News | September 25, 2023

From the front lines of the mobility revolution

Get excited about going electric with Staff Attorney Garrett Gee

After working on some of our nation’s most historic climate and infrastructure legislation in D.C., former SELC intern Garrett Gee came back to us as a staff attorney to help implement it. With an eye toward making our transportation system cleaner, safer, and accessible for all, he wants more people to have real conversations about transportation. 

“People don’t realize that there’s a real mobility revolution happening,” says SELC’s leading expert on transportation electrification. “I’m excited to be a part of it.” 

Carbon, cost, and convenience are big reasons why buzz continues to build around electric transportation, but there’s so much more to get excited about.  

Read the interview to get to know Garrett and learn more about the mobility revolution. 

How do you get around the D.C. metro area, which is known for its transportation issues? 

I ride the metro to work. Electric transit is one of the most sustainable ways to get around. I like to ride my bike too, but it’s not always a good option where I live. I want to try and change that. 

What excites you most about electrifying transportation? 

I think one of the biggest benefits is the air quality improvement, particularly in cities. I’m a runner and lived in downtown D.C. for several years. There are some days you can’t go out, or you have to time your runs just to make sure you’re not breathing too much air pollution. 

In the U.S., and particularly in the South, the people living closest to pollution are disproportionately people of color or those with lower wealth. We’re still living with the discriminatory legacy of red lining, urban renewal, segregation, and racist siting decisions today. Electrification is a chance to try and right some of those wrongs — to provide environmental justice to those communities.  

How did previous experience prepare you for SELC? 

Garrett is pictured with other Transportation and Infrastructure Committee colleagues in the closing days of the 117th Congress, arguably the most impactful for action on climate change.

When I interned at SELC in 2015, I learned a lot about transportation issues, which pushed me to go work at the Federal Highway Administration. I worked on legislation and regulations, which gave me an overarching view of the agency, and a great snapshot of the transportation space. 

From there, I transitioned over to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives. Every five years or so, Congress takes up a big highway bill, and I got an opportunity to go to Committee to work on that. Almost immediately after I took that job, the pandemic hit, and everything changed. So much happened over the two years as Congress worked to respond to the twin health and economic crises that came out of the pandemic.  

A key part of that economic response was infrastructure investment – it was an opportunity to provide much needed economic stimulus, and also make a downpayment on our nation’s outdated infrastructure. The highway bill became the base for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed in 2021. Then in 2022, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act. I’m so lucky that I got to be a part of that exciting time in Congress.  

Why do we need both a local and federal approach to electrification? 

I see the federal role as setting the broader rules of the road, and then providing the funding and incentives to seed this transition. Fortunately, we have the resources we need through the legislation we passed, especially when it comes to vehicle purchase incentives and installing more chargers. This administration has been clear about their vision for a cleaner transportation future, and the market has largely followed that lead.  

New federal funds will help build out public vehicle charging infrastructure. (@Stephanie Gross)

At the end of the day, though, everything is local. A key example is installing public chargers where there is easy access and convenience. Even though 90 percent of charging happens at home, that’s still 10 percent of charging in public. We need the public network to be comprehensive and seamless.   

Public charging is also critical for equity. Yes, most people will plug in at home, but not everybody has access to their own parking spot. Some people live in apartments, some people park on the street. So we need to provide convenient and affordable options to charge.  

Any electrification success stories you can share? 

All the green jobs coming to the Southeast is a huge success story. Some people are calling the Southeast the “battery belt;” it’s the heart of the clean energy transition in North America. Almost every week, you see announcements for new auto plants and facilities for metals recycling, semiconductors, and battery components 

A bipartisan group of governors are jockeying to bring these jobs to their states. The Southeast has a strong history of auto manufacturing, so we’re in a really good position to take advantage of this moment.  

Regional legislation to highlight? 

Garrett staffing a Congressional hearing with former Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chair Elanor Holmes Norton.

Virginia’s Clean Car Standards.

Virginia is the first state in the South to adopt car pollution standards that are stricter than the federal minimum. It will get a lot more EVs on the road, a lot faster. That means quicker access to all the benefits – climate benefits, cleaner air, reduced lifetime cost of ownership. It will also make sure that Virginians have access to EVs as they roll off assembly lines – to date, almost one-third of EVs registered in Virginia were purchased out of state, mostly in Maryland.  

Are EVs really more sustainable than gas-powered vehicles? 

Absolutely. EVs, even powered by some ‘dirty’ sources from the grid, are still so much more efficient than gas-powered vehicles. In Virginia, they emit about 16 percent of the total carbon emissions of gas vehicles. And the grid is getting cleaner every year.  

On top of that, there is no tailpipe pollution that causes asthma and so many other health issues. They’re quieter, which people may not know that noise has serious impacts on your mental and physical health. There are so many benefits.  

However, EVs are not a cure-all. Electrification is necessary to tackle climate change, but trading one gas car for one EV won’t get us where we need to go. We also need to reduce our dependence on cars, on driving alone, if we want to tackle climate change and so many other environmental and social issues.  

The most sustainable choices are alternatives to driving – more and better transit, electric transit, and by making our communities walkable and bikeable. By giving people options, we can cut our demand for the metals and minerals needed for EVs as well.  

I like to ride my bike, but it’s not always a good option where I live. I want to try and change that.

Garrett Gee, Staff Attorney

Favorite place to get outside or outdoor activity? 

My favorite thing to do is go for a hike with my wife and dog. D.C. actually has a lot of beautiful park land really close to the city and Fairfax County. I also like to ride my bike on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, which is an old railroad turned into a trail that runs for 50 miles from D.C. to Purcellville, Virginia.  

What are you reading? 

The Expanse Series. It’s a sci-fi epic about space, but not an idealized version of space. There’s a major theme about asteroid miners, and how they built a whole culture and society on the fringes of civilization. It’s how I imagine humans would end up in space, with class struggle and political infighting and, of course, the existential threat of aliens.