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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a plan that will transform the way Americans who are car-obsessed live. It uses public safety regulations to accelerate the transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric ones.
EVs make up a small fraction of the auto market, but according to standards announced Wednesday by the EPA, two-thirds or more of all new vehicles sold in America will be zero-emissions or plug-in hybrids within a decade.
The rules are not final yet, but they would use the Clean Air Act authority to force automakers to reduce pollution and vehicle emissions by over half. The rules would be phased in starting with vehicles of the model year 2027 and fully implemented by 2032. CNN has the full report.
The goals, while ambitious, are not new. The federal government is now on track to catch-up with the state governments led by California that are aiming to ban the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035. CNN Business has a report that explains why this isn't as absurd as it may seem.
Expect court challenges
California's actions and the EPA efforts, which are still subject to public comments and revisions, raise a lot of legal questions.
The conservative-dominated Supreme Court has shown that it is not interested in addressing climate changes. The court rejected the Biden administration plan to reduce emissions from existing power stations last year.
The Key Points
I asked CNN climate journalist Ella Nilsen what she took away from the EPA's announcement. She gave these key points.
The standards are high, but achievable
The newly proposed EPA emission standards, if enacted by the Biden administration, would be the most aggressive climate change policy yet - driving the US auto industry decisively towards electric vehicles within the next decade.
Multiple experts have said that the standards are achievable and may even be slightly behind California standards which aim to phase out gas-powered vehicles by 2035 in order to introduce electric cars. The US also follows countries such as the EU and China who are moving more aggressively towards electric vehicles.
It could be difficult to charge infrastructure and provide incentives for consumers.
The new rule will not be implemented overnight. It would be phased-in over the next decade. The US must also build a network that includes electric charging stations, in addition to gas stations. Federal officials have talked about the need to encourage more Americans to purchase EVs through federal tax credits.
The new $7,500 tax credit (passed by Democrats last year in the Inflation Reduction Act), is incredibly complicated due to the manufacturing requirements. The credits may actually reduce the number of eligible cars (although leased vehicles are given more flexibility under the new system). It will still take many years before the EV infrastructure and incentives are in place for electric vehicles to be available to all Americans.
This is an important moment for US climate policy
The rule is a major policy on climate change, and it will have a significant impact on the US economy. The proposed EPA exhaust standards would reduce the planet-warming emissions from US cars by half. The proposals, when combined with the agency’s standard for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle standards, could reduce CO2 emissions to nearly 10 billion tonnes by 2055.
Transportation is a major contributor to US emissions, as Americans rely heavily on their cars. According to the EPA, it accounts for almost 30% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonizing the US requires reducing tailpipe emissions from gas-powered vehicles and trucks.
People are still not convinced
The federal government, key states, and the auto industry are investing heavily to be competitive on the market. However, Americans are still not fully on board with the idea.
According to a Gallup survey released on Wednesday, only 4% of Americans own an EV and a mere 12% are considering purchasing one. A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that less than half of Americans, 43%, would be willing to buy an EV at some point in the future. However, a large 41% were completely opposed to the idea.
These figures reflect the expected breakdown by partisanship. The majority of interest in EVs comes from Democrats. Republicans are the most vehement opponents. The younger Americans, and those earning $100,000 or more are also more likely to buy an electric vehicle in the future.
Regional disparities are also significant. Only 28% of West-coasters say they wouldn't buy an electric vehicle, despite the fact that many states have already begun to phase out EVs. Compare this to the half of Southerners that would not buy an EV.
According to a poll, a majority of respondents are skeptical about the impact EVs have on climate change. 61% said EVs would only help a little, or not at all.
According to a separate AP/NORC survey released this week the two most common reasons given for not purchasing an EV were the cost (60% said that they are too expensive) and the lack of charging stations (50% said that there weren't enough).
Electric vehicles are evolving fast
Peter Valdes Dapena, a CNN auto reporter, argues that as inventories increase, it is important to consider affordability and access. In a decade, charging should become easier and faster, and EV ranges longer, and prices at or below that of internal combustion vehicles. His full report is available.
The auto industry, rather than fight the rules as the fossil fuel industries will do, is already investing heavily into EVs. This is in response to the tougher regulations already imposed by governments around the globe and California, who has moved to ban new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by the year 2035.
California was the first state to push for EVs during the time when Trump's administration was reversing federal climate policies. Other states like Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota have tied their standards with California's.
Valdes-Dapena writes that auto companies with loyal customers are slowly switching. He writes:
Toyota currently offers one electric vehicle in the United States, the BZ4X, but plans to offer more. Honda, a Japanese brand that has a loyal fan base, does not offer any EVs at the moment, but is preparing factories in Ohio for future EV models. Honda is expecting to launch its first EV in the next year. General Motors will also be releasing a few EVs in the next two years.
He also points out that GM has committed to selling only electric passenger cars by 2035.
No, internal combustion engines will not be banned. Even if the rule is approved and is upheld in court, they will still be the majority of cars on the road within a decade. It would be a seismic shift.