The Biden Administration issued its final rule Dec. 20, 2021, to toughen greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles and other light-duty vehicles. It described the action as a big step toward an all-electric, zero-emissions transportation future.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote the rule to cover new cars built for the model years 2023-26. EPA said the program’s net benefits would be $120-190 billion through 2050 and offered projections on gasoline consumption cuts.
“This final rule is projected to reduce US gasoline consumption by more than 440 million bbl through 2050, a roughly 15% reduction,” EPA said in its rule.
A table of projections provided estimates of the cuts in gasoline consumption by stages: 3% in 2026, 7% in 2030, 14% in 2040, and 15% in 2050.
EPA estimates model-year 2026 cars will cost $1,000 more on average because of the standards, but because of reduced fuel costs, consumers will save $1,080 over the lifetime of the car.
The final rule is more stringent than the proposed rule that came out in August. While industry representatives and the United Auto Workers had urged EPA to avoid making the rule any more challenging, environmental and health advocates pushed the agency for stricter standards. EPA went with the activists and adopted a more stringent alternative for the 2025 and 2026 model years.
In addition, EPA noted that it will be working on still tougher standards for the model years beyond 2026, a point the agency also made when it released the proposed rule.
Electric cars cited
EPA said the tougher standards can be met most notably by pushing more drivers to buy electric vehicles, both fully electric (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs).
EVs and PHEVs were 3.6% of new light-duty US vehicle sales in January-September 2021, according to EPA. If those numbers rise to 7% of the new vehicle market for model year 2023 and 17% for model year 2026, the tougher standards should be met, EPA said.
Whether these sales percentages can be reached on such a schedule is an open question. The financial, technical, and infrastructure obstacles to electric vehicles are well known and have tended to limit electric vehicle sales to prosperous consumers who in many cases also own a gasoline-powered vehicle.
The Biden administration has repeatedly called attention to its plans to subsidize installation of vehicle recharging stations, but the time that will be needed to reach an adequate nationwide scale is unknown. Subsidies also continue to be available for electric vehicle purchases.