Some electric vehicles cause so much more environmental damage than traditional gas engines that economists argue the EVs should be hit with more taxes, not subsides. That may sound counter-intuitive, but if you expand your view from the tailpipe to the smokestack you'll see why.

Economists are working on a study at the National Bureau of Economic Research to figure out what the real-world costs of driving an EV are, according to CityLab. They are going through vehicle emissions in the US with a fine-toothed comb at the county level to compare the per mile costs of electric and traditional cars. They factored in huge amounts of data, such as fuel efficiency, pollution dispersion and environmental and health damages that come from owning a regular car. For electric cars, they figured out the kilowatt-per-miles equivalent to gas to calculate how much power EVs pull from the electric grid. They also used the hourly emissions of 1,486 power plants across the US to factor in the punches EVs dole out to the environment. With all that data they could tell what driving an EV really costs based on where you live.

Using the Ford Focus as a model, since the Focus comes in both electric and gas, researchers could clearly see a pattern. In western US states, EVs are cleaner and cost about a penny per mile to drive thanks to a cleaner power grid. Head east, however, and the picture shifts. The midwest and northeast still rely heavily on coal fire plants, making EVs more expensive and destructive than traditional cars in the long run.

They then took a look at the policy to determine if green driving tax breaks were worth it. The team subtracted the damage done by a gas car from the damage done by an EV over a 150,000-mile life span. When the number was positive, a subsidy was warranted, in places where the number went into the red the team figured those cars should be taxed instead. They found that the federal subsidy of $7,500 was too generous no matter where you live.

There are many nuances to the model, and a ton of intense and interesting number crunching. You can find a deeper dive into the study here at CityLab.

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