The Biden administration’s proposal to drastically reduce tailpipe emissions earned a healthy response Wednesday, with many critics bashing the plan for its push toward electrification of the nation’s vehicle fleet. But supporters of the effort said the move is necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regain detailed the plan in remarks at EPA’s Washington headquarters Wednesday, telling reporters the proposal reflects investments announced by the private sector and pushes for technology to take current emissions reductions even further.  

“We're following the market trends,” Regan said, pointing to $120 billion in private-sector investments in electric vehicles and battery technology and infrastructure over the last two years.

“When I look at the projections that many in the automobile industry have made, this is the future,” he added. “The consumer demand is there, the markets are enabling it, the technologies are enabling it.” 

EPA analysis predicts the proposed rule could lead to roughly two-thirds of the 2032 model-year light-duty vehicles being electric. If achieved, that level of sales would rapidly outpace existing auto manufacturer commitments and be a major step toward phasing out the production of new internal combustion engines. That possibility had oil and biofuel groups offering a rebuke to the rule, arguing their existing fuel sources have room to help in emissions reduction efforts.

“In President Biden’s own words, ‘you simply can’t get to net-zero by 2050 without biofuels,’” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in a statement. “By disregarding the contributions of low-carbon biofuels, the proposal puts a thumb on the scale for one technology at the expense of others, rather than giving automakers the flexibility to pursue innovative strategies for decarbonizing light-duty vehicles.”

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper offered a similar critique, saying the organization is opposed to “policy approaches that arbitrarily pick technology winners and losers with no clear scientific basis.

“Today’s EPA proposal would effectively force automakers to produce more battery electric vehicles and strongly discourage them from pursuing other vehicle technologies that could achieve the same — or better — environmental performance at a lower cost to the U.S. economy and American families,” he said.

American Coalition for Ethanol CEO Brian Jennings also pointed to agronomic and other efforts to produce biofuels with “net-negative carbon scores — something that EVs will never achieve.”

Oil industry voices also blasted the proposed rule, arguing it was — as American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers put it — “a major step toward a ban on the vehicles Americans rely on.”

Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, concurred, saying the proposal to “effectively ban gasoline and diesel vehicles is bad for consumers, the environment, our freedom of mobility and U.S. national security.”

But Regan and other administration officials say the proposal is not an electric vehicle mandate. While the targets would be monumentally easier to achieve with tailpipes that lack the emissions of the gas guzzlers of the past, regulators have argued that measuring the reductions in a “grams of carbon dioxide per mile” format does not mandate any one technology be used to satisfy the goals.

“I think we're giving the automobile industry options to choose from,” Regan said Wednesday. “And so when we look at this proposal, and the opportunities to reach the very ambitious goals that we've set, we're not prescribing any mandate and we're not driving any particular technology out of business, so to speak.” 

Several statements critical of the plan also noted that much of the infrastructure necessary to produce a more electrified vehicle fleet is in China. AFPM’s Thompson said the country currently “controls 80% of global battery production capacity, and even with robust U.S. investment to fortify our own electric grid and grow our battery supply chains by a magnitude of 10, we will not come close to overtaking China’s dominant position and will be left more dependent and financially beholden to them as a result.”

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued the Biden administration’s policies, including Wednesday’s emissions proposal, “are hurting American families while helping China. The president’s disastrous energy transition is making us more reliant on our enemies while driving up prices for Americans.” 

Regan, however, pointed out the proposal is for vehicles beginning in model year 2027, allowing several years to achieve existing construction plans and develop new additional production capacity.

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“We've got some years to ramp up; we hope that we can take advantage of that runway,” Regan said. “It’s our goal that we don't overly rely on any country; it's our goal that we are more competitive and don't rely solely on China for batteries and for solar technology and the like.”

Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers were quick to laud the proposal and its smog-cutting goals.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Tom Carper, D-Del., said the proposal would “would make significant progress in our fight against climate change,” while Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said the language would “slash billions of tons of climate pollution, along with health-harming pollution that causes thousands of premature deaths annually.” 

The transportation sector has long been a target of those seeking to reduce air pollution, including groups like the National Wildlife Federation. NWF’s Shannon Heyck-Williams, associate vice president of its climate and energy efforts, said the country “cannot get to net-zero emissions and confront the climate crisis without dramatically reducing the transportation sector’s carbon pollution.”

Paul Cort, director of Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign, went further, saying the proposal would help the country “shift to a zero emissions future and breathe cleaner air for our efforts.

“A century of car and truck pollution in our lungs has been more than enough,” he said.

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