President Joe Biden signed an executive order Thursday setting a national target to make 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2030 powered by zero-emission fuel sources.
Major American automakers also announced commitments to electric vehicle sales goals of their own, while the EPA and the Transportation Department are poised to announce steps to strengthen fuel economy and safety standards.
“This is a big deal," Biden said at the White House. “We’re going to put Americans to work," he said. "The American workers are our ace in the deck."
Representatives of Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, formerly known as Chrysler, and the United Auto Workers union appeared with Biden at the White House. They announced goals for electric vehicles to make up 40 percent to 50 percent of their total sales by 2030.
The president’s order also directs federal agencies to begin work updating fuel standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles.
Battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles are considered zero-emission vehicles under the order, which also directs EPA to draft standards for heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses, tractor-trailers and dump trucks.
America’s transportation sector is the largest source of emissions, having surpassed the electricity-generations sector in 2016, and bolstering the EV market has been a high priority for the Biden administration.
Sales in the U.S. of electric vehicles in 2020 reached 296,000, down from 331,000 in 2019, according to a tally from Platts, which tracks energy and commodity markets. Market experts say the COVID-19 pandemic crimped sales.
General Motors set a target this year to phase out all gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks — excluding heavy-duty vehicles — by 2035. Last month, Stellantis said EVs would comprise more than 40 percent of its sales in North America and 70 percent of sales in Europe by the end of the decade. And Ford has said at least 40 percent of its global vehicle sales will be electric by 2030.
Through the order, Biden directed the EPA to begin drafting new emissions standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles for model years 2027 through 2030.
On Thursday, the EPA proposed that each automaker's range of passenger cars and light-duty trucks achieve an average of 51 miles per gallon by 2026, with interim goals starting in 2023, and set a public hearing on the proposal for Aug. 25.
The proposed standard is higher than the one set by the Trump administration for a fleetwide average of 40 miles per gallon by 2026. That threshold was a sharp drop from the standards the Obama administration set in 2012 to hit 54.5 mpg by 2025.
In unveiling fuel economy standards in 2020 that rolled back Obama-era standards, Andrew Wheeler, the second and final EPA administrator during the Trump presidency, said those goals were unreachable for more automakers.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, a nonpartisan advocacy and research group, said the EPA’s proposal would “at best recapture only 67 percent of the emission cuts that would have occurred under the prior Obama-era rules.”
Peter Huether, senior research analyst for transportation at ACEEE, said in a statement that the new standard is lower than the Obama administration's and less ambitious than it could be.
“This proposal doesn’t take advantage of how far electric and hybrid vehicles have advanced in the market,” Huether said. “We’re in a very different place than we were in 2012 and the rules need to reflect what we know is possible now.”
The infrastructure bill the Senate is amending this week would provide $7.5 billion for EV hardware, such as charging stations, and $7.5 billion for zero- and low-emission school buses. Those sums are a fraction of the $174 billion Biden called for in his request to Congress to expand the domestic EV market.
Democrats from the House and Senate on July 27 urged EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a pair of letters, to reinstate a legal provision that allows California — the largest auto market in the country — to set its own emission standards for automobiles.
The Trump administration pulled that waiver, triggering a court fight and upending decades of precedent. No federal administration had withdrawn the waiver before.
California is allowed to set its own standards, which 13 other states and the District of Columbia follow, because its air quality laws predate federal air standards.
The Trump administration fuel-economy standards of 40 miles per gallon by 2026 represented a sharp drop from the standards the Obama administration set in 2012 to hit 35.5 miles per gallong by 2016 and 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a talk with the Bipartisan Policy Center on July 8 said fuel-efficient cars that run on gasoline will be critical to lowering emissions.
“There are going to be a lot of gas-powered cars on our roads for a long time,” Buttigieg said. “So there's simply no way to meet our climate goals with EVs alone.”