April 15, 2024

Transportation is the greatest source of planet-warming gases in the United States, making reducing tailpipe pollution as quickly as possible essential to achieving our climate goals. The Biden administration took a big step toward that goal on Wednesday when it unveiled the strictest restrictions the country has ever placed on vehicle emissions.

The rule, which follows three years of deliberation among regulators, automakers and others, places increasingly strict standards on the amount of CO2 and other pollutants cars can emit. The goal is to further electrify the nation’s fleet by 2032, when President Biden hopes to see every other car sold be electric or a plug-in hybrid.

“Three years ago, I set an ambitious target: that half of all new cars and trucks sold in 2030 would be zero-emission,” Biden said. a statement posted on social media. “Together we have made historic progress. Hundreds of new expanded factories across the country. Hundreds of billions in private investment and thousands of well-paying union jobs. And we will achieve my goal by 2030 and race forward in the years ahead.”

The guideline, which goes into effect with the 2027 model year, has drawn support from automakers and the leader of one industry trade group appeared alongside Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, when he announced the regulation. Stand next to it shiny chargers and spotless electric vehicles — underscoring the point of the new rule — Regan called the regulation “the strongest vehicle pollution technology standard ever finalized in the history of the United States.”

Should the regulation survive the inevitable legal challenges — Louisiana’s Republican attorney general told the New York Times she plans to fight it in court — it would avoid more than 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, according to the EPA. Those profits will inevitably boost public health also.

“EPA just took a critical step to address climate change and reduce air pollution,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in a statement. “Stronger restrictions on pollution from cars, vans and SUVs will improve the air everyone breathes and help prevent future health damage from climate change.”

How automakers comply with the new guideline is up to them, as the rule is agnostic of the technologies they use to do so. In spite of fear mongers from some corners of society and a clear warning from a fossil fuel trade group that the rule is a “EPA car ban,” EVs are just one approach. Plug-in hybrids and increasingly efficient internal combustion engines are other options, as the regulation only requires automakers to meet increasingly stringent average emissions limits across their entire product lines.

Still, the industry has made a big push into electrification, selling a record 1.2 million EVs last year. However, sales have slowed in recent months, and the new regulation will require a tenfold increase in sales within eight years. John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, called it a “stretch goal” but said Wednesday, “The future is electric.”

The EPA’s standard is less aggressive than what was included when it was proposed the rules in April, a concession the Biden administration made to automakers and the United Auto Workers. Producers were concerned that the original pace was too fast, and workers concerned about job security. Electric vehicles tend to have fewer parts — meaning fewer people are needed on assembly lines — and many factories are located in right-to-work states hostile to organized labor.

“I know I’ve been a thorn in your side this past year,” Bozzella, whose organization represents 42 automakers and industry suppliers, told Regan from the stage during Wednesday’s event. “But that’s only because automakers are committed to electrification, and we want this transformation to EVs—our shared goal, by the way—to succeed over the long term.”

Tempering the guideline is likely to result in a slower near-term ramp up in vehicle electrification, but the final rule nevertheless positions the sector to see EVs represent 67 percent of sales by 2032, according to a memo of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

While climate advocates largely applauded the new guidance, many felt the Biden administration should have acted more aggressively.

“This rule falls far short of what is needed to protect public health and our planet,” Chelsea Hodgkins, a senior policy attorney at Public Citizen, said in a statement. The organization issued a report noting the vast resources the industry has devoted to weakening the rule, saying, “EPA gives automakers a pass to continue producing polluting vehicles.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists also expressed disappointment, note it “The science is clear about both the urgent need to reduce climate-threatening emissions and the fact that we can make the cuts we need. We don’t have many opportunities to reduce transport pollution and it is disappointing that this rule falls short of what is possible.”

Still, any slack that comes from the federal effort could be picked up by the states. California, plans to ban the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035. Eight states have followed suit and shown the way to what is possible.

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