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EPA tackles transportation emissions with new efficiency rule

By 2026, all new cars sold in the country must comply with a 40 miles-per-gallon standard.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration ramped up its climate change fighting agenda on Monday with an update to federal vehicle mileage goals for new cars and small trucks sold in the United States.

Keeping in line with the president's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, the rule requires cars and other light-duty vehicles for model years 2023 through 2026 comply with a 40 miles-per-gallon standard by 2026.

The move from the Environmental Protection Agency comes one day after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced he couldn’t support the Build Back Better bill, a $2 trillion social and environmental policy championed by President Joe Biden that includes climate change initiatives like a $12,500 refundable tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. Manchin said the bill was too expensive and could cause inflation.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Monday that reduction in air pollution through the rule change will not only reduce the impact of climate change but improve public health while allowing drivers to save money due to improved fuel efficiency.

“American drivers will save between $210 billion and $420 billion through 2050 on fuel costs,” Regan said.

The EPA standards are expected to cut down on nearly 3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050. Currently, the transportation sector is estimated to produce roughly 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it the single largest source of emissions. Passenger cars and trucks are estimated to make up 58% of all transportation-related emissions and 17% of total emissions.

“While these standards are ambitious, they provide adequate lead time for manufacturers to comply at reasonable costs,” said Regan.

The new rule moves the goalpost higher than the 32 mpg marker put forth by the Trump administration in 2020.  It is also a bit higher than the 38 mpg standard originally proposed by the EPA in August.

John Bozzella, who is president of the industry group Alliance for Automotive Innovation, expressed concern Monday that the new standards could be tough to meet without government support.

“EPA’s final rule for greenhouse gas emissions is even more aggressive than originally proposed, requiring a substantial increase in electric vehicle sales, well above the four percent of all light-duty sales today,” Bozzella said in a statement. "Achieving the goals of this final rule will undoubtedly require enactment of supportive governmental policies – including consumer incentives, substantial infrastructure growth, fleet requirements, and support for U.S. manufacturing and supply chain development."

Vice President Kamala Harris charges an electric vehicle. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Meanwhile environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice praised the rule as a powerful way to slash emissions.

“After a year marked by climate disasters that have ravaged communities across the country, from fires and extreme heat in the west, hurricanes and record low temperatures in the Gulf, and flooding in the east, it is more evident than ever that the impacts of the climate crisis are worsening,” Ramón Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, said Monday. “What we do now will have rippling effects for years to come.”

Regan hailed the update as the most ambitious vehicle emissions standards for greenhouse gases ever established for the light-duty vehicle sector in the United States.

“They are based on sound science and grounded in a rigorous assessment of current and future technologies with supporting analysis that shows the standards are achievable and affordable,” the EPA administrator said.

According to agency data, the rule will push more zero-emissions vehicles, like battery electric and plug-in hybrids, onto the market. While EVs and plug-in hybrids are expected to hold about 7% of the market share in 2023, Regan said Monday the hope is they will make up 17% of new vehicles sold by 2026.

Biden has pushed for the U.S. to produce more of the components needed to make these vehicles in the U.S., like batteries to semiconductors. By the end of the decade, the president has said he wants half of all new vehicles sold to be battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric or fuel cell electric. 

Ford, General Motors and Stallantis previously released a joint statement in which they said that they had a “shared aspiration” with the president, and pledged to make 40-50% of new car sales electric by 2030. 

The final rule is in line with 2015 Paris climate agreement, a deal that Biden rejoined on his first day in office, which set a goal that the global average temperature not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

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