United Auto Workers leader Shawn Fain and U.S. President Joe Biden

United Auto Workers leader Shawn Fain and U.S. President Joe Biden appear at a union conference at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., on January 24, 2024.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Rollback on EVs Would Be 'Monumental Failure,' Say Critics

"The world is on fire," said one campaigner. "We need the Biden administration to maintain strong emissions rules that are one of the biggest extinguishers."

Green groups this week are responding with alarm to reporting that President Joe Biden's administration plans to relax the pace at which manufacturers must boost electric vehicle sales "in a concession to automakers and labor unions" as he seeks reelection on the heels of the hottest year in human history.

"A decision by President Biden to roll back the scale of his planned transition to EVs would be a monumental failure of his administration and of industry to take action toward a fossil-free future," Public Citizen's Chelsea Hodgkins said Monday. "President Biden isn't leaning into his full power to accelerate government action on one of the most effective strategies for preventing climate chaos—electrifying transport. In scaling back his ambition, he is kowtowing to the auto industry's propaganda."

Under the tailpipe emissions proposal unveiled last April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projected that EVs could account for 67% of all new light-duty vehicle sales by model year 2032. Citing three unnamed sources, The New York Timesreported Saturday that officials finalizing the plan are adjusting it "so that electric vehicle sales would increase more gradually through 2030 but then would have to sharply rise."

The reporting comes after the Democratic president last month secured the crucial endorsement of the United Auto Workers, which followed a monthslong delay partly related to EV policy and came despite criticism from the UAW and residents of Michigan—the heart of the U.S. auto manufacturing industry—about Biden backing Israel's devastating war on the Gaza Strip.

Ali Zaidi, Biden's senior climate adviser, "declined to discuss the details of the final regulation" and a UAW spokesperson "declined multiple requests to interview" union president Shawn Fain, according to the Times.

Others suggested Biden's concession may be worth it to beat former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. David Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California, San Diego, told the newspaper that "you have more emissions for a few years but you raise the odds that the rule will stick."

However, Hodgkins argued that "with climate change fast accelerating, this is no time to capitulate to corporate demands."

The campaigner continued:

For decades, Big Auto has employed the same playbook as Big Oil to delay and prevent progress on rules that would clean our air, fight climate change, and save lives. Study after study, including the administration's own annual reporting, shows that the technology to reduce emissions and electrify fleets is not only available, but it will save automakers money in compliance fees and consumers money on fueling and overall costs. Yet, decades of the auto industry dragging its feet to take action means that it is further behind the curve.

Automakers have had decades to drive forward the transition to electric vehicles. They have failed time and again. The only factor that will usher in the needed transition to electric vehicles is firm and specific government requirements. Consumers will embrace electric vehicles when automakers make them the attractive option—which they will only do when the government requires them to do so.

"There's still time for the Biden administration to avoid this epic error and recommit to science-backed actions it has started," she stressed. "The world is on fire. We need the Biden administration to maintain strong emissions rules that are one of the biggest extinguishers."

Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous similarly pressured the administration in a Tuesday statement, arguing that "strong EPA vehicle standards are essential to protecting clean air for communities across the country."

"Lobbying by auto manufacturers to stall the transition to electric vehicles could have severe consequences: Millions of Americans breathing deadly car pollution, suffering from the impacts of climate change, and spending too much on volatile gas prices," Jealous warned. "Enough excuses from the auto industry."

"Automakers have had more than enough time to prepare for the EV transition, and funding from the Inflation Reduction Act is rolling out the infrastructure necessary to support it," he added. "We can and must have union-made clean vehicles. We urge the EPA to remain steadfast in finalizing a strong rule that will improve public health and protect our future."

While Biden campaigned as a clear climate-friendly alternative to Trump in 2020, the Democrat has come under fire during his presidency for various decisions—including supporting certain oil and gas projects, continuing fossil fuel lease sales, skipping last year's United Nations summit, and declining to declare a national climate emergency.

Nearly two dozen Sunrise Movement campaigners were arrested at the president's campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware last week and the youth-led climate group held dozens of actions across the country on Monday, warning that "Biden can either follow the lead of the young people who helped elect him in 2020 and declare a climate emergency or he's going to lose in November; backing a genocide and giving up our last chance to avert the worst of the climate crisis will be his legacy."

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