Biden’s Proposed Auto Emissions Crackdown Will Be Strengthened, EPA Chief Says

Biden’s Proposed Auto Emissions Crackdown Will Be Strengthened, EPA Chief Says

The Biden administration will strengthen its proposed limits on auto and truck emissions, U.S. environmental chief Michael Regan said Wednesday, addressing complaints that the plan announced last summer is too weak. 

“What we finalize will be much more aggressive and much more comprehensive,” the Environmental Protection Agency administrator said in an interview while he was attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. 

That shift would likely be welcomed by environmentalists who have urged the administration toughen the greenhouse gas emissions standards. But it could be a blow for automakers that have counted on proposed credits and incentives to help them fulfill requirements set to take a big jump in stringency for the 2023 model year. 

The White House this week is beginning an interagency review of the EPA’s drafted final rule governing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, with a goal of imposing the new requirements in December. 

The plan outlined in August would translate to the most stringent federal greenhouse gas emissions limits by model year 2026. But environmentalists and administration officials warned that actual, real-world emissions reductions could be undercut by provisions in that industry-backed proposal, including double counting of electric vehicle sales and so-called flexibilities that give extra credit for technologies that make cars more fuel efficient but don’t necessarily show up in tailpipe readings. 

That proposal gave the EPA “a little bit more time to continue to do our own analysis” and draft a final regulation that reflected technical information from environmentalists and the auto industry, Regan said. 

The result will be a stronger, more durable rule that can withstand likely legal challenges, he said. 

“It’s one thing to want to propose something that feels good or that -- quote, unquote -- may be the right thing to do from a subjective standpoint,” Regan said. “But the right thing to do is to follow the law, follow the science and build the strongest technical record.” 

That’s a shift in approach for the EPA, which under multiple administrations has often outlined ambitious proposals at the start -- with a final regulation that looks much like the initial outline. 

“Some in the past I think have thought you have to come out with the strongest possible solution in the beginning and have the comment period support that original theory,” Regan said. “We believe we’re coming out with something that is really aggressive, but we also anticipate that comments from industry, from technology providers and from NGOs will just give us more information so the final rule is more legally durable.”

“The cars rule will be proof of that in December, when people see that hit the streets,” Regan vowed. 

Regan said he anticipated a similar track for a just-unveiled plan to tighten curbs on methane leaks at oil and gas wells. The EPA stopped short of blocking companies from intentionally burning off natural gas at the sites -- a practice called flaring that releases both carbon dioxide as well as methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas. 

If adopted as proposed, the measure would unlock a 74% reduction in methane emissions across the oil industry by 2030. But public comments on the plan and a supplemental proposal to come later will allow the EPA “to position ourselves with the most stringent final rule possible that is legally durable, legally sound and technologically feasible,” Regan said.

EPA officials are already working to develop new emissions limits for power plants under the shadow of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case testing the agency’s legal authority. That could include requirements for efficiency and renewable power at the sites themselves -- with regulations informed by years’ worth of court rulings and technological improvements. 

“There are opportunities to generate electricity inside the fence line and opportunities to save energy inside the fence line that probably were not cost effective or available 10 years ago,” Regan said. 

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