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Biden Cracks Down on Vehicle Pollution With Toughest Car Emissions Limits Yet

by Martina Igini Americas Apr 13th 20233 mins
Biden Cracks Down on Vehicle Pollution With Toughest Car Emissions Limits Yet

The EPA proposed emissions limits so tough they will compel automakers to ensure that two out of every three cars sold in the US by 2032 are all-electric.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday proposed new, stringent tailpipe emissions limits that would require as much as 67% of all new cars and light trucks sold in the US by 2032 to be all-electric, a nearly tenfold increase over current sales.

The proposed regulation, the country’s most aggressive pollution standard to date, would surpass the limit previously set by President Joe Biden to have electric vehicles (EVs) make up about half of all cars sold by 2030.

Instead of directly requiring that 67% of new vehicles be zero-emissions by 2032, the new regulation sets standards for emissions based on the size and type of vehicle being built. However, the requirements are so stringent that they will likely push companies to produce at least two out of all three zero-emission vehicles to meet them.

The move, which EPA administrator Michael Regan called “the most ambitious pollution standards ever for cars and trucks,” aims at significantly boosting EVs share of new vehicles. The Agency would also impose strict penalties on companies that do not transition to electric cars quickly enough.

EV sales in the US increased in recent years, making the US the world’s third-largest EV market behind only China and Europe. And yet, they still account for a small portion of all new vehicle sales. Indeed, of the 13.8 million vehicles sold last year, only 5.8% were electric. 

The proposed rule would limit tailpipe emissions across all vehicle models built starting in 2027 through to 2032, forcing automakers to manufacture a larger number of battery-powered vehicles, and would also curb air pollution. If the new rules are enacted, the US could eliminate the equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions generated over two years by all sectors of its economy, moving one step closer to achieving its pledge to lower emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The transportation sector is by far the country’s largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the majority of which – nearly 60% – come from the 250 million passenger cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

“If you’re serious about dealing with climate change problems, then you need to address the transportation sector,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

So far, seven US states, including California and New York, have passed legislation to ban sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2035. New York’s transportation emissions per capita are about 27% below the national average, the second-lowest of any other US state. Despite ranking quite favourably at the national level, in 2020, the two states together still accounted for 18% of the 103.8 million registered passenger vehicles in the US. 

The new emissions limits present a series of challenges for automakers, who are already investing billions in factories and battery technology to support the transition to electric vehicles. Scaling up the EV market would indeed require a more widespread and reliable charging infrastructure as well as the expansion of domestic critical mineral supply chains.

“The question isn’t can this be done, it’s how fast can it be done, and how fast will depend almost exclusively on having the right policies and market conditions in place to achieve the shared goal of a net zero carbon automotive future,” said John Bonzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade association representing major automakers.

Another challenge would be to make electric vehicles more affordable, which are still more expensive than fossil fuel-powered ones. Under last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest climate bill in the country’s history, car buyers are eligible for tax credits of up to US$7,500. In February, the Treasury Department announced it was expanding the definition of SUVs, a decision that effectively allows more such vehicles to qualify for the consumer tax credit.

Featured image by Dusan Ilic, US Customs and Border Protection via Flickr.

You might also like: US Tax Credits for Electric Vehicles Threaten European Production, EU Says

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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