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Tesla is under attack by same ‘merchants of doubt’ behind tobacco industry and climate change denial

Despite most automakers admitting that the future of the auto industry is electric, there are still several efforts to slow down the EV revolution. Whether by the automakers themselves who virtually all (except for Tesla) lobbied to block EPA’s new fuel consumption standard or with special interest groups launching media campaigns trying to discredit the technology or its proponents.

As part of these continued attacks, Tesla is now the target of attacks by the same “merchants of doubt” behind tobacco industry lobbying and global warming deniers. 

We are talking about “The Heartland Institute”. The organization presents itself as a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank, but they are better known for being used by companies to push ideas based on profit rather than scientific facts, like when they took money from Philip Morris to question or deny the health risks of secondhand smoke or with some disgusting campaigns to deny climate change.

As it often goes with those kinds of organizations, they try to hide who is financing their efforts, but internal Heartland Institute documents leaked in 2012 and exposed some backers including the Koch Brothers, General Motors, ExxonMobil, the Walton family (WalMart), and several others.

Now, they are going after Tesla.

H. Sterling Burnett, a former advisor of the oil industry friendly National Center for Policy Analysis, which was also backed by the Koch brothers, and now a “research fellow” at The Heartland Institute, published a scathing op-ed titled ‘Middle class bearing Tesla subsidy’ in the Detroit News.

The piece is filled with so much misrepresentation of the truth that I can barely read a sentence without finding a blatant falsehood.

He opens with:

“When the sale of its 200,000th vehicle occurs later this year, Tesla buyers will no longer be able to claim a $7,500-per-vehicle federal tax credit for purchasing one.”

First of all, we don’t know that Tesla will hit the mark of its 200,000th vehicle delivered in the US in 2017. Even Tesla doesn’t know since it is dependent on the difficult Model 3 production ramp up. Our estimate actually places the cap being hit in either late 2017 or early 2018.

But even the second part of his first sentence is false. Tesla buyers will still have access to the full credit for one more full quarter after they hit the mark and then a reduced tax credit during a year long phase out period.

As you can imagine, Burnett doesn’t care about being wrong on this point. What he is actually after is shaming Tesla, or Tesla buyers, for taking advantage of incentives.

The oil industry mouthpiece continues:

“Despite the federal government having provided a $465 million low-interest loan for Tesla to develop a cheap electric vehicle in 2009 and the billions of dollars in tax credits given to buyers, Tesla has continued to turn out $110,000 luxury cars designed for and marketed to millionaires. Those buyers obviously could afford to pay the full freight for their vehicles but instead took money from the poor and middle-income households to fund their “green lifestyle” purchases.”

You can’t really make an argument that Tesla’s “$465 million low-interest loan” was much of a burden for tax payers since they actually paid it back in full, with interest, and 9 years in advance. Several other petrol-based automakers, including some who funded the Heartland Institute received way more money from the same program.

Also, “the billions of dollars in tax credits given to buyers” should be “billion” singular. If all of Tesla’s buyers in the US took advantage of the full federal tax credit, like buyers of any other EVs, it’s no more than just over $1 billion.

Which is still a lot of money, but that’s not the point. The federal tax credit wasn’t designed for Tesla and it’s available to any other electric vehicle that fits the requirements. The idea of someone taking advantage of the tax credit is that it encourages them to buy a battery-powered car over a gas-powered car, which offers benefit to the environment – something everyone benefits from.

Of course, Burnett and the Heartland Institute claim that climate change is not real and therefore, they are no actual benefit and those incentives are just to enrich Tesla.

And even if it was real, they claim that Tesla’s electric vehicles wouldn’t help.

He continues:

“The switch to EVs simply shifts emissions from the tailpipe to the smoke stack.”

That’s something that has been debunked on a daily basis. Even when accounting for emission from electricity generation, electric cars are on average much cleaner than the most efficient gas-powered vehicles and they are getting cleaner every day with the advancement of renewable energy sources.

Here are some recent examples:

Now here’s the real reason why Burnett is trying to frame Tesla as reliant on subsidies, despite the fact that the automaker received only a fraction of the subsidies the Big Three and oil industry have received and Tesla CEO Elon Musk challenged the fossil fuel industry to go toe-to-toe with 0 subsidies.

California is moving forward with a $3 billion incentive plan to support electric vehicle adoption and The Heartland Institute has been trying to stop it.

Burnett tried to frame the bill like this:

“Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators plan to pass a $3 billion electric vehicle (EVs) subsidy to replace the soon-to-end federal rebate. Under California’s generous program, electric vehicle buyers could soon receive up to $40,000 to buy’s Tesla’s most expensive models.”

While the new incentive is expected to increase the value of the current $2,500 rebate, it’s not imaginable how he is coming up with “up to $40,000”. Also, it would again be for all EVs that fit the requirements, and not just Tesla’s, in order to represent their benefits to the environment.

The Heartland Institute has been lobbying for Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s biggest detractor, to become head of the EPA and now that President Trump appointed him, they have an ally at the federal level, but there are still threats at the state level.

California has been trying to compensate for the anticipated federal setbacks. If they succeed, their policies could propagate to other states including New York, like their zero-emission mandate did a few years ago.

In this context, it becomes clearer why they are trying to paint this program as another handout to Tesla.

Most people don’t like subsidies, but as long as the fossil fuel industry is receiving the equivalent of ~$5 trillion in subsidy a year, according to IMF, it makes no sense not to balance it out by encouraging zero-emission alternatives.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below. And please make sure the people who are seeing the original article are all seeing this debunk.

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