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EPA proposes “most ambitious pollution standards ever” for vehicles, ramping up the EV revolution

close up of an EV wheel
Image Credit: Mark Chan // Unsplash

In 2021 there were about 607,600 electric vehicles roaming around the United States, an 18% increase from just three years prior. In the first three months of 2022, the number of EV registrations jumped by 60%, and now there are over 1.7 million EVs on U.S. roads today according to Experian’s Automotive Consumer Trends Report.

Now, thanks to a sweeping set of vehicle emissions rules introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that number will see a massive surge.

How much exactly?

By 2031, EVs could make up just over two-thirds of all U.S. car sales, when just ten years prior, in 2021, EVs were only 4.5% of U.S. car sales.

At the time, 4.5% was huge. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), it was a doubling of market share. But now, the new EPA rules multiply that number, putting the pedal to the metal for EV sales. According to the agency, the rules will speed up the transition to a clean future while tackling the climate crisis.

It's important to note that the predicted sales are not a mandate, but a projection. Still, the EPA has high confidence that it is achievable.

On top of gassing up EV adoption, the proposed rules mean pressing the brakes on a huge portion of emissions. According to the EPA, the rules would improve air quality for communities across the nation, particularly for communities wrapped in networks of highways. Because, interstate highways have systemically been built around Black and brown communities, as opposed to white ones, the new rules would mean targeting gas pollution in communities historically overburdened.

Together, these proposals would avoid nearly 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through 2055. That would be the equivalent of the U.S. being completely zero-emission for two whole years.

Because of the health issues caused by gas pollution, the EPA says that the standards would “lead to fewer premature deaths and serious health effects such as hospital admissions due to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses,” like asthma, heart disease, and reduced lung function.

Aside from combatting pollution, health issues, and the climate crisis, it would improve the country’s security by reducing America’s reliance on oil by approximately 20 billion barrels of oil imports.

“By proposing the most ambitious pollution standards ever for cars and trucks, we are delivering on the Biden-Harris Administration’s promise to protect people and the planet, securing critical reductions in dangerous air and climate pollution and ensuring significant economic benefits like lower fuel and maintenance costs for families,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement.

“These ambitious standards are readily achievable thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, which is already driving historic progress to build more American-made electric cars and secure America’s global competitiveness.”

Regan is right — the acceleration of EV adoption in the U.S. has dramatically increased due to the current administration’s legislation, especially the efforts to increase access to EV chargers across the nation and to make EVs more affordable and accessible with tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Car consumers and automakers alike have been taking advantage of the incentives, whether it be finally purchasing the electric vehicle of one's dreams or automakers ramping up EV production and improving their American-made EV manufacturing supply chains.

In fact, according to the EPA, since President Biden took office, the number of EV sales has tripled while the number of available models has doubled. The number of chargers across the country increased by 40% over 2020. Since the IRA was signed into law, the private sector has committed more than $120 billion in domestic EV and battery investments.

The proposed standards would even lead to additional EV savings on top of those in the IRA. The EPA says the standards would save the average consumer $12,000 over the lifetime of a light-duty vehicle, as compared to a vehicle that was not subject to the new standards.

So what are these new standards exactly?

The proposed rules would put standards on light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles made in 2027 and beyond, requiring them to adhere to the new emission standards. As Grist’s Jake Bittle reports, manufacturers can choose how they comply, and the EPA believes that most will opt to manufacture EVs as opposed to attempting to design combustion vehicles up to par with the new standards.

For light and medium-weight vehicles alone, the EPA says this would avoid 7.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions through 2055. That’s equivalent to eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from the entire current U.S. transportation sector for four years.

The news is praise-worthy, but it’s not quite a time to applaud. There will likely be a litany of legal challenges from Republican states attempting to block the standards, just as these states’ leadership have done in the event of past climate legislation, and may be prepared to do this time around.

“The ‘electrification of everything’ is not a solution,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in a prepared statement. “It’s a road to higher prices and fewer choices.”

A Gallup poll published the same day as the EPA proposed the new rules, shows that many Republicans agree with his sentiments. 76% of Democrats either owned or were considering purchasing an EV, while nearly the same amount, 71%, of Republicans said they would not buy one.

As a whole, 41% of Americans said they would not buy an EV, and 43% said they may consider it, with the remaining percentages already owning or seriously considering purchasing one.

However, with a good portion of Americans not completely sold on EVs, the automakers will have to play a huge role in leading the transition, convincing consumers, and ensuring affordability.

The EV plans of many major automakers give reasons for hope, from General Motors and Honda’s efforts to make cheap EVs, GM and Ford’s heavy investments in American-made EV manufacturing in compliance with the IRA, Nissan’s partnerships with EV startups, and efforts for EV manufacturing in blue, red, and purple states alike.

It’s no secret that automaker giants are striving to win the EV race, and all of them have thrown hats (aka money) into the ring. The new standards will give them the stamina to accelerate their lightweight EVs and combat the reasons many Americans aren’t sold, like range anxiety.

Just in time for the new standards, Toyota will introduce 10 new battery-powered models and target sales of 1.5 million EVs a year by 2026 to play catch up with its automaker rivals, Volkswagon planning a line of new affordable EVs, eligible for the IRA’s full $7,500 EV tax credit amount, and collectively, GM, VW, and others are spending millions to ease range anxiety.

While the compliance of automakers is not guaranteed, the EPA is confident, saying the standards align with existing commitments made by U.S. automakers, and were made with the input of industry and labor stakeholders, advocates, and community leaders.

Trickling down from the big automakers, the EPA’s proposed rules will also have major implications for manufacturing companies and startups, innovation in battery technology, and technologies that reduce fuel and maintenance costs alongside pollution for both everyday cars and fleets of heavy-duty trucks.

Additionally, the EPA says the standards are expected to drive the widespread use of filters to reduce particulate matter from gasoline emissions on top of spurring the greater deployment of CO2-reducing technologies for gas-powered vehicles.

There will be hearings in May before the finalized proposal, Inside Climate News reports. According to the publication, Regan has vowed to work with both environmentalists and the auto industry to ensure the new standards are tangible and successful and their emission reduction goals.

“We’re going to envision and innovate and achieve this future together,” Regan said.


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