05 Sep 2023

New clean car standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which are readily achievable, will help clean up our air, accelerate electric vehicle (EV) sales, protect consumers from oil-driven inflation and help fight climate change — the exact opposite of what is alleged by attacks from the oil industry, conservatives and car manufacturers.
Under the Biden administration, the U.S. is finally following a smart, domestic economic growth government policy that revs our economy’s engine and puts the country’s climate commitments within reach. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), one year old this past month, is pumping billions in investments in electric vehicle and components manufacturing across the U.S. — a “battery belt” stretching from Michigan south to Georgia and east to the Carolinas.
Manufacturers have announced $165 billion in investments in EV and EV battery manufacturing over the last eight years. More than half of those investments and half of the 179,000 new EV-related jobs have been announced in the year since the IRA’s passage. And the IRA is already helping Americans fight inflation:New modeling from Energy Innovation finds the federal EV tax credits make leasing an electric vehicle the cheapest option for anyone looking for a new car, up to $6,000 cheaper annually than owning or leasing gas-powered vehicles.
Then in April, the EPA proposed new greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles that could account for two-thirds of new vehicles sold in 2032 being electric rather than gas-dependent. Because the IRA is almost entirely made up of carrots — huge subsidies designed to encourage a rapid transition to a cleaner economy — it will keep making electric vehicles more affordable for consumers, lightening the load of automakers in meeting the EPA’s proposed emissions standards.
Fact-checking the misinformation
Not surprisingly, President Biden’s policies have been under attack by misleading and outright false claims from the oil industry, conservatives and auto manufacturers. Yes, disinformation has long infected our political space, but given how extreme the climate emergency is becoming, with record heat and disastrous wildfires, we cannot let misinformation derail the low-carbon economic transition.
Let’s fact-check the two most common EV misinformation attacks.
Claim: The EPA is banning internal-combustion vehicles 
Fact: Such claims distort how the EPA regulations work, as EPA cannot ban a technology. Essentially, the agency sets a fleet average greenhouse gas emissions standard that each automaker must meet over its total fleet. But the proposed regulations are “technology neutral,” meaning they don’t require automakers to sell a particular car or truck — they just need to meet the standard.
Based on EPA’s analysis, EVs are the cheapest option. But the intense technological competition initiated by these regulations may lead to companies using a mix of technologies, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and more efficient gasoline and diesel cars.
The EPA regulations also don’t force consumers to buy any particular car or give up their existing car. The IRA does encourage EV adoption with large incentives for U.S.-built models, but the decision is always made by consumers. And thanks to incentives, regulations and consumer demand, scores of different EV models are available in the U.S., from the Hummer EV to the Hyundai IONIQ.
Claim: The standards open the door for the Chinese to take over the market
Fact: While China does have a big head start in EV battery manufacturing, as well as in EV production and adoption, that’s largely due to its government’s industrial policy. In 2001, EV technology was introduced as a priority science research project in China’s Five-Year Plan. From 2009 to 2022, the Chinese government poured over 200 billion RMB — $29 billion — into subsidies and tax breaks, long-term investments and infrastructure spending to kick-start its EV market.
The plan worked. In 2022, China accounted for 58 percent of EV sales worldwide, and it is home to BYD, the largest EV manufacturer in the world, which manufactured 1.9 million vehicles in 2022 — well ahead of Tesla’s 1.3 million.
By contrast, U.S. policy has shifted dramatically, depending on who was in the White House. During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided incentives and loans to support the domestic EV industry and groundbreaking EPA greenhouse gas standards for vehicles. Beginning in 2017, however, the Trump administration loosened existing greenhouse gas standards for vehicles — triggered by a request from the auto industry trade group, Alliance for Automotive Innovation — and dismantled the DOE electrification programs. Those four years under the Trump administration set the U.S. back while China EV industry build-out continued
Let’s not make the same mistake twice
By rejecting achievable, if ambitious, emissions standards, the Alliance is effectively suggesting that the U.S. should make the same mistake twice. The combination of IRA investments and the EPA’s proposed 2032 car emissions standards allows us to reset, make our domestic automakers more globally competitive, provide healthier lives for millions of Americans and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Backtracking on either, though, is what will really “open the doors to China.”
The same is generally true about Chinese advantage in minerals and other components needed to build electric batteries. Energy storage is a massive global economic opportunity requiring investment of nearly $190 billion by the end of the decade to meet projected demand and currently the one of the most viable tools to rapidly transition to a low carbon economy. So, we can either allow the Chinese to continue to dominate the global battery market or quickly build up our domestic capacities.
Fortunately, we’re already seeing movement in the right direction: automakers and battery manufacturers collectively are investing $100 billion in domestic battery and cell manufacturing by 2030 — enough to power some 18 million EVs once at full capacity.
Investments to improve and scale up the recycling of critical battery minerals are equally important to address potential supply challenges, while mitigating mining’s environmental impacts. The IRA includes a provision that qualifies EVs for subsidies if battery materials are recycled in U.S., regardless of the battery origin. Cirba Solutions recently broke ground in Lancaster, Ohio, on a $250 million battery recycling facility that’s expected to provide batteries for 200,000 electric vehicles per year, while Redwood Materials, with a $2 billion loan from the U.S. government, will build a recycling and manufacturing facility in Nevada. In addition, companies worldwide are working to improve battery efficiency thru new and innovative chemistries from solid state battery, allowing shorter charging times to new chemistries to replace lithium.
The world continues to emit more greenhouse gas than the atmosphere can handle, which is why we just lived through the hottest summer recorded in human history. Without finalizing EPA’s 2032 emission standards, we stand little chance of remaining on a track for reducing emissions consistent with the targets set forth by the world’s scientists to prevent a dangerous future.
Decarbonizing the transportation sector and transitioning rapidly to electric cars is essential to any realistic plans to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. We can’t let misinformation be a roadblock to the U.S. economic growth — or a safe climate future.
Margo T. Oge is the chair of the Board of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and the author of “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change With Cleaner, Smarter Cars.” Oge was the director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of transportation and air quality from 1994 to 2012.
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