WASHINGTON – President Biden will move on Thursday to cut tailpipe emissions, a major cause of the carbon dioxide pollution that is heating the planet, and encourage American automakers to boost sales of electric vehicles.
Mr Biden will restore and slightly reinforce regulations to the levels that existed under President Barack Obama but weakened during the Trump administration. In addition, he is expected to announce that his government is developing a series of even stricter pollution regulations for both passenger cars and heavy trucks.
“When I say that electric vehicles are the future, I’m not kidding,” Biden wrote in a tweet on Wednesday night. “Tune in tomorrow for big news.”
He will also sign an executive order that sets the target for half of all vehicles sold in the US to be electric by 2030.
As a token of industry support, the president will be flanked by the CEOs of the country’s three largest automakers and the head of United Auto Workers. Automakers promise that 40 to 50 percent of their new car sales will be electric vehicles by 2030, up from just 2 percent this year – on condition that Congress passes a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill that is $ 7.5 billion US dollars for a national network of charging stations for electric cars.
Together, the government’s actions are aimed at quickly moving the American auto market away from polluting internal combustion engines and towards an emission-free electric vehicle, which Biden says is essential to tackling climate change.
This goal faces several challenges.
Experts say it won’t be possible for electric vehicles to move from niche to mainstream without electric charging stations being as ubiquitous as corner gas stations are today. And while union leaders will attend the White House event, they remain concerned about a wholesale switch to electric vehicles that require fewer workers to assemble.
The switch to electric cars
But without a radical change in the types of vehicles Americans drive, it will be impossible for Mr Biden to deliver on his ambitious promise of reducing emissions that are warming the planet by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of this decade to lower. Gasoline-powered cars and trucks are the largest single source of greenhouse gases produced in the United States, accounting for 28 percent of the country’s total CO2 emissions.
“Today the EPA is taking a huge step forward in implementing President Biden’s ambitious agenda to tackle the climate crisis and create well-paid union jobs,” said Michael S. Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, author of the new rules with the Tourist Office. “These rigorous standards are underpinned by in-depth scientific and technical expertise, and fuel the development of technologies and innovations that will propel America toward a clean energy future.”
Given the impact of a warming planet witnessed in record droughts, deadly heat waves, floods, and forest fires around the world, scientists say simply restoring Obama-era climate controls will not be enough.
“Obama has started moving us in the right direction to deal with climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. “Trump tore it all apart. Biden is now putting the parts back together. But we’re way back. The much harder work is yet to come. The large-scale rebuilding of the transportation system and power grid is a WWII-scale enterprise, and it’s just getting started. “
The exhaust emissions regulations enacted by the Obama administration in 2012 required automobiles sold by automakers to average about 51 miles per gallon by 2025. Mr Trump relaxed the standard in 2020 to about 44 miles per gallon by 2026.
Government officials said the new Biden standard would be 52 miles per gallon by 2026, calling it “the strictest federal greenhouse gas standards in US history”.
The White House estimates that the regulations would reduce two billion tons of carbon dioxide – about a third of the total annual carbon pollution in the United States – and prevent the burning of about 200 billion gallons of gasoline.
The Biden government is then planning another series of stricter emissions regulations for vehicles produced beyond 2026. It is these rules that Mr Biden hopes will essentially drive automakers to phase out the internal combustion engine. Since this second set of rules could be technically complex and legally ambitious, officials decided to first quickly reintroduce the Obama rules to cut some emissions while federal workers challenge themselves to work out the future rule.
“Depending on how they are written, this second rule will either or not get us on the road to widespread use of electric vehicles by the end of this decade,” said Jeff Alson, a former senior engineer and policy advisor to the EPA to the Obama auto emissions standards.
“It will be challenging because it is difficult for regulators to force a major technology shift,” said Alson. “That’s pretty rare. If you want to replace an internal combustion engine with a battery and replace the transmission with electric motors – that replaces the guts of gasoline-powered cars. Forcing such changes will not be easy for federal agencies and politicians unless they have the support of the public and automakers. “
In a joint statement, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis – the auto company created this year after the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot – announced their “common goal” of selling 40 to 50 percent electric vehicles by 2030.
But they need government support to turn their aspirations into action, they wrote. “This represents a dramatic shift from today’s US market that can only be achieved through timely implementation of the entire electrification policy,” said the automakers in the statement, seeking government help with incentives for car buyers, a charging network and investments in research and development and incentives to expand electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains.
A report from the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research organization, concluded last month that the country would need 2.4 million charging points for electric vehicles by 2030 – up from 216,000 in 2020 – if about 36 percent of new vehicle sales were electric.
Some environmental groups expressed skepticism that the car companies would keep their promises.
“Today’s proposal is based on unenforceable voluntary commitments by unreliable automakers to run up to 50 percent of their fleets electrically by 2030,” said Dan Becker, director of the Campaign for Safe Climate Transport at the Center for Biodiversity.
“Voluntary pledges from auto companies make a New Year’s weight loss resolution look like a legally binding contract,” he said, adding, “Global warming is burning forests, roasting the West and making storms worse. Now is not the time to propose weak standards and then promise strong ones later. “
Unions, meanwhile, have expressed some unease about the transition to electric vehicles, which will require around two-thirds fewer workers to assemble than gasoline-powered cars or trucks.
In a statement, Ray Curry, president of United Auto Workers said: “While the UAW notes that companies have made voluntary electric vehicle commitments, the UAW’s focus is not on hard deadlines or percentages, but on maintaining wages and benefits, they were the heart and soul of the American middle class. “
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