Bold Action on Vehicles Needed to Meet Historic Climate Goal

The Biden administration should set strong clean cars standards to put us on track for sales of 55% zero emission, electric vehicles by 2030, and Congress should adopt transformational investments in charging infrastructure, manufacturing, consumer incentives, and transit and safe bike and pedestrian options.

Credit: Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

President Biden made a bold and ambitious pledge to have the U.S. slash its greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by 2030, an effort that will require a historic transition in our vehicle fleet. 

Getting these reductions in transportation will require a combination of strong clean cars standards to put us on track for sales of 55% zero emission, electric vehicles by 2030, accompanied by transformational investments in charging infrastructure, manufacturing, consumer incentives, transit and safe bike and pedestrian options.

NRDC’s modeling shows that cleaning up our electricity grid and vehicle fleet are the two biggest opportunities to cut carbon pollution (see figure below from NRDC issue brief). By 2030, 80% of the U.S. electricity must be supplied by zero carbon emitting technologies and 55% of sales of new cars and truck sales must be zero emissions.

Transforming our grid and vehicle fleet to wind, solar, and electric vehicles is not only critical to avert a climate catastrophe: Cutting carbon pollution from transportation, the power sector, buildings and industry will yield more than $50 billion in net environmental and public health benefits in 2030 alone. The move to clean energy will also create millions of jobs for Americans by 2030 and avert tens of thousands of premature deaths.

Credit: NRDC

After the power sector, the transportation sector (currently the largest emitter of U.S. carbon pollution) has next largest opportunity for 2030 carbon pollution reductions. In our analysis, zero emission vehicles make up 57 percent sales of light-duty vehicles and 55 percent of medium- and heavy-duty vehicle by 2030, delivering 768 million metric tons of CO2 reductions, or almost a quarter of the 3,200 million metric tons needed from the energy sector to meet the 50% reduction target. Overall, the transportation sector emissions would be reduced by 41% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Recent projections by independent scientists and automaker announcements show that this target is achievable and consistent with technology, cost, and market trends.

·      A recent study from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences concludes that battery costs are expected to drop by half over the next decade, allowing 300-mile range battery electric vehicles to reach parity in purchase cost with gasoline cars by 2030.

·      At least ten automakers have announced plans for producing only electric vehicles, some starting as early as 2025, including Jaguar Land Rover (100% electric by 2025), General Motors (100% by 2035), Volvo (100% by 2030), Ford (100% by 2026 in Europe), and Volkswagen (50% in the U.S. by 2030).

To meet the necessary zero emission sales levels, the Biden administration should  extend and strengthen the clean car standards established by the Obama administration. According to news reports, the Department of Transportation will soon reverse an illegal Trump administration effort to preempt the ability of states’ to set tailpipe emissions standards. The next steps are for the EPA to re-grant the waiver to allow states to adopt their own clean car standards (expected soon), quickly restore the Obama-era clean car standards through model year 2025, and then rapidly adopt new car and truck greenhouse gas emission standards consistent with a 55% zero emission vehicle sales target by 2030.

In addition, Congress should pass Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes a $174 billion investment in electric vehicles. The electric vehicle investment plan will create good-quality domestic manufacturing jobs, spur demand by providing consumers rebates and tax incentives, build a national network of 500,000 public charging stations by 2030, and help electrify transit buses and the federal fleet.

Putting the electric vehicle market into high gear is critical to meeting the U.S.’s new, ambitious national climate target to cut emissions by at least 50%. Achieving the necessary 55% electric sales target by 2030 can restore U.S. global climate leadership, create millions of jobs, and cut dangerous tailpipe pollution endangering our families.

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