As I've written about before, the carbon intensity of electric automobiles is totally dependent on the source of electricity you use. They can be a huge win, a marginal win, or in some cases, a net loss compared to internal combustion and hybrid vehicles. Claims that electric vehicles are, in general, "emissions free" are so obviously wrong that you have to doubt the motives and trustworthiness of the claimant.
Enter the EPA who, rightly, asserts that we have to modify our vehicle efficiency rating system, and has proposed a new standard for 2012 (link the proposed standard and to a WSJ article on the topic). But instead of proposing a way to compare vehicles with different power sources, they appear to have decided that they already know the right answer, and are going to move to a new grade-based system and just give all of the electric vehicles an A or A-. All gasoline powered vehicles will start at a B and go down from there.
So why pretend that electric vehicles are "emissions free"? From the WSJ article:
The EPA's (Gina) McCarthy said the agency was constrained by federal statutes that specify only tailpipe emissions, not upstream emissions, be included on the label.
Dan Becker, of Safe Climate Campaign, says that is not true, but more to the point, when has the EPA ever been unwilling to push the boundaries of their jurisdiction if they thought it was the right thing to do?
Please, EPA, spend some time and do this right. The current stickers are one of the most effective things you've ever done, and their brilliance is that they put real data into consumer's hands. It would be a mistake to either try to a) dumb it down, or b) use some abstraction to push some agenda.