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Close-up of sign for electric vehicle charging station on Santana Row in the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, January 3, 2020. (Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

'A Half Measure': Critics Warn Biden's Electric Vehicle, Auto Emissions Plan Insufficiently Bold

"Today's proposals just aren't enough to take us where we need to go."

Andrea Germanos

The Biden administration was urged Thursday to pursue more ambitious climate goals ahead of an expected order calling for half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2030 to be zero-emissions and other proposals to undo Trump administration rollbacks of tailpipe pollution regulations.

“The science is clear," said Union of Concerned Scientists president Johanna Chao Kreilick. "The climate is rapidly warming, and we urgently need to cut emissions to prevent even greater damage in the future. We need a national strategy, and strong clean-car standards must be one piece of that strategy."

 "Unfortunately," she said, "today's proposals just aren't enough to take us where we need to go."

"Biden must read the science and the science says we need 100% of all new car sales to be electric vehicles by no later than 2030."

According to a White House fact sheet, the zero-emissions target includes battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles. The 50% EV goal, Reuters reported, is not legally binding.

Representatives from U.S. automakers Ford, GM, and Stellantis, as well the United Auto Workers (UAW), are set to join Biden at the White House for the announcement.

The New York Times reported:

The automakers will pledge that 40 to 50% of their new car sales will be electric vehicles by 2030, up from just 2% this year—on the condition that Congress passes a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that calls for $7.5 billion for a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.

"The future of the auto industry is electric—and made in America," Biden tweeted Thursday announcing the goal and "steps to reverse the previous administration's short-sighted rollback of vehicle standards."

The White House also announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation are putting forth proposed rulemaking regarding fuel efficiency and emissions standards based on the "California Framework Agreement," a plan that state and automakers reached in 2019.

According to reporting last week by the Associated Press:

The proposed rules would begin with the 2023 car model year, applying California's 2019 framework agreement on emissions standards reached with Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, and Volvo, according to three of the officials. The California deal increases the mileage standard and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7% per year.

Requirements ramp up in 2025 to Obama-era levels of a 5% annual increase in the mileage standard and a similar cut in emissions. They then go higher than that for model year 2026, one of the people said, perhaps in the range of 6% or 7%.

"Longer-term, the administration is right that at least half of all new vehicle sales must be electric by the end of the decade," Simon Mui, deputy director for clean vehicles and fuels at NRDC, said in a statement.

"EPA must now move expeditiously to put strong standards in place to ensure automakers deliver on that goal while also slashing pollution from gasoline and diesel vehicles," added Mui, warning that "anything less puts our health and climate at unnecessary risk."

Morgan Folger, campaign director for Environment America's Destination: Zero Carbon, said that although the "proposal is headed in a better direction... the Biden administration can and should be more ambitious."

She pointed to recent climate-fueled extreme weather events as evidence Biden should pursue bolder measures, and noted that "the Obama-Biden administration took the strongest federal action to reduce global warming pollution in history, only to be stalled out by the automakers reneging on their promise."

"As pollution increased over the past half-decade, the wildfire season has lengthened and grown more intense, coastal communities have been torn apart by destructive hurricanes fueled by warmer oceans, and inland communities have seen more than their fair share of 100-year floods," said Folger. "We can't turn back the clock five years, so we have to go even faster to zero out pollution from our cars and trucks and solve this climate crisis."

The Sunrise Movement and UCS's Kreilick also raised concerns with the 2030 goal.

Kreilick, for example, asserted that "automakers can meet a higher standard, and we also know we can't rely on them to meet purely voluntary commitments."

Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, was unequivocal in her criticism. “Let’s be clear," she said, "Biden's electric vehicle goal is not a win. It's a half measure."

"Biden isn't leading the transition to zero emissions when he's lagging behind corporate America and the 11 other countries who have set targets to achieve 100% zero emissions vehicle sales by or before 2030," said Prakash.

"If we are still selling gas cars in 2030," she said that "they'll be on the road for another 10, 15, 20 years—long after his presidency and well into our already unstable futures."

"Biden must read the science," said Prakash, "and the science says we need 100% of all new car sales to be electric vehicles by no later than 2030."

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