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Biden administration pumps brakes on EV transition as election politics come into play

One policy analyst warned that automakers that stall EV plans “are running the risk of being left behind.”
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· 4 min read

Electoral politics are colliding with the US clean-energy transition.

The Biden administration is poised to slow its roll on EVs, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing sources familiar with plans to pare back forthcoming tailpipe-emissions standards. The report suggests the move is in response to pushback from interest groups across the political spectrum—automakers, car dealers, and unions—as a likely rematch this fall between Biden and Trump looms.

At issue is a proposal the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailed last spring for model year 2027–2032 vehicles. The standards—the toughest ever proposed—essentially would have required EVs to make up 60% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2030 and 67% by 2032, up from just 7.6% in 2023.

Now, the Biden administration is reportedly preparing to finalize a rule this spring that would allow a slower transition through 2030. EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll told E&E News that the agency is “committed to finalizing a technology standard that is readily achievable, secures reductions in dangerous air and climate pollution, and ensures economic benefits for families.”

“It seems like election politics, pure and simple,” Marick Masters, a management professor at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University, told Tech Brew. “They are delaying it because they know there is resistance on the part of the autoworkers and the companies…The autoworkers are concerned about the rapid transition and the negative effects it might have on employment. And I think that they have just asked for some time to catch up.”

Biden, Masters noted, is trying to shore up his coalition in swing states like Michigan, where he currently trails Trump, due in part to dissatisfaction over his administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

The about-face comes after the original proposal drew pushback from stakeholders including the United Auto Workers (UAW)—the influential labor union that recently endorsed Biden—and trade groups like the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a lobbying group that represents most major automakers in the US. It also comes amid recent choppiness in the EV transition.

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Opposition has centered on a recent slowdown in EV sales, lack of public charging, raw materials constraints, and how the shift stands to affect workers building ICE vehicles.

A group of thousands of car dealers recently urged the White House to “hit the brakes” on what it called an “electric vehicle mandate.” And in comments submitted to the EPA, the UAW—which is in the midst of an organizing campaign across the auto industry—urged the agency not to “[allow] the burden of compliance to fall heaviest on the workers who currently build ICE vehicles and those who will build [zero-emission vehicles] in the future.”

But environmental and consumer advocates have been urging the EPA to adopt the stricter standards, or even to take them a step further, arguing that the conditions are right and efforts to address the climate crisis can’t afford any more delays as the world tries to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The transportation sector is the largest source of US greenhouse-gas emissions.

“While the market is clearly heading in the right direction, EPA’s standards should facilitate even greater deployment of zero-emission and combustion vehicle technologies to help protect the public from the destructive effects of climate and air pollution generally,” a group of environmental and public health organizations wrote to the EPA.

Chris Harto, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, which has backed stricter standards, said in a statement posted to the publication’s website that, given the auto industry’s progress on clean-energy tech, “automakers that lag are running the risk of being left behind.

“We still expect these rules to help drive significant improvements to reduce emissions—the question is, how much and how soon?”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.