Biden under fire for ‘unenforceable’ 2030 electric vehicle target as he ‘oddly’ excludes Tesla from summit

‘Voluntary pledges by auto companies make a New Year’s weight-loss resolution look like a legally binding contract,’ says one environmental group

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Thursday 05 August 2021 17:59 BST
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President Joe Biden is set to sign an executive order aiming for 50 per cent of vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric and zero-emissions, and propose new rules to cut tailpipe pollution in the next five years.

While the proposal is a major leap forward after the rollback of vehicle emissions standards under the Trump administration, the plan has been met with scepticism from climate scientists and environmental groups who say the rules are “unenforceable” and too “weak” amid an ever-worsening climate crisis.

“While the topline numbers of the proposals look strong on paper, we understand that the standards are undercut by unnecessary giveaways to automakers that reduce their real-world benefits and delay progress toward better technologies,” said Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

‘We know automakers can meet a higher standard, and we also know we can’t rely on them to meet purely voluntary commitments.”

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The New York Times: “Voluntary pledges by auto companies make a New Year’s weight-loss resolution look like a legally binding contract.

“Global warming is burning forests, roasting the West and worsening storms. Now is not the time to propose weak standards and promise strong ones later.”

While President Biden’s plan is not legally binding, a number of major US auto manufacturers and the United Auto Workers labour union came out in support of it.

In a joint statement, Ford, GM, and Stellantis said they had a “shared aspiration” in achieving 40-50 per cent of annual US sales of electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030, to help the country keep its emissions-reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement.

However the car industry has underlined that billions of dollars in EV investments, part of the legislation currently inching its way through Congress, is crucial to hitting targets.

The nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package includes a number of provisions to tackle carbon emissions including $7.5bn for EV charging stations.

The rapid transition to EVs will also require a monumental shift in the psyche of US drivers. Americans are currently 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.

However, while fully electric vehicles only account for about 2 per cent of the US auto market, sales are growing faster this year than for traditional cars.

Leading figures in the auto industry will join President Biden on Thursday afternoon at an event as he signs the executive order.

Notably Tesla, currently the leading EV brand, has been excluded from the event, something which billionaire founder Elon Musk noted on Twitter.

In response to an article headlined, “Will The White House Exclude Tesla, The Most American Made EV, From Its EV Event?”, he wrote: “Yeah, seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNBC that he was “not sure” why Tesla had not been asked during an appearance on Thursday morning, then pivoted to speaking about the “momentum” behind EVs more broadly.

The fuel economy standards, which will go through the regulatory process including public comments, would be a U-turn on steps taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former President Trump. At that time, the increases were reduced to 1.5 per cent annually through model year 2026.

The White House has not yet released information on the proposed annual mileage increases. However Mr Becker told the AP that an EPA official gave the numbers during a presentation on the plan.

The official said the standards would be 10 per cent more stringent than the Trump rules for model year 2023, followed by 5 per cent increases in each model year through 2026, according to Mr Becker. That’s about a 25 per cent increase over the four years.

The standards build on the momentum from “California Framework Agreement”, an agreement between California and five automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group, BMW, and Volvo.

The White House underlined the importance of shifting to EVs as not only imperative to cutting emissions but also to compete with China and other nations who are “sprinting to lead” in the sector.

“China is increasingly cornering the global supply chain for electric vehicles and batteries with its fast-growing electric vehicle market. By setting clear targets for electric vehicle sale trajectories, these countries are becoming magnets for private investment into their manufacturing sectors – from parts and materials to final assembly,” a statement read.

“President Biden is committed to changing that and delivering for the American people.”

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