Biden tightens emissions standards, forcing hard shift to electric vehicles

The Biden administration will announce tough new emissions standards for automobiles Wednesday as it aims to speed the transition from gasoline and diesel powered vehicles over the next decade.

The Biden administration will announce tough new emissions standards for automobiles Wednesday as it aims to speed the transition from gasoline and diesel powered vehicles over the next decade.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced tough new emissions standards for automobiles Wednesday, with the goal of pushing carmakers to drastically speed up the transition away from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles over the next decade.

Under the proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, more than two-thirds of new car sales are expected to be electric by 2032, compared to less than 6 percent currently.

That would represent an upending of the oil sector's almost century long dominance over the transportation sector, with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel currently representing more than two-thirds of U.S. petroleum demand.

"In every corner of this land, Americans are feeling the impacts of climate change up close," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said. "We must continue to act with haste and ambition to confront the climate crisis." Few EVs expected to qualify for tax credit under new IRS rules

The new standards will begin in 2027, and within five years automakers will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by their light-duty vehicle fleets by 56 percent. Medium-duty vehicle fleets like delivery trucks would be required to reduce emissions by 44 percent, and new rules for heavy-duty vehicles aim to stop 1.8 billion tons of carbon from going into the atmosphere over the next three decades - with a quarter of new long haul trucks projected to run on hydrogen fuel technology.

The new rules are likely to upend the market for petroleum-based fuels, an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year and a mainstay of Gulf Coast economies where refineries produce almost half the nation's fuel supply. Refining companies began lining up against the EPA proposal Wednesday, likely setting up a long regulatory and legal fight.

Chet Thompson, president of the trade group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said the new rules will, "effectively ban gasoline and diesel vehicles."

"We should all be aiming for individuals and families to have more fuel and vehicle choices, not less, that can fit within their budgets and meet their work and household needs," he said. "The (EPA) should withdraw this rule and work collaboratively with the fuel, petrochemical and vehicle industries to find cost-effective ways to reduce emissions."

The new regulations will bring the United States in line with other Western economies. Earlier this the European Union approved new rules that would phase out carbon-emitting vehicles by 2035, and similar regulations are under consideration in the United Kingdom and Canada.

But how realistic the EPA's projections are for electric vehicle adoption remains a question.

Automakers like GM and Ford have committed to phasing out vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel by 2035, but that is a target dependent on a massive overhaul of U.S. auto assembly lines and the expansion of supply chains for batteries and the critical minerals that go into them.

"EPA’s proposed emissions plan is aggressive by any measure," John Bozzella, president of the trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation, wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "A lot has to go right for this massive – and unprecedented – change in our automotive market and industrial base to succeed."

Electric vehicle sales increased by more than 60 percent last year, driven in part by the passage last summer of the Inflation Reduction Act, which expanded a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles on the condition manufacturers could shift their supply chains to North America and countries with which the United States has free trade agreements — excluding vehicles with large percentages of components from China, the world's largest battery manufacturer.

Environmental groups largely cheered the EPA proposal Wednesday, even though some said it did not go far enough if the United States is to meet targets set by scientists avoid a more than 1.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures.

"These EPA standards are a key piece of the puzzle to curb our country’s single largest source of carbon pollution,” said Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Done right, these will put the U.S. on the road to end pollution from vehicle tailpipes."

President Joe Biden had previously set the goal of getting half of U.S. car sales to electric models by 2030. The new rules should theoretically allow the country to reach that goal, according to EPA projections. But actually doing so is not likely to be easy, requiring a massive expansion in electric charging capacity.

Local power grids will need to be modified to accommodate increasing residential charging and more public charging stations. At present, almost 40 percent of U.S. counties have no public electric chargers available, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

But the Biden administration is confident that through a combination of tax credits, tens of billions of dollars in federal spending and tougher emissions standards, it can achieve the president's electric vehicle goal, said National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi.

"Let's rewind the tape to two years ago and see what the analysts said," he said. "Those analysts' projections have been increased by factors of two or three."