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Bill would block cities, counties from enacting EV charging station mandate

A Republican lawmaker is seeking to undercut efforts by officials in the St. Louis area to build more electric vehicle charging infrastructure in preparation for the move away from gasoline-burning cars. 

Both St. Louis and St. Louis County passed ordinances last year requiring businesses to prepare for electric vehicle charging. The city’s ordinance also has requirements for residential dwellings. And Brentwood, in St. Louis County, requires all new or renovated homes to include electrical infrastructure for charging.

Heather Navarro

Starting to build out the charging infrastructure now will save the region from expensive retrofitting as more and more consumers purchase electric cars, said St. Louis Alderwoman Heather Navarro, who sponsored the city ordinance. 

“This is really all about preparing our city for the wave of electric vehicles that we know are coming and making sure that St. Louis residents and visitors can have access to electric charging so they can access electric vehicles, we can make it more affordable and more accessible for more people,” Navarro said. 

The city passed the ordinance unanimously, but a similar proposal ran into skepticism in St. Louis County, where residents and elected officials said the market — not a government mandate — should drive the construction of electric vehicle charging. 

Despite the resistance, the idea prevailed on a split vote at the County Council. 

Now, state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, is pushing legislation meant to undo it. If any city or county wants to require businesses to have EV charging, they would have to pay for it. 

Murphy’s bill is just the latest in a long line of legislation over the years seeking to pre-empt actions by local governments on policies from plastic ban bags to minimum wage hikes to regulating ride-sharing

“We’ve got an example of how abusive I think it is,” Murphy said about the EV charging ordinances to the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday, “but I don’t want this to be here in Jeff City. I don’t want it to be in Springfield. I don’t want it to be anywhere.”  

The St. Louis Board of Alderman about a year ago voted unanimously to pass three bills requiring that newly built or renovated residential, apartment and commercial buildings be “EV Ready,” meaning that they have the necessary electrical capacity and other infrastructure to easily install an EV charger. 

Parking lots with more than 50 spaces would have to provide chargers on 2% of them, and 5% of the spots would need to be EV ready. By 2025, 10% would have to be EV ready. The legislation requires that businesses with smaller parking lots have one or two spaces that are EV ready or have a charger installed depending on their size. 

It contains exemptions for government buildings and some businesses, such as daycare facilities, where patrons don’t stay long enough for it to be worth plugging in their cars.

St. Louis County’s legislation, however, exempts only gas stations. It requires 10% of parking spaces be EV ready and 2% have EV chargers, including for small parking lots. 

Preparing for electric vehicles 

Navarro said 30% of the cars on St. Louis roads could be electric vehicles as soon as 2030. But right now, one of the biggest barriers to electric vehicle ownership is knowing where to charge your car. 

And while members of the Missouri House Transportation Committee said the buildout of electric vehicle charging should be determined by the free market, Navarro said it needed to happen equitably. Left to the market, she said, electric vehicle chargers would wind up only in wealthy neighborhoods.

Alderwoman Sarah Wood Martin also voted in favor of the legislation. She said in order to attract businesses and residents to St. Louis, the city needed to be prepared for the wave of electric vehicles. 

Murphy, too, said he assumed everyone would be driving electric cars before long, but forcing small businesses to install chargers was an unfair and unfunded mandate. 

He cited figures far exceeding those assumed by proponents and said it would cost his small business, an online retailer for sewing and crafting supplies, more than $100,000 to install EV-ready technology and said the chargers can cost between $20,000 and $80,000. 

“It would cost somebody a job,” Murphy said.

According to a presentation Navarro gave when the Board of Aldermen was considering her legislation, including electric vehicle readiness in a new building costs between $750 and $2,0000. Installing the charger can cost up to $3,000. 

Retrofitting a building is more expensive. Readying it for an electric vehicle can be between $1,500 and $10,000 or up to $12,000 to install the charger.

The legislation only requires existing buildings to install chargers if they undertake a major renovation. 

“We don’t want to be running around retrofitting all over the place for something that we already know is coming down the line,” Wood Martin said. 

Three months after the Board of Aldermen voted on the legislation, Wood Martin, who is also a lobbyist, took on Electrify Missouri as a client. The organization promotes electric-vehicle friendly policies and has support from Ameren Missouri, Evergy and the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association. 

Asked about the potential for a conflict of interest, Wood Martin said none of her clients stood to profit from her vote on the board. Ameren, which would benefit from more electric vehicles on the road, supports Wood Martin’s client Electrify Missouri, but she said the organization is independent and not a brain child of the electric utility. She said Ameren didn’t begin supporting Electrify Missouri until well after she took it on as a client.

St. Louis County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, who sponsored the county’s legislation, said she’d like to see the county find funds to help businesses install chargers.

Dunaway said she was trying to do right by the environment. 

“I’m sorry that it’s going to cost you money,” Dunaway said, “but we’ve all benefited tremendously from trampling on our planet for so long, we’re all going to have to sacrifice and pony up and move forward.” 

‘Overreach’ 

Proponents of the St. Louis legislation noted every city has building codes that owners are required to follow without financial assistance from the government. And they pointed to incentives electric utility Ameren Missouri offers businesses to install charging stations. 

Navarro said Murphy’s bill was an example of the Missouri General Assembly looking at an issue and thinking it knows best, but that the state should rely on local governments to solve these issues. 

If legislators think a group of people is suffering because of St. Louis’ legislation, Navarro said, they should take it up with the aldermen rather than taking a hammer to the whole idea.

And much of the House committee discussion centered on St. Louis county’s legislation, not the city legislation Navarro sponsored. 

“If state legislators have an issue with a particular local government’s legislation, they can’t just tie the hands of everyone else in the state who is trying to address the issue,” Navarro said.  

Murphy said cities only get their authority from the state, an argument raised frequently by legislators who have sought to pre-empt local officials from enacting policy they don’t like. 

Last year, the legislature made it harder for local governments to issue health orders aimed at containing the spread of contagious diseases. They limited orders to 30 days if there is a declared state of emergency. To be extended, the orders need a simple majority vote of the political body governing any local health department — such as a city council or county commission. 

“If they want to overreach their authority, we’re going to bring it back and we’re going to bring it back hard,” Murphy said. “Through all of this COVID, they have overreached their authority. The state is now aware of it; we’re no longer going to just sit back and watch them abuse our citizens.” 

This article by Allison Kite is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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