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UM researcher: focus on electric cars won't solve climate problem by itself

The recent bankruptcy of battery company A123 has some questioning the profitability of electric cars like the Nissan Leaf.
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The Nissan Leaf is nominated for "Car of the Year" as well. It's is a "pure electric." No gas motor on board.

Talk about a research monkey wrench.

The federal government and automakers have spent billions and billions of dollars to encourage the development of electric cars. Consumers get a big tax credit to buy one.

Now, a University of Michigan researcher says it's really not worth the money.

On average, an electric car produces half the carbon dioxide emissions as a gasoline-burning car.

John DeCicco doesn't dispute that. But the natural resources professor says everyone is so focused on the car, they're ignoring the bigger problem. (You can read his new study in the journal Energy Policy here).

Two-thirds of the carbon going into our atmosphere comes from things like factories, oil refineries, and power plants.

"Even if we're no longer producing the CO2 at the tailpipe, we're still producing lots of CO2 somewhere else," he says.

Somewhere else like power plants - which have no federal mandate requiring them to reduce their carbon emissions.

Even regular gasoline-burning cars have to meet tougher fuel economy standards that will result in less CO2.

Now, Decicco isn't against electric cars.

"It's the cost that is more the issue - because you are reducing CO2 but at an enormously high cost relative to other things you could be doing," he says.

That cost includes the $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers who buy an electric car, plus the billions in grants and low interest loans for the electric car industry.

Decicco says it would make a bigger impact to require power plants and refineries to reduce their carbon emissions.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.