EPA Proposes Tightest-Ever Emissions Limits for Cars

If approved, the rules could lead to electric vehicles comprising 67 percent of new car sales by 2032

Tesla electric cars on a car carrier truck
Electric cars from Tesla, photographed in 2018 Smith Collection / Gado via Getty Images

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed significantly stricter emissions standards that would drastically increase the number of electric vehicles on the roads in the coming years.

If enacted, the standards would slash emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as well as limit other pollutants that are harmful to human health.

The proposal is “the single most important regulatory initiative by the Biden administration … to really reduce the worst impacts of climate change,” Margo Oge, a former EPA official and the chair of the board of the International Council on Clean Transportation, said at a press conference last week, per NPR’s Camila Domonoske.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan called the regulations “the strongest ever federal pollution standards for cars and trucks” when the agency announced them, per Vox’s Umair Irfan.

The rules would require manufacturers to limit the average tailpipe emissions of new cars, beginning with model year 2027. While they do not expressly mandate the use of electric vehicles, producing more of these is essentially the only way for automakers to comply. However, if another emission-limiting technology is invented down the line, it could be used to meet the standards.

The EPA estimates that by 2032, 67 percent of new passenger vehicles and 46 percent of new medium-duty trucks would have to be electric to comply with the proposed rules, according to a statement from the agency. This is stricter than President Biden’s previous goal of electric vehicles making up half of new car sales by 2030. But either target is a steep jump from the current production rates—electric cars made up 7.2 percent of new vehicle sales in the first quarter of 2023 and 5.8 percent during all of 2022, per Matthew Daly and Tom Krisher of the Associated Press (AP).

But by meeting these standards, the EPA projects the country could eliminate ten billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions across all vehicle types between 2027 and 2055—a reduction that’s more than double the United States’ emissions from all sectors in 2022. Tackling transportation is crucial to reducing the nation’s climate impact as it’s the highest-contributing sector to greenhouse gas emissions at 27 percent, per Vox.

Regulating tailpipes would also reduce negative health impacts of air pollution from cars, such as respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, asthma and heart attacks, the EPA says.

By reducing fuel and maintenance costs, the proposed standards could save light-duty car owners $12,000 over the lifetime of the vehicle, according to the EPA’s statement. And overall, the combined effects of reduced health impacts, limiting climate change and cutting other costs from vehicles could save the country between $850 billion and $1.6 trillion between 2027 and 2055, the agency estimates.

Now, the proposed rules will be open for public comment and may be changed before they are finalized and put into effect, which is expected to happen next year. Some states are currently suing over previous vehicle emissions regulations, and possible legal action against the proposed rules could lead to a weaker final version, writes Vox.

Some auto industry workers fear that such a rapid transition to electric vehicles could lead to lower profits and fewer jobs, writes the New York Times’ Coral Davenport. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has suggested that a group of Republican attorneys general would push back against the proposed rules, which he called “wrongheaded,” according to the Times.

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