Biden pledges government will stop buying gas-powered vehicles by 2035

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday pledging to buy only zero-emission vehicles for the federal fleet by 2035. 

The order also sets a shorter-term deadline of purchasing 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2027. The federal government will work with American vehicle, battery and charger manufacturers in the effort, the White House said Wednesday. 

The two vehicle-related goals were accompanied by orders for the federal government to transition to all carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions from federal procurement and operations by 2050. 

"As the single largest land owner, energy consumer, and employer in the Nation, the Federal Government can catalyze private sector investment and expand the economy and American industry by transforming how we build, buy, and manage electricity, vehicles, buildings, and other operations to be clean and sustainable," the executive order read. 

Executive orders apply to federal agencies in the executive branch, but can be changed or revoked by future presidents. If he wins a second term in office, Biden can serve as president through 2028.

The federal government has nearly 650,000 vehicles, according to the most recently available data from the U.S. General Services Administration. Right now, only around 3,000 — or 0.5% — of those vehicles are electric.  

In January, Biden pledged to transition the fleet to electric vehicles "made right here in America made by American workers." He has since kept the Detroit Three automakers close, including visits to both Ford and General Motors EV facilities in Michigan. 

Automakers are pouring billions into transitioning their own offerings from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles to largely battery-electric ones. Biden has also set the goal of making 50% of new vehicle sales electric by 2030, and the Detroit Three agreed to aim for 40-50% sales goals in the same time frame. The goals are not binding. 

Transportation makes up 35% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., more than any other source including electricity and industry, according the Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of that comes from passenger cars, trucks, SUVs, pickups and minivans, while the rest comes from other forms of transportation such as aircraft, ships and trains. 

Both environmental groups and industry advocates praised the order on Wednesday. 

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation CEO John Bozzella, an advocacy group representing most major automakers selling vehicles in the U.S., said in a statement that the industry is "committed to vehicle electrification" and that the automakers "strongly support the Administration’s efforts to lead by example."

They added that "collaboration" between governments and industry will be crucial in "meeting our shared EV goals."

The United Auto Workers union has said it supports the administration's efforts to accelerate the transition to EVs, but has cautioned that workers must be protected amid the change. Electric vehicles require fewer parts and people to assemble and maintain than gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. 

"The challenge we face is to make sure these produce jobs of the future that continue to support and build America’s middle class," UAW President Ray Curry said in a statement Wednesday. "Today’s Executive Order by President Biden seizes the opportunity to preserve, create and increase the opportunity for good union jobs for decades to come.”

Katherine García, acting director of the Sierra Club's clean transportation campaign, said in a statement that they "applaud" the administration's "major commitment to support the transition to electric cars and trucks."

“Government fleet vehicles make up half a million cars and trucks across the country," she said. "Getting to 100% electric will help the U.S. curtail pollution from its top-emitting sector, improve air quality, and create positive ripple effects by driving down the cost of electric vehicles.”

Twitter: @rbeggin