Michael Vandenbergh, co-director of the Energy, Environment, and Land Use Program at Vanderbilt Law School and director of the Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network, and Dr. Tina Hartert of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center will lead two research projects that aim to identify the barriers to and potential health benefits of adoption of electric vehicles in the southeastern United States.
The studies will be paid for by the Audi CO2 Cy Pres Settlement Fund, which will provide $1 million of total funding over three years. The research funds were granted as part of a class-action settlement of a vehicle emissions case. The settlement allows for money remaining in the fund to be used for environmental research projects.
“Electric vehicles will eliminate tailpipe air pollutant emissions from vehicles and reduce energy costs, but we need to understand the specific effects on human health and the environment” said Vandenbergh. “Our research projects will identify the maternal and child health effects of widespread EV adoption and explore the barriers to rapid uptake of vehicles in rural, suburban, and urban areas.”
The first project will examine how the switch from fossil-fuel-powered vehicles to electric vehicles of all types—cars, trucks, buses, and delivery vehicles—will reduce air pollutant emissions in Tennessee and improve public health. Hartert, who directs the Center for Asthma and Environmental Science Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will work with a team of researchers, including Fulbright scholar Akihiro Shiroshita, who holds an M.D. from the Kobe University School of Medicine in Japan and a master’s of public health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, to study the maternal and child health effects of vehicle emissions and the potential health benefits of the transition to EVs throughout Tennessee.
“Given that Tennessee received a grade of D-minus for the health of mothers and children by the March of Dimes Report Card for Tennessee, understanding the adverse impact of fossil fuel emissions and the potential health benefits of vehicle electrification to our most vulnerable Tennesseans will help us to make progress in improving pregnancy and child health objectives,” Hartert said.
A second project will examine how social influences, including political polarization, can impede widespread EV adoption in rural, suburban and urban areas. The research team includes Mark Cohen of the Owen Graduate School of Management; Jonathan Gilligan, who directs the Vanderbilt Climate and Society Grand Challenge Initiative, along with law students and post-doctoral fellows at Vanderbilt.
Vandenbergh and Hartert hope these projects will serve as models for similar national and localized research projects aimed at examining the benefits of electric vehicles and common barriers to their widespread adoption.
“This research will lay the foundation for similar efforts across the U.S. and help create statistical and machine-learning models,” Hartert said. “It will also inform public health expectations for conditions caused by fossil-fuel air pollution, such as asthma.”