New Year, New Vehicle Emissions Standards?

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As 2021 came to a close and many Americans were setting their own standards and goals for 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency announced finalized revisions to national greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks. Overall, the new industry-wide average target will come out to roughly 40 miles per gallon by 2026. A reversal of the prior administration’s relaxation of fuel-emissions standards, the revised standards are the strictest federal greenhouse gas emissions requirements in history, and are seen as a fundamental part of the Biden administration’s climate-focused agenda. The EPA indicated that the new standards, even more aggressive than expected, will protect Americans’ health, save families billions of dollars on gas, and decrease the transportation sector’s current 29% contribution—the largest of any industry—to all greenhouse gas emissions.

Public disclosure of the revised emissions and fuel-efficiency standards came the day after required-yes-vote Senator Joseph Manchin of West Virginia announced he would not be supporting the administration’s push to pass the pending budget reconciliation package, which included measures such as electric-vehicle tax credits to help vehicle manufacturers meet more stringent emissions standards. With this unexpected setback, the new vehicle emissions standards are expected to upset some automotive industry stakeholders despite the fact that the successful bipartisan infrastructure bill, passed towards the end of 2021, included billions of dollars for creating and building a national electric-vehicle charging network.

Indeed, just after the EPA released the new standards, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation said in a statement that the finalized rules were much tougher than those initially proposed in August, and that the new standards would require a significant increase in sales of electric vehicles. The statement went on to say that the revamped standards would “undoubtedly require enactment of supportive governmental policies” including individual consumer incentives, additional infrastructure support, and supply-chain development, among other things. Notably, however, GM and Ford are supportive of the new standards and have expressed their intentions to continue to expand their efforts to develop electric-vehicle technology.

Moreover, the EPA says that automotive companies will have plenty of time to transition to meet the new standards, as the earliest models to which the most aggressive rules apply are 2025 and 2026; the less aggressive standards apply to models beginning in 2023. The EPA has also indicated it will work closely with manufacturers, as well as the United Auto Workers. Finally, the Biden administration and many individuals working in the automotive sector have also expressed hope that the push for automotive emissions help within the reconciliation package is not dead. Regardless of how the changes will come about, it seems certain that the new year is bringing new vehicle emissions standards.