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Biden’s Toughest-Ever Auto Pollution Crackdown to Drive EV Sales

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The Biden administration is proposing to crack down on vehicle pollution with tailpipe emission limits so tough they will compel automakers to ensure two out of every three cars and light trucks sold in 2032 are electric models.

The standards being outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday morning are on track to be among the strongest in the world, propelling EV sales well beyond even the rosiest third-party forecasts. White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi said the proposed standards are bolstered by a surge in federal government spending on charging stations and EV tax incentives as well as automakers’ plans to sell more of the zero-emission models.

Forecasts simply haven’t kept up with the massive investments unleashed by the Inflation Reduction Act and other federal laws, which are rapidly changing the landscape of what’s possible, Zaidi said. “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.”

Still, there are questions about the ability of auto manufacturers to fulfill the fleet-wide limits on carbon dioxide and smog-forming pollution. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation warned that factors outside the industry’s direct control — including the buildout of US power grids, charging stations and battery manufacturing — will play an outsize role in dictating the pace of EV penetration.

“EPA’s proposed emissions plan is aggressive by any measure,” said John Bozzella, head of the alliance. “A lot has to go right for this massive — and unprecedented — change in our automotive market and industrial base to succeed.”

The projection for 67% EV sales in 2032 exceeds forecasts by many independent analysts. BloombergNEF, for instance, has predicted US EV penetration of 52% by the end of the decade. It also eclipses President Joe Biden’s earlier ambition for half of all car sales to be electric models by 2030.

Under the proposal, carbon dioxide emissions from car and light truck fleets would be capped at 82 grams per mile in model year 2032, representing a 56% reduction from model year 2026 standards. Some 7.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions would be avoided through the year 2055, which the EPA said was equivalent to eliminating all greenhouse gas releases from the entire US transportation sector for four years.

The EPA forecast sees benefits of as much as $1.6 trillion through 2055, tied to a reduction in premature deaths, cardiovascular illnesses, aggravated asthma, heart attacks and decreased lung function exacerbated by pollution that would be stifled by the requirements.

Electric Vehicle Adoption Is Set to Grow | Share of total passenger vehicle sales is expected to top 50% by 2030

The plan drew criticism from some oil industry allies and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who decried the measure as a defacto mandate for EVs that undercuts consumer choice.

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“Today, the Biden administration made clear it wants to decide for Americans what kinds of cars and trucks we are allowed to buy, lease and drive,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia. She accused the administration of advancing “misguided emissions standards” without considering ongoing supply-chain challenges, the dearth of charging infrastructure or decade-long permitting times for mines that can deliver essential minerals used in EV batteries.

While electric-vehicle prices are dropping, the cars still come with a premium at the time of purchase. Key to hitting the targets will be “if automakers are bought in,” and when “EVs reach up-front price parity,” said Corey Cantor, senior associate for EVs at BNEF.

Critics accused the EPA of overestimating the long-term benefits while overlooking higher short-term costs that may encourage Americans to hold on to older vehicles longer.

“Any claims that the EPA makes that restricting the choices of vehicles that people are allowed to buy will save money are ridiculous,” said Myron Ebell with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “They count only dubious, speculative and far-in-the-future benefits — for example, to the climate — and ignore the immediate and real costs of higher-priced vehicles.”

Some electric-vehicle manufacturers and environmentalists had encouraged the administration to embrace more aggressive targets and extend requirements through 2035. That’s when many analysts say the sale of conventional gas-powered cars must end in order to hit mid-century net-zero emissions goals, as the vehicles will remain on roads long after they’re driven off the sales lot.

The proposal’s headline targets represent “realistic goals,” said Rivian Automotive Inc.’s senior director of environmental policy, Chris Nevers. Rivian “will continue to make the case for the strongest possible standards through our products and our advocacy.”

The requirements hit close to home for Liz Hurtado, an activist who co-leads EcoMadres, a program at Moms Clean Air Force aimed at protecting Latino children and families from air pollution and climate change. Hurtado is set to speak at an EPA event formally unveiling the proposal Wednesday.

Tailpipe pollution disproportionately impacts people of color, and “for far too long, we’ve tolerated environmental injustices in this arena,” Hurtado said. “Today, we set a new standard for health equity as we advance solutions to the climate crisis.”

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