The EPA reveals final auto industry regulations to try to keep the world habitable

Today’s final rule requires most new auto sales in the US to be electric or hybrid by 2032.

MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its final pollution emissions standards for the auto industry on Wednesday. The regulations, which include a looser timeframe than those proposed last year, mandate that by 2032, most new passenger car and light truck sales in the US must be electric or hybrid.

Earth is on a disastrous trajectory with climate change, and no amount of baseless conspiracy theories or talking points from the oil and gas industry, Donald Trump or anyone else will change that. Only phasing out fossil fuels and emissions will beat back its worst effects. The Biden Administration’s EPA is trying to do that — while throwing a bone to stakeholders like unions and automakers to navigate the landmines of today’s political realities.

The final rules present a timeline to wind down gas-powered vehicle purchases, making most US auto sales fully electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or advanced gasoline by 2032. The transition begins in 2027 but moderates the pace until after 2030. That’s a key change from last April’s proposed standards, which called for EVs to make up two-thirds of vehicle sales by 2032.

The shift was an election-year compromise for Biden, who has to balance the crucial battle against climate change with 2024 auto union endorsements. Labor unions had pushed for the more relaxed pace out of fears that a more aggressive transition, like the EPA proposed last year, would lead to job losses. EVs typically require fewer assembly workers than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Last year, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain withheld support for Biden’s reelection due to concerns about the EV transition. But (perhaps after hearing assurances about the revised rules) the UAW endorsed his reelection bid in January.

“The EPA has made significant progress on its final greenhouse gas emissions rule for light-duty vehicles,” the UAW wrote in a statement about the new rules published by the EPA. “By taking seriously the concerns of workers and communities, the EPA has come a long way to create a more feasible emissions rule that protects workers building ICE vehicles, while providing a path forward for automakers to implement the full range of automotive technologies to reduce emissions.”

Contrary to what online misinformation or your uncle may tell you, the rules — aimed at the auto industry and not consumers — don't make gas-powered cars and trucks illegal. Instead, they require automakers to meet specific emissions standards throughout their product lines. The rules apply to new vehicle sales, not used ones.

The EPA says the final rule will lead to $99 billion in benefits and save the average American driver $6,000 in fuel and maintenance over the life of their vehicles. Other advantages include avoiding 7.2 billion additional tons of CO2 emissions through 2055 and offering “nearly $100 billion of annual net benefits to society.” The reduction in fine particulate matter and ozone will allegedly prevent up to 2,500 premature deaths in 2055 while reducing associated health problems like heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“Three years ago, I set an ambitious target: that half of all new cars and trucks sold in 2030 would be zero-emission,” President Biden wrote in a statement supplied by The White House to Engadget. “I brought together American automakers. I brought together American autoworkers. Together, we’ve made historic progress. Hundreds of new expanded factories across the country. Hundreds of billions in private investment and thousands of good-paying union jobs. And we’ll meet my goal for 2030 and race forward in the years ahead. Today, we’re setting new pollution standards for cars and trucks. U.S. workers will lead the world on autos making clean cars and trucks, each stamped ‘Made in America.’”