Biden Ups The Ante on Car Fuel Standards

Environment Policy Brief # 121 | By: Katelyn Lewis | July 29, 2021

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Policy Summary

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President Joe Biden’s team is working on a vehicle emissions rule that will not only restore aggressive vehicle mileage standards set under then-President Barack Obama, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and significantly increase electric vehicle drivers in the U.S. by the end of the decade.

The proposed rule, first reported by the Associated Press, would start with the 2023 car model year and would follow standards set by the California deal, an agreement reached among five leading automakers and the Golden State that “increases the mileage standard and cuts greenhouse gases by 3.7% per year.”

That fuel economy percentage would grow to a 5% annual increase, with a similar cut in emissions, by 2025, and then increase up to 6 or 7% for the 2026 vehicle models under the new rule. Industry and administration officials who spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity said the EPA would “likely … make a nonbinding statement that the requirements will ramp up even faster starting in 2027, forcing the industry to sell more zero-emissions electric vehicles.”

The goal of the new rule is for 40% of all new car sales to be electric by 2030 – a large increase from the 2% of new car sales they constitute in the U.S. in 2021.

The proposed rule assembled by the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department is expected to be released in full as soon as next week, AP reports.

Policy Analysis

A common and unsurprising theme so far in the Biden administration has been to reverse the rollbacks established under the Trump administration that have impaired efforts to reduce anthropogenic-caused environmental distress and air quality-related public health issues.

The proposed rules to increase fuel economy standards once more therefore align well with Biden’s pledge to address climate change and with his goal of decreasing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030.

But some environmental groups argue the proposed rules may be a little too lenient on the auto industry at a time when the country is behind on cutting its pollution levels.

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“The West is baking, forests are ablaze, storms are worsening, so this is not the time for weaker standards and promises of doing better tomorrow,” Dan Becker, the Safe Climate Transportation Campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Half steps won’t save us from climate catastrophe.”

In 2012, the Obama administration finalized clean car standards to “increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025,” with an annual required 5% increase in fuel economy between 2021 and 2025, according to an archived White House statement. The 2012 rule significantly increased Obama’s 2009 fuel standards, which required an average fuel economy of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks by 2016. USRENEW NEWS estimates that the standards proposed by Biden equal 45 mpg.

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In 2020, the Trump administration decreased the extent of the vehicle mileage standards, reducing the growth rate to an annual 1.5% increase in fuel efficiency. In other words, the looser standards under the Trump administration would require automakers to average a fuel economy standard of about 40.4 mpg by 2026, rather than the ​​46.7 mpg the Obama-era rule would have demanded, according to Reuters.

With the more gradual mileage increase – 3.7% for 2023 models, 5% for 2025 models, and so on – in Biden’s proposed rule, supporters argue it will enable more automakers to meet the environmental policy demands while remaining competitive in the industry.

But critics argue that it won’t cause the same emission pollution cuts in the near term that the U.S. would have experienced had former President Donald Trump not rolled back the standards set by former President Barack Obama. In addition, it would require additional rulemaking to establish tougher standards to continue cutting down emissions.

And the question remains whether the proposed rule, in its efforts to appease both environmental groups and automakers, will be able to help meet the reduced emissions goals set for the U.S. under the Paris climate agreement.

Engagement Resources​

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Associated Press – New Trump mileage standards to gut Obama climate effort (Mar. 30, 2020) –

Associated Press – EXCLUSIVE: Biden mileage rule to exceed Obama climate goal (July 27, 2021) –

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E&E News / ClimateWire – Biden car rules won’t account for Trump-era CO2 (July 28, 2021) –


Politico – Obama announces new fuel standards (May 18, 2009) –

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Reuters – Trump finalizes rollback of Obama-era vehicle fuel efficiency standards (Mar. 31, 2020) –

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The Washington Post – Trump administration to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements in move likely to spur legal battle with states (Aug. 2, 2018) –

The Washington Post – Major automakers strike climate deal with California, rebuffing Trump on proposed mileage freeze (July 25, 2019) –

The Washington Post – Biden Plan would tighten mileage for new cars over the next four years (July 27, 2021) –


The White House of President Barack Obama – Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 MPG Fuel Efficiency Standards (Aug. 28, 2012) –

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