President Biden on Thursday will unveil proposed rules that would set new fuel efficiency and emissions standards for vehicles, surrounded by union officials and carmakers that the White House says are behind the direction he’s headed.
Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gases, and the updated standards are a central plank in Biden’s plan to cut climate-changing emissions.
The new rules run “multiple thousands of pages” in length, a senior administration official said, and are based on a deal that California made with some automakers that saw them voluntarily adopt 3.7% annual improvements in vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards through 2026.
“What we’re hearing across the board is a consensus about the direction which this industry is going,” the official told reporters ahead of the announcement.
Specifics about the new standards were not clear Wednesday night, with a White House fact sheet saying only that they build off of the California framework, and that the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation will announce how they’re addressing the Trump administration’s “harmful” rollbacks.
The Obama administration had set fuel economy and emissions standards to improve at a level of 5% annually. The Trump administration had rolled those targets back to 1.5%.
Biden will also sign an executive order Thursday that the White House says will set a schedule for standards for future vehicle model years.
Biden has previously said he has a goal of making the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050 — a goal that would require most cars to run on new technologies, like batteries, instead of gas.
The executive order will also set a target of zero-emission vehicles representing half of all new vehicles sold in 2030. This category includes battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles.
Biden will be joined at a White House event by officials from the United Auto Workers as well as executives from Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.
Tied to the administration’s announcement, the car companies stated in a joint statement Thursday their “shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles … by 2030 in order to move the nation closer to a zero-emissions future consistent with Paris climate goals.”
The infrastructure deal Biden struck with a bipartisan group of senators would spend billions of dollars on electric vehicles, though it’s a far lower amount than his original jobs and infrastructure package. Democrats are looking to include additional climate measures in a package they plan to pass along party lines.
Former President Donald Trump loosened fuel economy and emissions standards, and started a legal battle with California over the rules.
That created enormous uncertainty about the future of vehicle emissions standards, and the risk of two different standards (one for California and more than a dozen states that follow its rules, and another for the rest of the country).
The auto industry split over the issue, with some carmakers striking a deal with California to maintain stricter emissions standards, while others supported Trump.
Since Biden’s election, the automakers who backed the Trump administration have dropped their support for his looser standards and endorsed the idea of setting a somewhat higher bar for fuel economy — one that’s uniform across the entire country.