As electric vehicle sales slow, US relaxes plans for stricter auto emissions standards for a while


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration this week is expected to announce new automobile emissions standards that relax proposed limits for three years but eventually reach the same strict standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The changes come as sales of zero-tailpipe emissions electric vehicles, needed to meet the standards, have begun to slow. The auto industry has cited lower sales growth in objecting to the EPA's preferred standards unveiled last April as part of the most ambitious plan ever to cut planet-warming emissions from passenger vehicles.

The EPA suggested that under its preferred alternative, the industry could meet the limits if 67% of new vehicle sales are electric by 2032.

But during a public comment period on the standards for 2027 through 2032, the auto industry called the benchmarks unworkable with EV sales slowing as consumers worry about cost, range, and a lack of publicly available charging stations.

Three people with knowledge of the standards say the Biden EPA will pick an alternative that slows implementation from 2027 through 2029, but ramps up to reach the level the EPA preferred from 2030 to 2032. The alternative will have other modifications that help the auto industry meet the standards, including the calculation of how EV fuel economy is measured, one of the people said.

The people, two from the auto industry and one from the government, didn’t want to be identified because the new standards haven’t been made public by the EPA.

The changes appear aimed at addressing strong industry opposition to the accelerated ramp-up of EVs, along with public reluctance to fully embrace the new technology. There is also a legitimate threat of legal challenges before conservative courts.

The Supreme Court has increasingly reined in the powers of federal agencies, including the EPA, in recent years. The justices have restricted the EPA’s authority — including a landmark 2022 ruling that limited the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Between 2027 and 2055, the EPA rule “will prevent more than 70 billion tons of climate wrecking carbon emissions. That’s more than the nation generates in a year. It’s absolutely essential, real, concrete progress,’’ Manish Bapna, president of Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

Republicans and some in the industry have said the rule would require that 67% of new vehicle sales be electric by 2032, forcing people to buy cars, trucks and SUVs that they aren't yet ready to accept.

But EPA Administrator Michael Regan has said the new rule is a performance standard that leaves it to industry to come up with solutions.

U.S. electric vehicle sales grew 47% last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose from 5.8% in 2022 to 7.6%. But EV sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

The Alliance for Auto Innovation, a large industry trade group, said in a news release that the ramp up to 67% initially proposed by the EPA is too fast for the industry to achieve. The EPA's pace of EV adoption is faster than President Joe Biden's goal of electric vehicles being half of U.S. new vehicle sales by 2030, the group said.

“Where we are (or aren’t) in 2032 is unclear at this point,” the group said. “But moderating the pace of EV adoption in 2027, 2028, 2029, and 2030 would be the right call because it prioritizes more reasonable and achievable electrification targets in the next few (very critical) years.”

The EPA's preferred standards take carbon dioxide emissions from 152 grams per mile in 2026 to 73 in 2032, a 52% reduction. The limits would reach 99 grams per mile by 2029.

But under the alternative that environmental groups expect the EPA to adopt, the standards would be eased in the first three years, reaching 112 grams by 2029 but still hitting 73 in 2032.