Missouri lawmakers debate who should pay for EV infrastructure

State lawmakers want local municipalities in Missouri to foot the bill if they require businesses to develop electric vehicle charging stations.

Spurred by a recent ordinance in St. Louis County and those throughout the country that push costs to businesses, two bills working through the Missouri Legislature would require local governments to pay for the development of electric vehicle charging stations at businesses they mandate have them. With the House version perfected, the Senate heard its version in committee Tuesday.

Much of the testimony focused on the role of government and local control.

"I'm all for it if we want to build infrastructure," Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, said while presenting his bill to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment. "Some people describe (the local ordinances) as a partnership with business but this isn't a partnership. This is putting 100 percent of it on the backs of hard-working small businesses and that's not right."

SB 233 would require political subdivisions, such as municipalities, cities and counties, to pay for the installation, maintenance and operation of electric vehicle charging stations at "any nonautomotive fueling station business." The bill also prohibits local governments from requiring businesses to develop more than five charging stations, or the infrastructure to build more than five stations, per lot and states local governments can apply their requirements only to parking lots with more than 30 spaces.

SB 233 has a companion bill in the House, which was altered in committee before receiving final approval Feb. 16.

HB 184, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, removes language around "non-automotive fueling station businesses" to make the protections applicable to all businesses and includes specific language that municipalities cannot require schools or religious organizations to develop charging stations. Members of the House attempted to add amendments that would create a statewide task force to study electric vehicle infrastructure and require the state to pay for the charging stations, but both failed.

Brown described his bill as "common sense legislation" meant to support "struggling business owners in an impossible position."

"This is in response to the trend of municipalities mandating that small businesses and property owners install these charging stations at 100 percent their own expense," said Brown, who owns and operates a Chesterfield bar and grill.

Senators on the committee asked about how many municipalities in Missouri have charging station requirements or are considering them. Brown said he didn't have a complete list but was aware of a St. Louis County ordinance. Given trends in other states, he said he expects more local governments to institute similar rules.

When they do, Brown said, local governments should fund the developments with their own budgets.

"We believe that mandating the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at private businesses is not a proper scope or role or function of government, especially local government," Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, testified in support of the bill.

Leone said businesses should be able to decide charging station development at their own rate to better keep pace with consumer demand. He wanted the Senate bill changed as the House version was to apply to all businesses.

David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, executive director of the Missouri Tire Industry Association and lobbyist for the Missouri Grocers Association, testified in support of the bill, noting some businesses would be required to have more vehicle charging spots than handicap parking spots.

"This is a mandate, and it's only going to make it tougher in those unincorporated areas of the county to grow and for businesses to improve their sites," Overfelt said.

Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, testified to remind the lawmakers the state is required to fund any mandates it passes down to municipalities and counties.

"Really, we're applying that same concept to the local governments. If they require this to be done, and take that decision out of the business person's hands, then they should be required to pay for it," McCarty said. "Otherwise, they can let the free market work and let businesses that decide that they want those people hanging around to put in the charging stations that they can make a business case for."

John Madras, testifying on behalf of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club against the bill, said local infrastructure was the purview of local governments.

"The role of local government is to organize their environment the way that they would really like them to have them," he said. "What they see coming is a fleet of electric vehicles, both personal and business, and for the most part they want to be ready for this.

"It's the world that we'll be seeing in 20 years, and they want to be ready for it," Madras added.

Irl Scissors, executive director of Electrify Missouri, testified against the bill and cautioned it could have a chilling effect on municipalities looking to prepare for the growth of electric vehicles.

Less than 1 percent of registered vehicles in Missouri were all-electric as of June 2021, according to the electric vehicle infrastructure development plan the Missouri Department of Transportation issued last July. There are approximately 6,740 all-electric vehicles in Missouri, about 0.34 percent of the total number of registered vehicles in the state.

But adoption is trending up.

According to MoDOT, 5.02 percent of vehicles in the state are projected to be all-electric by 2035.

Major brands like Bentley, Jaguar, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and General Motors have announced plans to make their vehicles all-electric by 2035.

Without infrastructure to accommodate that transition, Scissors said municipalities will be at a disadvantage in attracting residents and safely supplying them electricity for their vehicles.

"We're asking municipalities to be forward-thinking and to be ready," he said.

Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee's Summit Republican and chairman of the committee, expressed reservations about the bill.

"At some level, it does bother me," he said. "I may not agree with this mandate but city councils, just like we have the right to be stupid, they have the right to be stupid too if they're elected. So sometimes it bothers me -- I hate the feds telling us what we can do and I'm not sure us telling local governments what they can do is the right thing."

Responding to concerns that the bill runs afoul of local control, Brown said he sees it the opposite way.

"This bill is essential to protect local control," he said. "The most direct form of local is the individual, the business owner. True local control would mean allowing business owners to have the ability to make decisions like this for themselves in a free market environment."

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