Biden plans to go beyond strict tailpipe emission standards of Obama era to tackle climate crisis, report says

Former President Trump rolled back one of America’s then-greatest efforts to reduce carbon emissions during his time in the White House

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Tuesday 27 July 2021 22:04

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President Joe Biden is aiming for a return to aggressive Obama-era vehicle mileage standards over the next five years before introducing even tougher anti-pollution rules, with a goal of having 40 per cent of American drivers in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030.

The proposed rules would be a major step in tackling the climate crisis and could be announced next week, according an Associated Press report, based on four anonymous industry and government officials briefed on the plan.

President Biden has called the climate crisis an “existential threat” and ran for the White House on a promise of aggressive action, after four years of inertia and climate denial from the Trump administration.

The new regulatory action, housed under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT), would revert to tailpipe emissions standards introduced during the Obama era, then rolled back under former President Donald Trump.

Mr Obama’s 2012 rule aimed to encourage auto-makers to boost EV production and make gas and diesel vehicles more fuel efficient.

Mr Biden has set a goal of cutting US greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by at least half by 2030. At around 29 per cent, the transportation sector generates the largest portion of America’s GHGs.

The AP reports that the proposed rules would begin with the 2023 car model year and start by applying California s 2019 framework agreement on emissions standards, reached between Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW and Volvo, according to three of the officials.

The California deal increases the mileage standard and cuts GHGs by 3.7 per cent per year.

Requirements would then ramp up in 2025 to Obama-era levels of a 5 per cent annual increase in the mileage standard and a similar cut in emissions. They then go higher than that for model year 2026, one of the people said, perhaps in the range of 6 or 7 per cent.

In a statement to The Independent, a DOT spokesperson said: “Consistent with the President’s direction in Executive Order (EO) 13990, NHTSA has reviewed and re-evaluated the Proposed Standards for Light-Duty Vehicles (the SAFE II rule) and submitted its proposal to OIRA and interagency review.”

The EPA declined to comment.

Environmentalists have been demanding a swift return to, at a minimum, the Obama emissions standards. At the time, it was considered one of the US’s biggest steps to reduce emissions.

While zero-emission vehicles only account for about 2 per cent of the US auto market, plug-in sales are growing faster this year than traditional cars, The Wall Street Journal reported. EV sales more than doubled in the first six months of this year compared with 2020. Total vehicle sales were at 29 per cent.

However Americans are also buying record numbers of gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. In April, the Department of Labor reported that dealerships sold around 17,000 more pickups than cars.

In the reported rule update, the EPA is likely to make a non-binding statement that the requirements will ramp up even faster starting in 2027, forcing the industry to sell more EVs, the industry and government officials said.

For now, the agency was seeking to ask that 40 per cent of all new car sales to be EVs by 2030, according to one of the officials.

During the Obama administration, automakers were required to raise fuel economy 5 per cent annually from 2021 through 2026.

This was lowered to 1.5 per cent each year until 2026 by Mr Trump. Then Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao dubbed the standards set by Mr Obama as “unachievable” and called the “historic” update “a win, win, win situation”.

In 2019, five automakers – Ford, BMW, Honda, Volkswagen and later Volvo – sided with California and agreed to a higher standard of raising mileage by 3.7 per cent per year.

Mr Trump later repealed California’s legal authority to set its own standards, which the Biden administration is moving to restore.

It wasn’t clear whether the Biden administration would restore credits for selling EVs, but that is likely since plug-ins are a pillar of the Biden climate agenda. The administration’s nearly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal includes 500,000 new EV charging stations, and he has proposed tax credits and rebates to help spur sales.

Under the Obama-era standards, automakers got double credit for fully EVs toward meeting their fuel economy and pollution requirements. That “multiplier” was removed in the Trump rollback.

AP contributed to this report