Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Biden has historic opportunity to cut pollution with new clean cars rule

“This sucker’s quick,” President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE said from the front wheel of a prototype Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck this past spring, exuding the enthusiasm we need to accelerate the transition to electric cars and trucks and cut dangerous carbon pollution from the transportation sector. And, Biden is in the driver’s seat in taking the ambitious steps we need to curb dangerous climate pollution.

We are on the verge of a wholesale change in our cars and trucks that will drive down vehicle pollution and spur the economy by saving consumers money and accelerating job creation and innovation in the development of clean car technologies and electrification across the transportation sector.  

Car company after car company is promising all makes and models of clean, zero-emission vehicles. The draft bipartisan infrastructure package includes significant investments for the build-out of a national electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

With all of these inputs and the growing consumer interest in electric vehicles now is the time to set the strongest possible standards to improve fuel efficiency and cut dangerous pollution from cars — the largest domestic source of the carbon pollution that fuels climate change.  

Climate change is not some distant disaster; it is already affecting our daily lives. Families and small businesses across the country are facing rising sea levels, flooding and wildfires while others face devastating drought and record heat. Extreme weather swings wildly from heat domes to polar vortexes. Over 40 percent of Americans are exposed to unhealthy air every day and communities of color are 61 percent more likely to live in an area with polluted air. June 2021 was the hottest June on record in North America and heat-related deaths skyrocketed.

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Taking bold steps to cut the carbon pollution generated by burning fossil fuels in internal combustion engines can achieve real progress. Zero-emission vehicles are an essential part of how we can meet the challenge of climate change. But we have to take ambitious action now.

During the Obama administration the car companies, states governments, environmental and labor leaders came together to chart a course for more efficient and cleaner cars. These new pollution and fuel economy standards were good for the environment and good for the consumer — reducing air pollution and saving money at the pump by getting cars to go further on a gallon of gasoline. Unfortunately, the Trump administration rolled back a myriad of public health and environmental protections including portions of cleaner more efficient car requirements — sidelining the progress made in cutting carbon pollution and saddling consumers with cars that burned more gas.

The Biden administration has already begun a process to restore what was on the books. It has reinstated the right of California to set tighter emission standards, once again allowing California to provide leadership and band together with other states in addressing automotive pollution. They have also indicated that they are likely to reinstate part of the Obama-era clean cars agreement which would be a good, immediate interim step.   

But the Biden administration has an opportunity to go much further. To take advantage of the rapidly developing electric vehicle technology and the growing consumer market for all-electric vehicles. To build on what the car companies themselves are heralding. To create the manufacturing and clean energy jobs we need now and for the future.

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In announcing the reinstatement of the Obama-era requirements the administration must also call for a reduction of 60 percent of the carbon emissions from cars by 2030 and set a requirement that by 2035 all new cars sold in the United States will be zero-emission vehicles. We cannot delay. We must start immediately on a new set of strong clean car standards for model year 2026 and beyond.

Everyone knows the future is electric vehicles. Companies like Ford are leveraging iconic brands and betting on a clean, electric vehicle future. The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must work to develop the strongest possible clean car standards as quickly as possible. And, Congress must deliver on Biden’s proposed $174 billion investment in electric vehicles through a budget that takes strong action on climate change. The stakes have never been higher. The opportunity has never been greater. We need bold leadership to get this done. 

Carol M. Browner is currently the board chair of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.


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