Biden’s tailpipe rule will put voters in driver’s seat on future of EVs


President Joe Biden’s new rule that will juice sales of electric vehicles is drawing praise from environmentalists, a powerful union and even the carmakers who will have to build and sell the cars.

Now Biden just needs to convince skeptical Americans.

U.S. drivers’ demand for electric vehicles has waned somewhat in recent months, leading to a mounting inventory of new models on car dealers’ lots that has prompted some car makers like Ford, GM and Mercedes to walk back production targets. Andopinion polls have shown that many Americans are interested in the vehicles, but they don’t back government rules that would phase out gas and diesel cars.

The future of electric vehicles has emerged as one of the fiercest political fights between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. The presumptive Republican nominee has been trying to win over workers in the critical swing state of Michigan by warning of a “bloodbath” for the auto industry from the transition to the new vehicles and has called for electric vehicle supporters to “rot in hell.”

Late in his presidency, Trump — at the urging of automakers — pulled stringent mileage rules imposed by the Obama administration, and he looks likely to do the same with the new rules if he wins the White House in November.

For Biden, the new EPA rule released on Wednesday is a political milestone: It represents one of the biggest climate rules ever released and takes aim at the largest U.S. source of the emissions warming the planet. And it’s a central part of his climate agenda that’s critical to appealing to the young environmental activists who have criticized Biden as being too accommodating of fossil fuels.

Democrats including Michigan Sen. Gary Peters told POLITICO on Wednesday that adjustments to the final rule by EPA to address automakers’ fears that they would be forced to shift their production too quickly struck a balance that will protect jobs. That was critical in winning support from the United Auto Workers union and automakers, which both praised the EPA’s rule.

“The union embraces the future of the auto industry, but they also want to make sure that it can be done at a pace that’s realistic, and has minimal impact on jobs,” said Peters, who also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “This was a decision that certainly attempts to address all that.”

Representatives from the auto industry were also on board, crediting the administration for taking its concerns seriously.

“You’ve listened to what is happening in the auto market,” John Bozzella, head of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said at the rollout event Wednesday with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi.

“You understood we’ve got lots of work to do on public charging, and the industrial incentives and policies of the Inflation Reduction Act need more time to do their thing,” he said, referring to the law that contains billions of dollars in clean energy incentives.

Under the final rule, automakers will need to meet tighter pollution standards that are expected to make two-thirds of vehicles they sell in the United States either battery-powered or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles by 2032.

While the rule pushed out some of the near-term deadlines for automakers, it will still yield cuts in carbon emissions of 7 billion tons, provide $13 billion in annual public health benefits from improved air quality, and save drivers $62 billion in annual fuel costs and maintenance, according to EPA.

Despite the modifications to appease industry and labor, Congress’ climate hawks were happy. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who recently blasted the Biden administration for splitting up a rule on power plant pollution partially in response to industry concerns, said Wednesday that he was more pleased with the modifications on the tailpipe rule.

“I was not as grumpy about it as I was about the power plant rule,” Whitehouse said. “I think they’ve put a pretty solid push on it for EVs and supplemented by the IRA’s incentives, that should lead to a good outcome.”

Green groups also joined the chorus — including some that have been unhappy with what they see as Biden’s reticence to shut down fossil fuel production.

“The transport sector is the biggest source of US carbon emissions. These rules are a critical step forward,” the Sunrise Movement, a youth activist group, posted on X.

In an interview this week, Zaidi said the initial version of the rule was crafted during two years when the world was experiencing supply chain challenges, and the administration adjusted it based on feedback.

“It was proposed, then people commented, and we came back,” he said. “So there is calibrating on how do we pursue the dual North Star here, which is to drive down emissions in line with the science-based targets and at the same time maximize our ability to build out the supply chain in the United States.”

Not all Democrats are on board with Biden’s push. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who represents a top energy-producing swing state, said EPA’s estimate that 68 percent of new cars sold in 2032 will be electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids is “overly aggressive.”

“That really isn’t where the American people are at. Sales continue to drop, and a lot of people are wary of the direction,” said Fetterman, who has also criticized the Biden administration’s recent move to pause approvals of new natural gas export projects.

And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the moderate Energy Committee chairman who is retiring, argued in a statement that the “federal government has no authority and no right to mandate what type of car or truck Americans can purchase” and the rule would worsen supply chain dependence on China for key EV materials.

EPA has said the tailpipe rules did not mandate a type of vehicle, and car makers could meet the lower emissions threshold with a far smaller number of electric vehicles and improvements in gasoline- and diesel-powered engine efficiency, though at a higher cost.

Democrats gloated that many of the investments spawning from Biden’s legislative investment and regulatory climate agenda are happening in Republican states and districts, a trend they expect to continue as a result of the EPA’s new regulation.

“Policies that support investment in and growth of U.S. manufacturing in strategic sectors like energy and automotive are important for Georgia’s future and [are] driving much of the extraordinary investment you are seeing in our state,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) told POLITICO.

Republicans representing districts experiencing a rush of new electric vehicle-related manufacturing activity argued the regulatory push is essentially a de facto mandate that would push the transition away from gasoline cars too quickly.

“There is going to be a market for EVs, but I am not in favor of the government picking winners or losers,” said Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), a vice chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus and chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials.

Carter told POLITICO he is “excited” that Hyundai has broken ground on an electric vehicle production plant in his district, which he said represents the largest economic development project in Georgia’s history. But he added “consumers will decide what they want” to drive and “you cannot force this down upon people.”

GOP Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, whose district is home to two electric vehicle battery manufacturing facilities that are claiming incentives from the IRA, said he supports the investments occurring there.

“What I don’t support is mandatory compliance,” Amodei said. “We are struggling to support the time frame. They [the Biden administration] are tone deaf on our ability to meet that.”

Democratic allies, though, contended the EPA’s compromise measures easing the pace of the EV transition would appeal to voters who might be cautious about swapping their gas vehicle for an electric one and wary of the government’s role in pushing that.

A Pew poll conducted last year found that six-in-ten Americans, including 37 percent of Democrats, oppose government mandates — like those passed by some states — to phase out the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.

Alex Laska, deputy director for the climate and energy program at the center-left think tank Third Way, said the Biden administration did well to consider “how are these policies going to play out, particularly with moderate voters who are not single-issue climate voters — as most people are not — come November.”

“Republicans have seized on EVs as another front in the culture war. EVs have become very politicized and elements of that message are working,” Laska said. “And so based on what we’ve seen in the polling, based on what I’m sure the president and his team are seeing, relaxing the ramp-up a bit between now and 2030 is probably going to go down better with voters.”

Zack Colman contributed to this report.



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