Updated Sept. 27 at 4 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved Indiana’s plan for electric vehicle chargers in the state despite equity concerns.
The announcement comes just one day after communities in Gary and Indianapolis met with the agency, including the Indiana Alliance for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure and Economic Opportunities. They worry the state’s current plan might not benefit Black and Brown neighborhoods, businesses, or workers.
Barbara Bolling-Williams is the president of the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, which is part of the alliance. She said the approval is disappointing, but the fact that the U.S. DOT made a special trip to Indiana is encouraging and sends a message to Indiana's Department of Transportation.
“Not only will the alliance continue to watch what they do, but that the federal government too is watching exactly what they do," Bolling-Williams said.
Bolling-Williams said she has high expectations that the alliance’s recommendations will be implemented.
Maurice Henderson is the senior advisor in the office of the Secretary of Transportation. He said the U.S. DOT re-iterated to communities in Gary and Indianapolis on Monday that the agency will ensure funding for EV charging development has a strong focus on equity, and that there are other funding opportunities that may address the Alliance’s needs.
“The NEVI Formula Program is designed to establish the backbone for our national EV charging network along the interstate highway system, with announcements to come about more than $2.5 billion in funding opportunities for urban and rural areas alike to build EV charging off the highway system, within their communities,” Henderson said.
Though this first award is for $36 million, Indiana is expected to receive a total of $100 million over the next five years. Indiana and other states will be required to resubmit their plans for approval each year, according to U.S. DOT.
It’s unclear if failing to address equity concerns could jeopardize Indiana’s future awards.
Scott Manning, deputy chief of staff with INDOT, said the department is looking forward to seeing EV adoption grow across the state as more chargers come online.
There will be opportunities for stakeholders like the alliance to help update the state’s electric vehicle charging plan as the process moves forward, he said. But U.S. DOT’s approval speaks to the work INDOT has done so far.
“Those charging stations and the benefits really touch every region of the state,” Manning said. “So I think we have a plan and locations that are well thought out, that speak to what's been required of us.”
Manning said, at the alliance’s request, INDOT did provide maps of the preliminary charger locations with overlays that show census tracts with higher racial and ethnic diversity as well as areas with higher percentages of Black residents specifically.
Denise Abdul-Rahman is the environmental and climate justice chair for the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP. She said she appreciates the maps, but that INDOT has not fully addressed the alliance’s concerns.
“Our vision for thriving and resilient communities cannot be actualized until the EV infrastructure is placed on Black business enterprises, Black faith institutions, and under-resourced schools that can potentially benefit from revenue generated by EV charging stations,” she said in an email.
The alliance plans to set up a meeting with INDOT next month. Abdul-Rahman said the group has also created a list of roughly 45 businesses and nonprofits that would like to have an EV charger on their property. She said they plan to reach out to vendors and utilities that may want to partner with these businesses on EV projects.
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Members of the alliance championed a six point plan Monday that would focus on a more equitable distribution of electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as more online and transparent data from the Indiana Department of Transportation, and an equity advisory board to guide the current INDOT working group.
The alliance has argued that the state’s current proposed placement of EV chargers does not do enough to include racially and ethnically diverse communities.
To address these shortcomings, the alliance has continuously made and held meetings with the Indiana Department of Transportation, assuring that they called attention to issues in outreach, engagement processes and methodology.
Abdul-Rahman said INDOT officials do not make these same efforts to reach out to the alliance.
“They make it sound like they met with many persons and organizations of color when they have not,” she said. “They have only really met with the alliance. And they did not do any outreach to us. We did outreach to them.”
Abdul-Rahman said the alliance feels resources have been unfairly distributed, and a large part of this has to do with lack of outreach by INDOT.
“This $100 million that we pay for in tax dollars, we just want to make sure that we get our fair share,” she said.
The alliance also discussed the lack of accessible meetings and the general lack of communication from the INDOT working group.
This included meetings that limited amounts of attendees, were held during working hours or were held in locations that were difficult to find.
Lionel Rush is a member of the alliance. He said public meetings on the issue were not welcoming to alliance members.
“They were very hostile to us, and with that kind of attitude, why would we trust them to share in this largesse that had been voted on by the Congress?” he said.
Indiana expects to receive more than $100 million from the federal infrastructure law for electric vehicle charging stations.
Charles Small with the U.S. Department of Transportation emphasized the program is still in its beginning stages.
“One thing that we really want to emphasize here is that this is an evolving plan, this is an evolving process,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone in terms of these selections and in terms of where these chargers are sited.”
He said the Department of Transportation will continue to meet with Indiana officials to better determine community needs and push for racial justice in these areas.