By Caroline Joiner and Russ Keene

(This op-ed originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on May 25, 2018)

Today, the average Texas commuter drives more than 14,600 miles per year. With more than 28 million people calling the Lone Star State home and more than 24 million registered vehicles on the road, this adds up to a significant amount of harmful tailpipe emissions that threaten our health and our economy.

As more vehicles are registered in Texas and Texans keep racking up the miles, new technologies are giving vehicle owners new options for cleaner vehicles and lower operating costs. Advancements in electric vehicle manufacturing continue to evolve. Electric vehicles will account for 54 percent of U.S. auto sales by 2040, according to Bloomberg Energy Reports 2017. Here in Texas, there are said to be nearly 20,000 electric vehicles already on the road, with exponential growth expected in the years to come.

In the last decade, Texas has taken steps to encourage this shift, including state incentives for fleet owners like school districts and small businesses to purchase them. Increasingly, Texans across the state are finding it easier to keep their electric vehicles charged and operational as new residential and commercial buildings incorporate charging stations into their building plans. As an increasing number of Texas cities, schools, airports, and people buy electric vehicles, state policies need to keep pace to support the charging station infrastructure to keep up with the anticipated demand.

As it turns out, one company’s misstep has presented an opportunity to meet this need. A recent $2.7 billion settlement related to Volkswagen emissions testing violations now allows Texas to invest up to 15 percent of its $230 million settlement — about $32 million — in infrastructure advancements needed to help the state adopt clean transportation technology. Among the categories of eligible projects, charging station deployments are the most attractive investment because they are cheaper than other options and can be deployed the fastest. With the full $32 million allocation, grants to Texas units of government could quickly deploy thousands of charging stations in communities across the state, expanding electric vehicle use and reducing mobile source emissions.

Neighboring states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico have draft plans for using their funds, including plans to use the full 15 percent allowed on infrastructure improvements to boost charging stations for public use. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should make a similar infrastructure policy commitment, utilizing the maximum 15 percent to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Electric vehicle technology is rapidly transforming Texas’ — and the nation’s — transportation system, with benefits to our health and our economy. Texas’ business-friendly environment and technological foresight puts us in a position to greet these advancements with open arms, and this settlement windfall means Texas can do so at no cost to the taxpayer. We should seize this opportunity.

Joiner is the executive director for Texas and the Southeast for TechNet. Keene is president of Plug-In Texas.