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To boost EVs, EPA proposes stricter vehicle emissions standards

Agency sees it as a necessary step to reach net-zero carbon emissions

"This is what we mean when we say that tackling the climate crisis is about creating opportunity," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
"This is what we mean when we say that tackling the climate crisis is about creating opportunity," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration wants to jolt the electric vehicle market by putting the squeeze on automakers in the form of much tougher standards for greenhouse gas emissions.

The standards proposed Wednesday by the EPA for light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles are by far the strictest ever proposed by the agency, which said they’re attainable because of advances in automotive technology. It estimated that through 2055 the standards would avoid nearly 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions and save the average consumer $12,000 over the lifetime of a light-duty vehicle.

“This is what we mean when we say that tackling the climate crisis is about creating opportunity. An opportunity to put the United States on a clear path to win the jobs and the industries of the 21st century,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said on a call with reporters. “And we must seize this moment. That’s what President Biden’s historic investments in America are all about and that’s what these performance standards, when finalized, will deliver.”

EPA officials highlighted the effect the rules will have on air pollution and the adoption of electric vehicles, a necessary step to reach net-zero carbon emissions as set in the Paris Agreement.

Under the light-duty vehicle standards, the EPA will require an increasingly stringent greenhouse gas standard. By model year 2032 it would result in an industry-wide average target of 82 grams of carbon dioxide created per mile traveled. That would be 56 percent lower than the model year 2026 standard set in 2021.

For medium-duty vehicles it is proposing to increase stringency to a target of 275 grams of carbon dioxide per mile by model year 2032, which would represent a 44 percent reduction compared to model year 2026 standard.

In 2018 the agency estimated that the average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

Under the tougher standards, the agency projected EVs could account for 67 percent of new light-duty vehicles and 46 percent of new medium-duty vehicles sales by model year 2032, although this could vary depending upon how automakers choose to meet these standards.

The agency said that while many automakers may opt to meet the standards by offering EVs, they anticipate there will also be advancements in internal combustion engine technology.

EPA also proposed reduced greenhouse emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses starting model year 2027 that will become more rigid over time. For example, heavy-haul tractors will start at about 48 grams of CO2 per ton-mile in model year 2027 and drop to around 41 in 2032.

Regan said it is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 billion metric tons through 2055.

“That’s equivalent to eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from the entire current U.S. transportation sector for an entire year,” Regan added.

The proposal adds to another rule finalized in December 2022 that requires big trucks to abide by the “most stringent” limits on smog-forming emission standards in model year 2027, complementing the Biden administration’s so-called Clean Trucks Plan.

The GHG proposal is likely to trigger an outcry from small-fleet truckers who argue that strict emission standards have led to increased costs for big rigs in the past.

And Republicans, who sided with truckers against stringent pollution rules in the past, are likely to oppose this set of proposals.

‘Misguided’

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the administration was making the choice for American consumers and ignoring the current price tag for EVs.

“These misguided emissions standards were made without considering the supply chain challenges American automakers are still facing, the lack of sufficiently operational electric vehicle charging infrastructure, or the fact that it takes nearly a decade to permit a mine to extract the minerals needed to make electric vehicles, forcing businesses to look to China for these raw materials,” Capito said in a statement.

In August 2021, the administration set the goal that 50 percent of vehicles sales would be zero-emission models by the end of the decade, but while it announced a suite of policies intended to support this goal it did not set any requirements for the nation’s largest automakers.

Ford announced it is investing more than $50 billion through 2026 to “develop breakthrough EVs.” GM said it will only sell zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and Stellantis, formerly Chrysler, has announced that it intends half of all sales in the U.S. to be battery EVs by the end of the decade. Other automakers such as Honda and Volvo have also announced their intention to focus on EVs.

The EPA said the rule would accelerate clean vehicle technologies, although many automakers have voluntarily announced they would shift their manufacturing focus toward EVs in the coming years. White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi said the targets are possible due to investments in both the bipartisan infrastructure law signed in 2021 and last year’s climate, tax and health care law.

The Biden administration has also taken other steps to strengthen emissions standards for vehicles. Last March the administration restored a waiver allowing California to set stricter tailpipe pollution standards. In December, the EPA announced emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, beginning in the 2027 model year, that are 80 percent stricter than current standards.

The announcement comes after the Treasury Department on March 31 released guidance that could reduce the number of vehicles eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles included in last year’s law. Under the law, vehicles must be assembled domestically and include critical minerals from the U.S. or free trade partners.

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