for a transition of enormous scale to be successful, the marketplace needs to be ready for this to happen at least to some degree.

"In other words, big transitions, like the energy transition, are hard," Cooper said.


The Biden administration and several state governors have embraced goals to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and all other sources. The administration's plan calls for a 50% greenhouse gas reduction economy wide by 2030 and have net-zero emissions by 2050.

In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has committed to net-zero emissions by 2045.

Cooper said good policy "strikes the right balance" between market forces, consumer demands and government intervention.

"Good policy can really help to ease difficult transitions," he said. "But bad policy can have the exact opposite effect. Bad policy can take an already messy transition and make it even messier. Bad policy can actually undermine or prolong a transition. It can raise costs for consumers. It can raise inconvenience for consumers. And it can derail progress toward the ultimate goal."

Cooper said California's move to ban the internal combustion engine by 2035, is an example of a "harmful" energy transition policy that is unlikely to accomplish carbon reductions.

"This California policy would effectively mandate that consumers purchase 100% electric vehicles beginning in 2035, without regard to consumer preferences, without regard to cost, or really without regard to the actual environmental performance of these transportation systems," Cooper said.

At the national level, the EPA recently released a proposed regulation to reduce carbon emissions in vehicles beginning with model year 2027.

"It's a de facto electric-vehicle mandate; unless automakers dramatically increase their production of EVs in the years ahead, they'll have no way of meeting these proposed tailpipe standards for 2027 and beyond," he said.

"And EPA itself has admitted that under these regulations, EVs could account for 67% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2030, to two out of three new vehicles being sold in 2032. It's about less than 10 years from now they envision being battery electric vehicles under this proposal."


Cooper said the EPA's proposal gives EVs the benefit of the carbon-reduction doubt as if they are zero-emissions vehicles.

There are significant greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the extraction and use of coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels used to make electricity as well, he said.

"Again, transitions take time, you simply cannot force massive changes to happen overnight," Cooper said.

"Even if everyone agreed that it was a good idea, there are more than 278 million passenger vehicles and light trucks in the United States. Of that total, only about 3.4 million are plug-in electric vehicles. And that is even accounting for the record electric-vehicle sales we saw in 2022. So, the bottom line is Americans are going to continue to rely on millions of combustion engines and hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid fuels for many years to come, even as more electric vehicles enter the fleet."

If the nation is serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, it would begin by increasing the use of lower-carbon liquid fuels like ethanol, Cooper said.

A transition away from liquid fuels to electricity would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars, he added. "Not only do electric vehicles typically cost $10,000 to $20,000 more than their gas-powered counterpart, but a massive public investment would be needed to improve the grid and install sufficient public charging capacity."

Cooper said the U.S. already is sending tens of billions of dollars out of the country to import critical minerals and batteries for EVs.

In addition, a shift to an all-EV fleet would also require a 40% to 50% increase in electricity generation, he said.

"That means we need another 2,000 to 3,000 power plants in the U.S. [to] generate electricity to power all these new electric vehicles," Cooper said.

"Let's not forget that in the United States the consumer is still king. A successful technology transition needs to improve the quality of life for Americans in tangible ways that they can see and feel."


Cooper said recent surveys of current electric-vehicle owners and potential buyers reveal some "serious" quality-of-life concerns about convenience, reliability and several other factors.

"Among the top concerns that have been cited by EV owners are these vehicles cost more to buy," he said.

"They cost more to insure. They cost more to repair. They depreciate in value faster. They have less driving range by a longshot. They have far fewer refueling locations. They require much more time to refuel when you finally find that charging station. They experience problems in extreme cold or extreme hot weather. They may have additional safety risks because of their weight and many other factors. So, until these obstacles are overcome, many American consumers will continue to opt for the benefits and convenience of liquid-fueled vehicles, but only if they're not regulated out of existence."

Cooper said energy-transition policy should adopt a technology-neutral approach that embraces a "diverse portfolio" of low-carbon transportation options.

"Policymakers should set stable predictable, long-term carbon reduction targets, create a level playing field by removing barriers that prevent competition, then let the marketplace do what the marketplace does -- let the market go to work," he said.

"Let the market solve this problem. We are confident that under a truly technology-neutral carbon-reduction program, ethanol and other renewable liquid fuels would flourish."

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Todd Neeley

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