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Does coal mean electric cars are bad? No, it's the other way around.

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Ina Fassbender/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A car drives past shovelled earth in an open-cast lignite coal mine west of Cologne, Germany.

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Every so often, electric-car skeptics will attack the idea of using grid electricity to power a car by bringing up coal.

"Yeah," the argument goes, "but you're just burning coal instead of gasoline in your electric car--so how's that any better?"

There is, of course, a fair amount of science that shows it actually is better when measured by wells-to-wheels carbon emissions.

The most recent study came from the Union of Concerned Scientists last year, complete with a neat little map looking at each state's electric grid.

The conclusion: Even in the few states with the very dirtiest grids, driving a mile on grid electricity is barely worse than the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car (roughly 34 mpg). 

And in states with the cleanest grids, there's no combustion-engine vehicle that can match an electric car for low carbon emissions.

A landmark 2007 study jointly produced by the Electric Power Research Institute (the research arm of the electric utility industry) and the Natural Resources Defense Council comes to broadly similar conclusions.

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