In an unconfirmed letter to the Commander in Chief, two US Senators from California urged the administration to follow their state’s lead in establishing a phase out date for gas-powered vehicles. Furthermore, President Biden and his team are maneuvering how to reimplement vehicle emissions rules eased by the previous administration.
Per Reuters, Democratic Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein reached out to President Biden in a letter. They urged the administration “to follow California’s lead and set a date by which all new cars and passenger trucks sold be zero-emission vehicles.” Furthermore, the Senators requested President Biden restore California’s authority to set clean car standards.
The authority in question relates back to the National Clean Car standards program established by the federal government in 2010. Under this program, California obtained waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for California’s Advanced Clean Cars program. Under the program, California regulates emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants itself.
In 2019, 13 other states and the District of Columbia had elected to adopt California’s robust greenhouse gas emissions standards. That is, until the Trump administration targeted the state’s Clean Air Act. According to the office of the Attorney General in California:
The EPA revoked portions of the 2013 Clean Air Act preemption waiver it had issued to California for these and other standards. The EPA also finalized its determination that Section 177 of the Clean Air Act would not allow other states to adopt California’s greenhouse gas emission standards.
President Biden has directed the EPA and the NHTSA reconsider Trump’s 2019 decision regarding California’s authority by April. The White House has yet to offer any updates, however.
President Biden has work to do
When Biden’s campaign was stumping in 2020, it declined to deliver a specific end date for ICE vehicle sales. However, President Biden has vowed to significantly boost electric vehicles and infrastructure in the United States.
This process began as soon as the President took office. Biden quickly announced he will replace the entire federal fleet of 645,000+ vehicles with EVs made stateside. The praise surrounding the announcement was short lived, however. Less than a month later, the USPS announced a contract to replace its entire fleet with mostly ICE vehicles.
The USPS said the new vehicles could be retrofitted with electric powertrains at a later date. When that might happen was unclear. Additionally, the Postmaster General Louis DeJoy would only commit to 10% of the 165,000 vehicle fleets being electric.
Immediately upon taking office, President Biden did order US agencies to revisit fuel efficiency standards by this July. The assessment could again rework fuel standards rolled back by the Trump administration last March. These standards currently only require 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026. That is well below the 5% annual increase first implemented by President Obama.
California once again looks to lead the EV charge in the US
In the letter to the President seen by Reuters, Senators Padilla and Feinstein share:
We believe the national baseline should, at an absolute minimum, be built around the technical lead set by companies that voluntarily advanced their agreements with California. California and other states need a strong federal partner.
The Senators are referring to California’s deals agreed upon directly with major automakers like Honda, Volkswagen, Ford, and BMW. The compromise allows manufacturers to target fuel efficiency standards somewhere between the 1.5-5% rates implemented by the two previous administrations. The California Senators believe President Biden can take a similar approach on a federal level.
Furthermore, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order for zero-emissions last fall. The order requires all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035.
We will have to see if California can reach this goal. At the very least, it has a deadline to aim for. The same cannot be said for the entire US — at least not yet. California once again looks to lead by example for a zero-emission nation and hopes President Biden will follow suit.
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