top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden administration is said to slow early stage of shift to electric cars

A battery-powered F-150 Lightning truck on the production line at the Ford plant in Dearborn, Mich., Jan. 25, 2022. (Brittany Greeson/The New York Times)

By Coral Davenport

In a concession to automakers and labor unions, the Biden administration intends to relax elements of one of its most ambitious strategies to combat climate change, limits on tailpipe emissions that are designed to get Americans to switch from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles, according to three people familiar with the plan.

Instead of essentially requiring automakers to rapidly ramp up sales of electric vehicles over the next few years, the administration would give car manufacturers more time, with a sharp increase in sales not required until after 2030, these people said. They asked to remain anonymous because the regulation has not been finalized. The administration plans to publish the final rule by early spring.

The change comes as President Joe Biden faces intense crosswinds as he runs for reelection while trying to confront climate change. He is aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles, which make up the largest single source of greenhouse gases emitted by the United States.

At the same time, Biden needs cooperation from the auto industry and political support from the unionized autoworkers who backed him in 2020 but now worry that an abrupt transition to electric vehicles would cost jobs. Meanwhile, consumer demand has not been what automakers hoped, with potential buyers put off by sticker prices and the relative scarcity of charging stations.

Sensing an opening, former President Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, has seized on electric cars, falsely warning the public that they “don’t work” and telling autoworkers that Biden’s policies are “lunacy” that he would extinguish on “the first day” of his return to the White House.

Last spring, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the toughest-ever limits on tailpipe emissions. The rules would be so strict, the only way carmakers could comply would be to sell a tremendous number of zero-emissions vehicles in a relatively short time frame.

The EPA designed the proposed regulations so that 67% of sales of new cars and light-duty trucks would be all-electric by 2032, up from 7.6% in 2023, a radical remaking of the American automobile market.

That remains the goal. But as they finalize the regulations, administration officials are tweaking the plan to slow the pace at which auto manufacturers would need to comply, so that electric vehicle sales would increase more gradually through 2030 but then would have to sharply rise.

The change in pacing is in response to automakers that say more time is needed to build a national network of charging stations and to bring down the cost of electric vehicles, and to labor unions that want more time to try to unionize new electric car plants that are opening around the country, particularly in the South.

But delaying the most stringent requirements of the rule could come at a cost to the climate, after the hottest year in recorded history.

An ambitious initial plan

Postponing the sharp increase in electric vehicle sales until after 2030 would still eliminate roughly the same amount of auto emissions as the original proposal by 2055, according to EPA models. But it would mean the nation would continue to pump auto emissions into the atmosphere in the short run. Scientists say every year counts in the government’s efforts to prevent the planet from tipping into more deadly and costly climate disasters.

“You’ll have faster warming if U.S. transportation emissions don’t decline before 2030,” said James Glynn, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Scientists have warned that if average global temperatures increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels, humans would struggle to adapt to increasingly violent storms, floods, fires, heat waves and other disruptions.

The planet has already warmed by about 1.2 degrees Celsius.

Ali Zaidi, Biden’s senior climate adviser, declined to discuss the details of the final regulation. But he said in an interview that Biden’s climate policies, combined with record federal investment in renewable energy, would still help to reach the president’s goal of cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

“I feel very good about how our policies, including the regulatory actions, are fitting together to boost our ability to hit our 2030 targets and setting us up for the longer-term trajectory,” Zaidi said.

Still, experts say it’s uncertain whether Biden can meet his twin goals of cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050, a target that scientists say all nations must achieve to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Wary unions

Labor support has been a key part of Biden’s political coalition and his portrayal of himself as a fighter for the middle class.

That backing was threatened last spring, when the EPA proposed the new limits on tailpipe emissions. Soon after, Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, wrote that the union was withholding its endorsement of Biden’s reelection bid over “concerns with the electric vehicle transition.”

Last fall, when the union went on strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, in part over fears about the industry’s transition to electric vehicles, Biden sought to assuage their concerns and became the first president to stand with workers on the picket line.

By early January, the EPA sent a revised version of its auto emissions rule with the longer time frame to the White House. Weeks later, the UAW endorsed Biden.

A spokesperson for the union declined multiple requests to interview Fain.

After the endorsement, Trump called Fain a “dope” on Truth Social, his social media site. “He bought into Biden’s ‘vision’ of all Electric Vehicles, which require far fewer workers to make each car but, more important, are not wanted in large numbers by the consumer, and will ALL be made in China,” Trump wrote.

Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, noted the way Trump has focused on the anxiety over electric vehicles that pervades that auto-making state, one of a handful of swing states where the election is likely to be decided.

“Trump has been very effective previously at using wedge issues,” Rabe said. “Whenever he comes to the state, this comes up. And this is not abstract in Michigan, it’s a real question. ‘What plant am I going to be working in?’”

Worried automakers

Although a record 1.2 million electric vehicles were sold in the United States last year, growth is slowing, even as the new regulations would require a nearly tenfold increase in such sales within just eight years.

While buyers of new electric vehicles are eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, only 18 models are currently eligible for that full credit, down from about two dozen last year. One of those eligible models, the Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric pickup truck that once had a waiting list of 200,000, last year saw sales of 24,000, far short of the 150,000 sales projected by Ford.

And while construction of EV chargers is expanding, nearly doubling from about 87,000 in 2019 to more than 172,000 last year, analysts project that the nation will need more than 2 million chargers by 2030 to support the growth in electric vehicles envisioned by the proposed rules.

All that worries auto companies, which have invested about $146 billion over the past three years in researching and developing electric vehicles, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Auto companies would face billions of dollars per year in fines if the emissions associated with their auto sales exceed the limits set by the new regulations.

Analysts say the current lag in electric vehicle sales is to be expected, as the market for early adopters — typically wealthier, coastal residents who have bought an EV as a second car — is saturated.

“It may be some time before the larger middle class, middle-of-the-country market is ready to embrace buying plug-in cars,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, the senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research.

Some analysts said the trade-off, relaxing the rules to give auto companies and workers what they want, could be worth it if it helps Biden win the election, since Trump has made clear that if he wins, he plans to roll back the rules entirely.

David Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California San Diego, said, “You have more emissions for a few years, but you raise the odds that the rule will stick.”

49 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Oscar Melendez
Oscar Melendez
Feb 22

#Trump2024 #impeachJoeBiden

bottom of page