The Biden administration is proposing new tailpipe emission standards that likely can't be met unless auto manufacturers shift still more of their sales toward electric vehicles, a move that could reduce the market for biofuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new targets aim to reduce the emissions on model year 2027-2032 light-, medium- and heavy-weight vehicles. If achieved, EPA estimates the targets would stop nearly 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, more than twice the total 2022 CO2 emissions, and reduce oil imports by about 20 billion barrels.

In advance of the rollout, EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters the new targets were “the strongest ever federal pollution standards for cars and trucks.”

“This proposal kicks off a process that gives EPA the ability to work hand-in-hand with labor auto industry leaders, environmental groups to usher in a new generation of clean and electric vehicles,” Regan said. “We’re going to envision, and innovate and achieve this future together. It is well within our grasp, make no mistake about it.”

Regan and White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi were both adamant the rulemaking is not a mandate for more electric vehicle production, and instead can be met through a wide array of vehicle technologies.

Regan specifically said the standards “are designed to allow manufacturers to meet the performance based standards however works best for their vehicle fleets,” but he also noted the effort is “projected to accelerate transition to electric vehicles.”

According to EPA projections for model year 2032, EVs could account for 67% of the new light-duty and 46% of the medium-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. The proposed light-duty standards are projected to cut average fleet emissions by 56% compared to EPA’s standards for model year 2026; the medium-duty fleet cut would be a slightly smaller 44%.

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Biofuel groups have sought to push the role of ethanol and biodiesel in decarbonization of the nation’s vehicle fleet, but neither fuel is mentioned in EPA’s release or comments from administration officials leading up to the rollout.

But EPA’s Federal Register notice for the light- and medium-duty standards, which tops 750 pages, does include a reference to a possible opportunity for a refinery to “further increase reliance on ethanol as a source of octane” as a possible solution to aromatics components in fuel.

A separate notice for heavy-duty vehicles – which is technically the third phase of existing rulemaking – references the previous efforts of vehicle manufacturers to lower emissions by running internal combustion engines “on alternative fuels (such as natural gas, biodiesel, renewable diesel, methanol, and other fuels).”

The proposed rule will be subject to public comment, including at a planned public hearing. Regan said the measure is still in its early stages, and he stressed that it is intended to elicit feedback. 

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