Biden Administration Vehicle Proposals Strengthen Standards, But Fall Short of Necessary Emissions Reductions

Statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Aug 5, 2021

WASHINGTON (August 5, 2021)—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have issued new proposed rules for vehicle emissions and efficiency standards. These proposals are accompanied by an executive order that sets a goal of having electric vehicles account for 50 percent of new sales by 2030. While the proposal improves on the previous administration’s rollback of strong vehicle standards, it’s expected to include significant loopholes and extra credits that will weaken the overall impact of the rule. This proposal moves in the right direction, but falls short of what’s needed to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of UCS.

“The science is clear. 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, today’s proposals just aren’t enough to take us where we need to go.

“President Biden and his administration have correctly pointed out that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Now it’s time for them to follow through on their promises to take it seriously. Transportation is the biggest source of global warming emissions in the U.S., and we can’t hope to meet our climate goals unless we put the strongest standards in place.

“While the topline numbers of the proposals look strong on paper, we understand that the standards are undercut by unnecessary giveaways to automakers that reduce their real-world benefits and delay progress toward better technologies. We know automakers can meet a higher standard, and we also know we can’t rely on them to meet purely voluntary commitments.

“Clean car standards aren’t just about next year, or the year after that. We have to get on the right track for the long term—cutting emissions as quickly as possible from conventional gasoline cars and increasing the adoption of cleaner electric vehicles so that we can get to a 100 percent electric new car market by 2035. Around the world, governments and automakers alike recognize that the electric transition is coming. The U.S. auto industry must not lag behind.

“We recognize the importance of the administration’s new executive order, which sets a target of 50 percent of new sales being electric vehicles by 2030, along with a timeline for future vehicle standards for cars and trucks. That’s a strong signal and an important part of a broader transportation strategy—but it needs to be backed up with policies, and we’ll be watching closely to make sure those policies are as ambitious as is necessary.

“Strong vehicle standards aren’t just necessary to fight climate change. They also save drivers money at the pump—especially low-income households that spend more of their budget on transportation. They reduce air pollution that threatens public health, and they drive innovation that can keep U.S. auto manufacturing competitive in an increasingly climate-conscious global market.

“The dangers of climate change are already here, as seen in this summer’s heat waves, flooding and wildfires. We need policies ambitious enough to match the moment, and the administration must finalize a stronger set of standards than they’ve proposed today. We know the dangers we face, and we know we have the technology to meet this challenge.”

Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst for the Clean Transportation Program at UCS, has written extensively on the way loopholes and credits undermine clean car standards, including here, here, here, and here.