The Biden administration announces new exhaust rules intended to expand electric vehicles

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued one of the most important climate rules in the country’s history, a rule intended to ensure that the majority of new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States by 2032 will be all-electric or being hybrid.

Nearly three years in the making, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new tailpipe pollution limits would transform the U.S. auto market. A record 1.2 million electric vehicles rolled off dealerships last year, but they represented just 7.6 percent of total U.S. auto sales, far short of the 56 percent target under the new regulations. Another 16 percent of new cars sold are said to be hybrid.

Cars and other forms of transportation together are the largest source of carbon emissions generated by the United States, pollution that is driving climate change and has helped make 2023 the hottest year on record. Electric vehicles are central to President Biden’s strategy to tackle global warming, which calls for halving the country’s emissions by the end of this decade. But EVs have also become politicized and are a flashpoint in the 2024 presidential campaign.

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

Over time, the rule increasingly limits the amount of pollution allowed from tailpipes, so that by 2032, more than half of new cars sold in the United States will most likely be zero-emission vehicles, helping automakers meet the standards to fulfil.

That would avoid more than seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, according to the EPA. That’s equivalent to removing a year’s worth of all the greenhouse gases generated by the United States, the country that has historically pumped the most carbon. dioxide in the atmosphere. According to the agency, the regulation would provide society with nearly $100 billion in net annual benefits, including $13 billion in annual public health benefits from improved air quality.

The standards would also save the average American driver about $6,000 less fuel and maintenance over the life of a vehicle, the EPA estimates.

The transition to electric vehicles would require massive changes in production, infrastructure, technology, labor, global trade and consumer habits.

And it has become politically charged. Former President Donald J. Trump, who is campaigning to retake the White House from Mr. Biden in November, has tried to weaponize electric vehicles, repeating false claims about their performance and affordability and using increasingly heated rhetoric at campaign rallies. He recently warned of a “bloodbath” in the middle of a comment about electric vehicles.

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a lobbying organization, has launched what it says is a “seven-figure” campaign of ads, phone calls and text messages against what it incorrectly calls “Biden’s EPA car ban” in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin , Nevada and Arizona, as well as in Ohio, Montana and the Washington, DC market.

The EPA regulation is not a ban. It does not mandate the sale of electric vehicles, and gas-powered cars and trucks can still be sold. Rather, it requires automakers to meet stringent new average emissions limits across their entire product line. It is up to the manufacturers to decide how to comply.

Under the Clean Air Act, the agency can limit the pollution caused by the total number of cars sold each year. EPA officials said automakers could meet the emissions caps by selling a mix of conventional gasoline cars, hybrids, electric vehicles or other types of vehicles, such as hydrogen-powered cars. The new regulation, which would not apply to sales of used cars or light trucks, would take effect from the 2027 model year.

Car companies that exceed the new restrictions could face significant fines.

John Bozzella, chairman of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents 42 auto companies that produce nearly all new vehicles sold in the United States, said in a statement that the new rule was “an ambitious goal,” but one that allows some flexibility offered. “The future is electric,” he said. Still, the rules “recognize the importance of freedom of choice for drivers and preserve their ability to choose the vehicle that suits them,” he said.

But the rule is expected to face an immediate legal challenge from a coalition of fossil fuel companies and Republican attorneys general, complaints that will likely make their way to the Supreme Court.

“They may want us to have all electric cars or no cars at all, but ultimately that’s not their decision,” said Elizabeth Murrill, the attorney general of Louisiana, a major oil and gas producing state involved. in a series of lawsuits challenging the Biden EPA, “there is a limit to their authority to reshape society according to their own vision and the court has realized that.”

The auto emissions rule is the most impactful of four major climate regulations from the Biden administration, including limits on emissions from power plants, trucks and methane leaks from oil and gas wells. The rule comes on top of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the largest climate bill in the nation’s history, which provides at least $370 billion in federal incentives to support clean energy, including tax breaks for electric vehicle buyers.

The policy is intended to help the country achieve Mr. Biden’s goal of halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050. Climate scientists say all major economies must do the same if the world is to avoid the deadliest and costly consequences. of climate change.

“These standards represent what we see as a historic climate grand slam for the Biden administration,” said Manish Bapna, chairman of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, a political action committee that aims to advance the environment.

Mr. Bapna’s group has calculated that the four regulations, combined with the Inflation Reduction Act, would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent by 2030, putting the country most of the way toward Mr. Biden’s target for would reach 2030.

Mr. Trump has pledged to scrap those climate programs when he returns to the White House.

The Biden administration is rushing to finalize climate regulations to protect them from one looming threat in a polarized political climate: Under law, as long as the rule is issued more than 60 legislative days before the end of the presidential term, not be eliminated. by a simple majority vote in Congress.

In writing the final tailpipe regulation, the government relaxed some elements in a concession to automakers and their largest union, the United Auto Workers.

While major auto companies have invested substantially in building and marketing all-electric vehicles, they have complained that the pace of change required under the rule originally proposed a year ago was too rapid.

Union auto workers, who fear a rapid transition to electric vehicles because they have fewer parts that require fewer workers to produce, and because many new EV factories are being built in states that don’t support union labor, told the White House as much. .

In a statement on Wednesday, the United Auto Workers said the EPA “has come a long way to create a more viable emissions rule” that would protect workers who build gas-powered cars while creating a path for automakers to “ to implement the full range”. of automotive technologies to reduce emissions.”

Mr. Biden needs both the auto industry’s cooperation and the political support of the unionized auto workers who supported him in 2020. The auto industry employs thousands of voters in Michigan, a swing state that could determine who wins the White House in November.

In response, the final EPA rule relaxed the pace at which automakers must comply with the rule in its early years, only sharply increasing it after 2030.

That lowers the number of electric vehicles automakers need to sell before 2030, and it also means emissions will fall more slowly. Climate scientists have warned that emissions must fall sharply and quickly to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

“EPA bowed to pressure from Big Auto, Big Oil and auto dealers and riddled the plan with loopholes big enough to drive a Ford F150 through,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign. Center for Biological Diversity. Gasoline cars would “dominate sales for much of this decade and guzzle and pollute until mid-century,” he said.

EPA officials said the final rule would still reduce the same amount of emissions over 30 years.

Asked about that trade-off in a call with reporters, Michael S. Regan, the EPA’s administrator, said the changes were intended to lead to a “stronger, more sustainable” policy — in other words, one that is less likely to . reversed by a future administration or the courts. “We are not sacrificing the environmental benefits we want to see,” he said.

Even if the new EPA limits survive legal challenges, a transition away from the internal combustion engine will depend on a number of other factors.

A lack of public charging stations for electric vehicles remains a problem. While more than 172,000 were installed last year, analysts predict that the country will need more than two million chargers by 2030 to support the growth in electric vehicles envisioned by the EPA regulation.

At the same time, electric vehicle sales growth is slowing, even though the new regulations would require a nearly tenfold increase in sales within just eight years. Buyers of new electric vehicles are eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, but currently only 18 models qualify for that full credit, compared to about two dozen last year. One of those eligible models, the Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric pickup that once had a waiting list of 200,000 units, sold 24,000 units last year, well below Ford’s forecast of 150,000 units.

“Ultimately, this is a consumer issue,” said Stephanie Brinley, Auto Intelligence analyst at S&P Global Mobility. “They are being asked to change their patterns in what they drive, what they buy and how they handle their vehicles. And you can’t push them faster than they will go.

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