EPA unveiling 'strongest ever' auto emissions standards in EV push

Breana Noble Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

The Biden administration on Wednesday is unveiling the "strongest ever" tailpipe emissions standards that are expected to push automakers to accelerate the proportion of electric vehicles in their U.S. sales to 67% by 2032.

The proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency, which govern greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from light-duty vehicles such as cars, trucks and SUVs, call for a 56% reduction for the applicable model years 2027 to 2032. The EPA projects that by 2055, the rules would remove nearly 10 billion tons of carbon emissions — equal to twice the total U.S. carbon emissions in 2022 — reducing fine particulate matter in the air that can have negative health effects and potentially saving up to $1.6 trillion.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a virtual briefing ahead of a news conference on Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., called the targets, which will undergo a public comment period before being finalized, "ambitious." In August 2021, President Joe Biden had set a goal for half of new U.S. vehicle sales to be all-electric by 2030. Now, the new standard suggests EV penetration would be at 60% by 2030 to meet the proposed standards.

"The stakes could not be higher," Regan said. "We must continue to act with haste and ambition to confront the climate crisis and to leave all our children, like my 9-year-old son, Matthew, a healthier and safer world. By doing so, we will secure America's global competitiveness and deliver economic benefits for all."

EVs represented 5.8% of U.S. sales in 2022, according to AutoForecast Solutions LLC, which expects that to jump to 8.8% this year. But even by 2032, the market forecast firm is unsure adoption will reach 45%. Other analysts' predictions also fall below the EPA's proposed 67%.

"The growth in EVs will slow down," said Sam Fiorani, the firm's vice president of global vehicle forecasting. "EVs are not ready to replace ICEs 100%."

Although the EPA emphasized EVs, the rules themselves are "technology-neutral," said Ali Zaidi, the White House's national climate adviser. That would allow for the inclusion of alternative propulsion technology such as hydrogen fuel cells.

Building off rules released in December 2021 for model years 2023 to 2026, the fleetwide light-duty standard would be at 82 grams per mile for model year 2032, down from a fleetwide 161 grams per mile by 2026, an equivalent of 40 mpg industry-wide. Other proposed alternatives put the standard at 72 grams and 92 grams per mile. A third has a more aggressive adoption early on during the period to get to the 82 grams per mile goal.

Zaidi, during the briefing, emphasized that legislation has "reshaped the trend lines." Those measures include the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030 and the Inflation Reduction Act that incentivizes EV purchases and investment for their assembly, parts manufacturing and material sourcing in North America. The Biden administration expects capacity for the assembly of 13 million EVs by 2030.

"Time and time again, I think folks have bet against the ingenuity of American workers and American industry to continue to deliver products that will help us lead the world in the clean energy economy," Zaidi said. "I think they, frankly, lag the physical reality that we're seeing be built up based on private investment that's going into the system."

He noted the role of economic development in the move to zero-emission vehicles and said it should "lift up our communities and strengthen our workers, be shoulder to shoulder with them, as they organize for rights and benefits."

At least one automaker applauded the proposal. Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at Rivian Automotive Inc., said in a statement that the EV startup will urge for the strongest possible standards.

"The vehicle emissions standards proposed today," he said, "are a critical addition to the administration’s climate portfolio, and we applaud the realistic goals set forward in the headline targets."

Biden's 2021 rules reversed a standard put in place by former President Donald Trump's administration by boosting requirements by 25%. The rules were also 5% higher than a proposal Biden's EPA had made that summer.

The new proposal likely won't be without its hurdles. Texas, joined by 15 other states, last month challenged the EPA's regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration rules.

The proposal released Wednesday won't ban gas car sales — the administration has supported California's authority to set its own emissions standards but has not said it would support a federal policy similar to that of California's state policy that will ban new gas-powered car sales by 2035. It, however, has set a goal to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030 in accordance with the Paris Agreement that is seeking to limit the rise in average global temperature to under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius).

Because the transportation industry represents the largest amount of carbon emissions in the country, Margo Oge, former head of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, who now advises nonprofits and manufacturers on zero-emission transportation, said during a webinar, "these regulations will reflect, in my view, the single most important regulatory initiative by the Biden administration to combat climate change and to really reduce the worst outcomes of climate change."

Automakers typically start developing vehicles three to six years in advance and have shared targets to end the sale of gas-powered vehicles. General Motors Co.'s aspiration date is by 2035. The goal for the U.S. is included in Jeep maker Stellantis NV's 2038 carbon net-zero ambition. Ford Motor Co. has pledged to end the sale globally of ICE vehicles by 2040.

Chester France, the EPA's former Assessment and Standards Division director responsible for the development of national vehicle emission standards who now is a consultant to the Environmental Defense Fund, said he is optimistic that the industry will meet and even exceed expectations. The question for the regulators is what the trajectory of adoption will look like, which will be a part of the conversation with stakeholders during public comments, Regan said.

"The regulatory policy," France said during a webinar, "has a role in providing that certainty, providing that market signal to make sure that all these things fit together."

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents most major automakers selling vehicles in the United States, released a memo last week noting that car companies are invested in the EV transition.

Automakers will have spent $1.2 trillion on vehicle electrification by 2030, the group said, and multiple manufacturers have set goals to be EV-only by 2040. But the group argued that requiring automakers to spend more on reducing emissions from gas-powered cars may slow progress toward that goal.

"Every dollar invested in internal combustion technology is a dollar not spent on zero carbon technology," the Alliance wrote. "Requiring large investments for incremental gains from gas-powered engines come at the expense of where our collective focus ought to be: electrification."

Environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have argued the administration should adopt the most stringent regulations possible: Ones that would reduce carbon dioxide pollution by at least 75% by 2030, including by requiring pollution reductions from gas-powered cars.

"Biden needs to set standards that force the industry to do what they won’t do otherwise," the group wrote in an opinion piece published Friday. "Rapidly ratchet up sales of EVs, hold the line on polluting crossover SUVs and clean up the millions of new gas-powered vehicles they’ll sell in the meantime."

The EPA rules also offer standards for medium-duty vehicles as well as heavy-duty trucks like commercial delivery vans and semis. It forecast that medium-duty EV penetration could reach 46% by 2032.

The proposal originally had been expected to be announced in Detroit. The EPA cited a scheduling conflict for the move in location to the nation's capital, according to The New York Times.

EPA's rulemaking is expected to be followed by a separate rule from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later this year governing vehicles' miles-per-gallon efficiency. Those rules are known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards.


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