Biden to Toughen Auto Emissions Limits to Counter Climate Change
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration is preparing to impose more stringent limits on car and truck emissions in an effort to clamp down on a top U.S. source of the greenhouse gases fueling climate change.
The standards, set to govern passenger cars and light trucks from model years 2023 through 2026, will reverse a Trump-era move to relax the mandates and are set to be issued within days, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Responding to pressure from environmentalists and public health advocates, the final requirements also will be tougher than an initial proposal outlined by the Biden administration earlier this year, said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the measure isn’t yet public.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan previously telegraphed the pivot, telling Bloomberg last month that the final standards “will be much more aggressive and much more comprehensive.” Even without changes, the initial proposal would translate to the most stringent-ever federal greenhouse gas emissions limits on automobiles by model year 2026.
A spokesman for the EPA declined to comment.
Details of the shift were not immediately available, though EPA officials in recent months were considering boosting the stringency of requirements for model year 2026 by as much as 10 grams of carbon dioxide per mile beyond the proposed levels.
The agency was also under pressure to tighten a suite of proposed credits and incentives that give automakers more flexibility to fulfill the standards. Environmentalists and administration officials had warned those provisions risked undercutting actual, real-world emissions reductions. But automakers have stressed that the flexibilities are vital; without tapping credits, the industry would have been unable to fulfill requirements for model year 2020, according to a recent EPA analysis.
Of particular concern were plans to revive double counting of electric vehicle sales and continue so-called flexibilities that give extra credit for technologies that make cars more fuel efficient but don’t necessarily show up in tailpipe readings. Administration officials have been considering doing away with the EV multiplier in the final rule but are unlikely to also upend other flexibilities at the same time.
The proposal fell short of “where the industry can go” and what’s necessary to confront climate change, said Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. The EPA gave itself plenty of room to improve the measure so the final requirements “align much more with what is necessary and is achievable.”
The possible changes could accelerate the sale of zero-emission electric vehicles. According to a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis, if the EPA boosts requirements for model year 2026 and adopts a more stringent alternative it laid out as an option in August, there would be an additional 1.3 million EVs sold during model years 2023-2026.
“That’s a pretty significant increase, considering that less than 2 million have been sold to date,” Cooke said. “That is why strong rules have to be a critical piece of the administration’s push to electrify transportation.”
Even with those possible changes outlined by the EPA, the final requirements would fall short of emissions reductions that could have been achieved under a more stringent path former President Barack Obama negotiated with automakers in 2012, said Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign.
Some of those reductions were forfeited by the Trump administration’s decision to relax the standards. In charting new requirements for model year 2026, the Biden administration also has been mindful of making dramatic changes for cars that are already being designed.
The transportation sector is the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., surpassing those from power plants and industry.
“Roughly 60% of transportation climate pollution comes from passenger cars and SUVs and pickups, so it’s critical that those vehicles shift to zero-emissions across the entire on-road fleet,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the clean vehicles group at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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