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Designed to spur domestic manufacturing, strengthen supply chains, boost US competitiveness, and create good-paying jobs, new vehicle emission standards are part of a bigger picture of the quest toward climate mitigation.

Air Quality

New GHG Emissions Standards For Vehicles — The Push For EVs Is On

Designed to spur domestic manufacturing, strengthen supply chains, boost US competitiveness, and create good-paying jobs, new vehicle emission standards are part of a bigger picture of the quest toward climate mitigation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposals for GHG emissions standards for cars are so stringent that they’ll prompt a new milestone in US auto sales: two-thirds of the new vehicles sold in the US are expected to be all-electric by 2032, up from just 5.8% today. It’s even been speculated that the rules will force the end sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) car sales by 2035. The proposition doesn’t require a specific amount of annual EV sales — the automakers have to sell a whole lot more EVs in order to meet the requirements. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can limit the pollution generated by the total number of cars each manufacturer sells.

Tackling GHG emissions standards is a political football, with powerful automaker lobbyist groups bemoaning the burden placed on their clients. Others complain, too, about the new GHG emissions standards. Some object that EVs are still a bit too pricey for most consumers — global supply chain gaps that supply the critical materials needed to build them do remain problematic. EVs also have a deficit of a national network of millions of easy-to-use, fast-charging stations.

Sure, infrastructure problems need to be addressed to persuade consumers to buy into transportation electrification. But it’s possible, and manageable, and in the works, so that transportation, the largest source of the greenhouse gases generated by the US, can be mitigated.

Removing pollution from tailpipes is imperative to avert the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan unveiled two separate rules during a ceremony Wednesday at EPA headquarters. “This is historic news,” he said.

The GHG emissions standards usher in 2 Biden-Harris administration goals:

  • decarbonization, or cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change
  • deglobalization, or reducing America’s reliance on foreign countries for EV battery components

The administration said the new standards would save the economy $850 billion to $1.6 trillion between 2027 and 2055, avoid about 20 billion barrels in oil imports, and save the average buyer of a car or light-duty truck $12,000 over the vehicle’s lifetime.

About 50% of “vocational vehicles,” which include buses and garbage trucks, could be electric by 2032, as would 35% of short-haul freight tractors and 25% of long-haulers, the EPA said. If enacted, the GHG emissions standards would — at least at first — surpass those already in place in the European Union, which point toward 58% EVs of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

Charging Stations Demands aren’t Holding Back Consumer Interest

As of last year, there were about 46,000 charging stations in the country, compared to about 150,000 gas stations. Meanwhile, states have ramped up construction of charging stations using $7.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law. Last week, in a move that points to the attractiveness of EVs, Walmart announced it will add EV charging to thousands of its US stores by 2030.

About 40% of people in the US surveyed say they are at least somewhat likely to buy an EV when it’s time to purchase a new vehicle. That’s according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the University of Chicago. To help with the cost of purchasing and owning an electric vehicle, 49% of adults support the government providing tax credits, cash rebates, or other financial incentives, like those that will soon be available via the Inflation Reduction Act. Another 46% support increasing federal funding for electric vehicle infrastructure such as charging stations, as happened under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Nonetheless, nearly 80% of the public cite the lack of charging options as a barrier to purchasing an EV.

EPA Research into EV Technology

What does it take for government engineers to rewrite tailpipe pollution rules? They think ahead to the nation’s transition to electric cars. These EPA experts focus on the laboratory to determine how much EV technology is likely to advance in the next decade. In that way, they can help the agency set the strongest tailpipe emissions limits that are still achievable.

An interesting New York Times article tracks how government experts in technology, chemistry, toxicology, and law at the lab have been working with engineers to dissemble and test the apparatus of Teslas, GMs, Volkswagens, and Nissans to determine the efficacy of existing technology — which can go the farthest and fastest; which is the sturdiest and most durable; and, which is equipped with the most affordable technology.

Experiments have included placing EV on giant treadmills and running them for a minimum of 12 hours to determine total miles per single charge capacity. After EVs have been heated to nearly 100 degrees, they’ve been frozen overnight — all in the quest to determine battery strength.

Endless computer simulations continue.

Auto Workers are Worried

The transition to EVs has the potential to displace thousands of auto workers, as EVs require fewer than half the number of workers to assemble than cars with ICE engines. The GHG emissions proposal for model years 2027 to 2032 solidifies what had up until this point been voluntary agreements with automakers from 2021 into regulatory requirements. The MPG standards are also higher had been previously discussed.

Autoworkers are an important constituency for the Biden administration.

With two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the US targeted to be all-electric by 2032, autoworkers fear job losses. The future they see ahead is that the GHG emissions proposals are so demanding that they will force automakers to convert strictly to EV production.

“We’re very mindful that this is a proposal, and we want to give as much flexibility possible,” Regan said.

Labor unions are particularly concerned because many new EV plants and battery factories are being built in southern states that are politically hostile to unionized labor and where wages are relatively low. Southeastern states like Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee have a political culture that is historically dismissive of organized labor, and wages and benefits are typically lower than in unionized plants.

Final Thoughts

White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi called the new GHG emissions proposals an “inevitable” conclusion. “What you see over the last two years … is that President Biden’s leadership has reshaped the trend lines,” he said.

The Biden-Harris administration has spent more than a year offering incentives for industries to invest in clean energy. “Whether you measure today’s announcement by the dollars saved or the gallons reduced or the pollution that will no longer be pumped into the air, this is a win for the American people.”

The EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rules before they are finalized next year.

At least one American automaker, Tesla, is poised to emerge as an out-and-out winner under the new rules because it produces only EVs.

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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