The Biden administration would delay the early phase of the shift to electric cars

In a concession to automakers and unions, the Biden administration plans to relax elements of one of its most ambitious strategies to combat climate change: limits on tailpipe emissions intended to encourage Americans to switch from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles. to three people familiar with the plan.

Rather than requiring automakers to rapidly ramp up electric vehicle sales in the coming years, the government would give automakers more time, with a sharp increase in sales not needed until after 2030, these people said. They asked to remain anonymous because the settlement has not yet been finalized. The administration plans to publish the final rule in early spring.

The change comes as President Biden faces intense crosswinds as he runs for re-election while trying to tackle climate change. He aims to reduce CO2 emissions from gasoline vehicles, which are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States.

At the same time, Mr. Biden needs the cooperation of the auto industry and political support from the unionized auto workers who supported him in 2020 but now worry that an abrupt transition to electric vehicles would cost jobs. Meanwhile, consumer demand isn’t what automakers had hoped, with potential buyers deterred by sticker prices and the relative scarcity of charging stations.

Sensing an opening, former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, has seized on electric cars, falsely warning the public that they “don’t work” and telling autoworkers that Mr. Biden’s policies are “madness ” is and that he would do the same. deaf on “the first day” of his return to the White House.

Last spring, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the strictest limits ever on tailpipe emissions. The rules would be so strict that carmakers could only comply by selling a huge number of zero-emission vehicles in a relatively short time.

The EPA designed the proposed regulations so that 67 percent of new car and light truck sales would be all-electric by 2032, up from 7.6 percent by 2023, a radical change for the U.S. auto market.

That remains the goal. But as they finalize regulations, government officials are adjusting the plan to slow the pace at which automakers would have to comply so that electric vehicle sales would increase more gradually through 2030 but rise sharply after that.

The change in pace is a response to automakers who say more time is needed to build a national network of charging stations and drive down the cost of electric vehicles, and to unions who want more time to try to build new factories for electric cars. that are opening up across the country, especially in the south.

But delaying the rule’s strictest requirements could come at a cost to the climate after the hottest year on record.

Delaying the sharp increase in electric vehicle sales until after 2030 would still eliminate about the same amount of auto emissions by 2055 as the original proposal, according to EPA models. But it would mean that in the short term the nation would continue pumping car emissions into the atmosphere. Scientists say every year contributes to the government’s efforts to prevent the planet from falling into even deadlier and more expensive climate disasters.

“There will be more rapid warming if emissions from the U.S. transportation sector do not decline before 2030,” said James Glynn, a senior scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Scientists have warned that if the Earth’s average temperature rises by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, humans would struggle to adapt to increasingly violent storms, floods, fires, heat waves and other disruptions.

The planet has already warmed by about 1.2 degrees Celsius.

Ali Zaidi, Mr. Biden’s senior climate adviser, declined to discuss the details of the final settlement. But he said in an interview that Mr. Biden’s climate policies, combined with record federal investments in renewable energy, would still help meet the president’s goal of cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 .

“I feel very good about how our policies, including regulatory measures, are aligned to enhance our ability to meet our 2030 targets and prepare for the longer-term path,” Mr Zaidi said.

Still, experts say it is uncertain whether Mr. Biden can achieve his twin goals of cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050, a goal that scientists say all countries must achieve to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of prevent climate change. .

Support from the Labor Party has been an important part of Biden’s political coalition and his portrayal of himself as a fighter for the middle class.

That support was threatened last spring when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new tailpipe emissions limits. Soon after, Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, wrote that the union was withholding its endorsement of Mr. Biden’s reelection bid because of “concerns about the transition to electric vehicles.”

The union is wary of electric vehicles because fewer workers are needed to assemble and many electric vehicle factories are being built in states with few unions.

In public comments on the proposed rule, the United Auto Workers urged the Biden administration to relax the timeline for compliance so that it “increases stringency more gradually and occurs over a longer period of time.” Union leaders repeated that request in conversations with senior White House officials, including Mr. Zaidi, over the past six months. Biden administration officials said the union’s comments had “resonated.”

When the union went on strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis last fall, partly over fears about the industry’s transition to electric vehicles, Mr. Biden sought to assuage their concerns and became the first president to direct workers to the picket line stood. .

In early January, the EPA sent a revised version of its auto emissions rule with the longer time frame to the White House. Weeks later, the United Auto Workers endorsed Mr. Biden.

A union spokesman declined multiple requests to interview Mr. Fain.

After the endorsement, Trump called Mr. Fain a “dope” on Truth Social, his social media site. “He supported Biden’s ‘vision’ of all electric vehicles, which will require far fewer workers to make each car, but, importantly, are not wanted in large numbers by consumers, and will ALL be made in China,” the wrote Mr Trump. .

Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, noted how Mr. Trump has focused on concerns about electric vehicles that are pervading this car-making state, one of the few swing states where the election is likely to take place. decided.

“Trump has been very effective in using wedge issues in the past,” Rabe said. “Every time he comes to state, this comes up. And this isn’t abstract in Michigan, it’s a real question. ‘Which factory am I going to work in?’”

Although a record 1.2 million electric vehicles were sold in the United States last year, growth is slowing even though new regulations would require a nearly tenfold increase in such sales within just eight years.

While buyers of new electric vehicles are eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, only 18 models currently 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 last year, well below Ford’s forecast of 150,000.

And as EV charger construction expands, nearly doubling from about 87,000 in 2019 to more than 172,000 last year, analysts predict the country will need more than two million chargers by 2030 to keep up with the growth in the number of electric vehicles the proposed rules are intended to support.

All that worries car companies, which have invested about $146 billion in electric vehicle research and development over the past three years. Auto companies would face billions of dollars a year in fines if emissions associated with car sales exceed the limits of the new regulations, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents 42 auto companies that produce about 97 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States, has asked the government for the same delay as the United Auto Workers.

“The pace is important,” John Bozzella, president of the alliance, said in an interview. “Give the market and supply chains a chance to catch up, ensure customer choice, bring more public charging online.”

Analysts say the current slowdown in electric vehicle sales is to be expected because the market for early adopters – typically wealthier coastal residents who have bought an EV as a second car – is saturated.

“It may take some time before the larger middle-class market is ready to embrace buying plug-in cars,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research.

It could be easier to sell many more electric vehicles after 2030, Mr Prasad said.

“New technology is emerging, prices are changing and consumer behavior is changing,” he said. “If you were running one of these companies and you got some extra time, you would use every second. You can do things that will allow you to better source components, test new technologies, battery technology will become cheaper and allow people to drive longer distances, there will be more investment in charging infrastructure, and in the minds of consumers you would can see more acceptance of this.”

Some analysts said the trade-off, loosening rules to give auto companies and workers what they want, could be worth it if it helps Mr. Biden win the election, as Mr. Trump has made clear that if he wins , he plans to completely roll back the rules.

David Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California San Diego, said: “You have a few more years of emissions, but you increase the chance that the rule will stick.”

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