Biden, in effort to phase out gasoline-powered cars, tightens pollution rules


WASHINGTON – President Biden on Thursday announced a multi-step strategy to quickly switch Americans from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to electric vehicles – a central part of his plan to reduce the pollution that is heating the planet.

Mr. Biden is first restoring and slightly bolstering auto mileage standards to levels that existed under President Barack Obama, but were weakened under the Trump administration. The new rules, which would apply to model year 2023 vehicles, would reduce about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by the United States each year and prevent about 200 billion gallons of gasoline from burning over time. life of cars, according to a White House fact sheet.

The administration then plans to develop even stricter pollution rules for passenger vehicles and heavy trucks that are designed to force automakers to increase sales of electric vehicles.

“There is a vision for the future that is now starting to materialize, a future for the electric automobile industry – battery electric, plug-in hybrid, fuel cell electric,” said Mr. Biden, who announced the plan of the South. White House lawn in front of an array of parked electric vehicles including the Ford F150 Lightning, Chevrolet Bolt EV and a Jeep Wrangler. “The question is whether we are going to lead or fall behind in the future. “

Mr Biden’s actions amount to an attempt to overhaul a major US industry to better compete with China, which makes about 70% of the world’s electric vehicle batteries. In an effort to mix environmental, economic and foreign policy, Biden wants to retool and expand the domestic supply chain so that batteries essential for electric vehicles are also manufactured in factories in the United States.

“This is the first example of how the Biden administration would apply industrial policy in the face of climate change,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

Without a radical change in the type of vehicles Americans drive, it will be impossible for Mr. Biden to deliver on his ambitious pledge to reduce global warming emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by the end of this year. decade. Gasoline-powered cars and trucks are the largest source of greenhouse gases produced in the United States, accounting for 28% of the country’s total carbon emissions.

He also signed an executive order calling on the government to try to get half of all vehicles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030.

In a sign of industry support, the president was joined on the South Lawn by the CEOs of the country’s three largest automakers, as well as the leader of the United Auto Workers. Automakers have pledged that 40-50% of their new car sales will be electric vehicles by 2030, down from just 2% this year, provided Congress passes a spending bill that includes billions of dollars for a national electric vehicle charging network. stations, as well as tax credits to allow businesses to build cars at a lower cost and consumers to buy them.

A rapid transition to electric cars and trucks faces several challenges.

Experts say it won’t be possible for electric vehicles to move from the niche to the mainstream without making electric charging stations as ubiquitous as corner gas stations. And while union leaders attended the White House event and called Mr. Biden a “brother,” they remain concerned about a massive transition to electric vehicles, which require fewer workers to assemble.

Mr Biden put the issues in plain language, calling the transition an act “to save the planet”.

With the impacts of global warming seen in record droughts, deadly heat waves, floods and wildfires around the world, scientists say that simply restoring Obama-era climate controls won’t will not be enough.

“Obama has started to point 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 destroyed everything. Biden is now putting the pieces back together. But we are far behind. Much harder work is yet to come. The wholesale conversion of the transportation system and the electric power system are WWII scale undertakings, and it’s only just getting started. “

Exhaust emissions regulations enacted by the Obama administration in 2012 required passenger vehicles 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. The new Biden standard would be 52 miles per gallon by 2026.

The White House estimates that the regulations would reduce two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, or about one-third of the total annual carbon dioxide pollution produced by the United States, and prevent the burning of about 200 billion gallons of ‘gasoline.

The Biden administration then plans a set of stricter emissions regulations for vehicles produced beyond 2026. It is these rules that Mr. Biden hopes will essentially push automakers to phase out the internal combustion engine. Given that this second set of rules could be technically complex and legally ambitious, administration officials first decided to quickly reinstate Obama’s regulations to cut some emissions while federal staff members rise to the challenge of writing. the future rule.

“Depending on how they write it, this second rule will put us on the path to widespread electric vehicle use by the end of this decade – or it won’t,” said Jeff Alson, former engineer. senior and policy advisor to the EPA who worked on Obama’s auto emissions standards.

“It will be a challenge because regulatory agencies are struggling to force major technological change,” Mr. Alson said. “It’s quite rare. If you want to replace an internal combustion engine with a battery and replace the transmission with electric motors, this replaces the guts of gasoline cars. Forcing this kind of change will not be easy for federal agencies and politicians unless they have the support of the public and the automakers. “

In a joint statement, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the automaker formed this year after the Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot merger, announced their “common aspiration” to achieve 40-50% electric vehicle sales by 2030 .

But they need government support and a “full suite of electrification policies” to translate their aspirations into action, they wrote.

Specifically, automakers want Congress to offer incentives to car buyers and pay for a charging network, investment in research and development, and incentives to expand electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains.

Mr. Biden asked Congress for $ 174 billion to create 500,000 charging stations. An infrastructure bill pending in the Senate includes only $ 7.5 billion. However, it is also providing $ 73 billion to expand and update the power grid, a critical step in getting electricity to new car charging stations. A second bill, which could be passed by Congress this fall, could include significantly more spending on electric vehicles, consumer tax incentives and research. Neither of these proposals is guaranteed to make it through the heavily divided Congress.

The International Council for Clean Transportation, a research organization, concluded that the country would need 2.4 million electric vehicle charging stations by 2030 – up from 216,000 in 2020 – though around 36% of new cars were electric.

Some environmental groups have expressed skepticism that automakers will keep their promises.

“Voluntary pledges from automakers make the New Year’s weight loss resolution look like a legally binding contract,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Global warming is burning forests, roasting the West and making storms worse. Now is not the time to come up with low standards and promise high standards later. “

Some automakers are already retooling for a fully electric future, in part due to policy changes elsewhere. The European Union has announced that all new cars sold will be emission-free by 2035. In the United States, California and Massachusetts have made the same pledge. General Motors has announced that it will only sell zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

Unions, meanwhile, have expressed concern over a transition to electric vehicles, which require around a third fewer workers to assemble than gasoline cars or trucks.

In a statement, Ray Curry, president of the United Auto Workers said, “While the UAW notes that companies have made voluntary commitments on electric vehicles, the UAW does not focus on strict deadlines or percentages, but on preserving the wages and benefits that have been the heart and soul of the American middle class.

Mr Biden’s effort to shape the auto industry, combining his climate agenda with his focus on competitiveness with China, is just the latest example of how the administration is focusing on industrial policy. In June, the president passed one of the most ambitious industrial policy laws in the Senate, committing $ 52 billion for the semiconductor industry and an additional $ 195 billion for research and development over the course of the next decade.

Ultimately, however, the success of Mr. Biden’s auto plan will depend on Americans’ confidence in a whole new type of car.

“In the world of electrification, you have the regulations, which the executive branch can do, and the need for additional infrastructure, which depends on a divided Congress,” said David G. Victor, co-director of Deep Decarbonization. Initiative at the University of California, San Diego. “And then you have the need for a change in human behavior, which is largely uncharted territory.”

David E. Sanger contributed reports.

Credit…The New York Times

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