The Biden administration on Wednesday finalized the United States’ strictest global warming limits on passenger cars and light trucks, in a controversial effort to accelerate the country’s stalling transition to electric vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule — President Biden’s most far-reaching climate regulation yet — would require automakers to boost sales of electric vehicles while cutting CO2 emissions from gasoline models, which account for about a fifth of U.S. contributions to reduce global warming.

But unlike last year’s proposed rule, automakers would not have to dramatically increase electric vehicle (EV) sales until after 2030. The delayed timeline reflects an election-year concession to unions, a key Democratic constituency that has raised concerns about a rapid shift to EVs.

In another change to the proposal, automakers could comply by encouraging sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles alongside fully electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids have proven more popular with U.S. consumers lately, partly due to concerns about a lack of public charging infrastructure.

According to the EPA, the final rule will still prevent 7.2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere through 2055. It will also reduce particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, preventing up to 2,500 premature deaths annually from air pollution from 2055, the agency said.

“Our final rule will deliver the same — if not more — pollution reductions than we set out in the proposal,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday during a call with reporters previewing the announcement. “These final standards will also reduce some of the most serious pollutants that impact public health.”

Republican-led states and fossil fuel companies are likely to challenge the rule in court. But the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that includes Ford, General Motors, Stellantis and Toyota, praised the EPA’s decision to delay stricter EV requirements until after 2030.

“Moderating the pace of electric vehicle adoption through 2027, 2028, 2029 and 2030 was the right thing to do,” John Bozzella, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a statement. “…These adjusted EV targets – still a tough target – should give the market and supply chains a chance to catch up.”

Electric vehicle sales in the US have cooled in recent months. According to Kelley Blue Book estimates, U.S. electric vehicle sales increased 40 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2023, compared to a 49 percent increase in the third quarter and a 52 percent peak in the second quarter.

Still, Albert Gore, the executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association and the son of former Vice President Al Gore, said other numbers paint a more encouraging picture. He noted that a record 1.2 million electric cars were sold in the United States last year, bringing the electric car market share to 7.6 percent in 2023, up from 5.9 percent in 2022.

“Whether we’re talking about a real slowdown or not, the trend line for electric vehicles has been one of phenomenal growth over the past few years,” Gore said.

The price of electric cars is also falling so quickly that they are now almost as cheap as petrol cars. According to data from Cox Automotive, the average price difference last month was $5,000.

Still, the recent sales slowdown has prompted some automakers to scale back their EV plans, with Ford scaling back production of the critically acclaimed F-150 Lightning electric pickup. Many car manufacturers are now focusing on better-selling plug-in hybrids – a compromise between the combustion engines of the past and the batteries of the future.

Wednesday’s rule comes after a contentious back-and-forth between the United Auto Workers and the Biden administration over whether — and how — the shift to electric vehicles will benefit workers.

In September, the UAW launched a historic strike against Detroit’s three largest automakers: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. The workers warned that the rise of electric vehicles could wipe out good-paying jobs in the auto industry, as many electric factories are built in Southern states that are less friendly to union labor.

Despite these warnings, the EPA issued an ambitious proposed rule last April calling for electric cars to account for 67 percent of all new passenger car and light truck sales by 2032. Weeks later, UAW President Shawn Fain wrote that the union was withholding its endorsement of Biden’s reelection campaign due to “concerns about the transition to electric vehicles.” .”

Still, the union reversed course and rallied around Biden after the EPA indicated it would relax the timeline in the final rule. The UAW endorsed the president at his annual legislative conference in January, and Fain attended Biden’s State of the Union address this month.

Automakers could still comply with the final rule by having electric cars make up 67 percent of new car sales by 2032, according to the EPA. But they could also meet the requirements by having fully electric vehicles account for 56 percent and plug-in hybrids 13 percent, the agency said.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has called Fain a “dope” and repeatedly trashed Biden’s EV targets. He has falsely claimed that electric vehicles cannot travel far on a single charge, and he has promised to scrap the EPA rule on day two of a second term.

On Monday, Trump attempted to defend his statement last weekend that there would be a “bloodbath” if he lost in November, claiming he was merely describing a carnage for the auto sector. He wrote on his social media platform that he was “simply referring to (EV) imports” allowed by Biden, which he said “killing the auto industry.”

Manish Bapna, president and CEO of NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized Trump’s anti-EV rhetoric.

“The industry is betting its future on electric cars, drivers are buying them in record numbers and last fall’s UAW deal ensures workers benefit,” Bapna said in an email. “Biden has a strategy to support that shift. Trump wants to turn things around in the opposite direction.”

The fossil fuel industry has tried to drum up opposition to the EPA rule, which could hurt demand for its petroleum products. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), an industry trade group, has launched a seven-figure campaign against what it calls a de facto “gasoline car ban.” The campaign includes ads in battleground states warning that the rule will limit consumer choice.

“It is fair to say that the administration calls these rules ‘standards’ and not ‘prohibitions’ or ‘mandates,’” AFPM Chairman and CEO Chet Thompson said on a call with reporters this month. “But they do that because they know how unpopular bans are with Americans.”

The AFPMs Members include fossil fuel giants such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum and Valero Energy. Marathon Petroleum, the nation’s largest refiner, waged a secret campaign in 2018 to roll back President Barack Obama’s auto emissions standards.

Mike Sommers, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said the oil industry lobby group plans to challenge the new standards in court. “We will do everything we can to stop the rule,” he said in an interview at an energy conference in Houston on Wednesday.

California regulators are going further than the EPA and are seeking to end sales of new gasoline cars statewide by 2035. In the past, more than a dozen other states have chosen to follow California’s stricter tailpipe pollution rules.

The California Air Resources Board announced a deal Tuesday with Stellantis, the owner of the Jeep and Ram brands. Under the deal, Stellantis agreed to comply with California’s electric vehicle sales requirements even if they are blocked by a court or a potential second Trump administration.

The automaker had previously dropped these requirements to give rivals an unfair advantage. But on Tuesday, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares called the deal a “win-win solution” that will avoid 10 to 12 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“The world’s largest and most influential companies understand that this is how we can fight climate change together,” California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement.

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