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Why the White House is pushing for more electric vehicles on the road

Gasoline-powered vehicles are the biggest source of emissions from the U.S., accounting for more than a quarter of emissions. But Thursday, President Biden laid out new rules, agreements and timelines to try to cut that percentage down significantly. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign, join Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now a look at President Biden's plans on climate change from two perspectives.

    Reducing emissions from cars and trucks is a big part of this. Gasoline-powered vehicles are the biggest source of emissions here in the U.S., accounting for more than a quarter of the total.

    Today, President Biden laid out new rules, agreements and timelines to try to cut that percentage down significantly.

    Amna Nawaz begins there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, a fundamental piece of that plan is getting people to buy electric vehicles and other so-called zero emission vehicles.

    Before driving around the White House grounds in an electric jeep, President Biden said he wants half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be zero emission cars and trucks.

  • Joe Biden:

    They're a vision of the future that is now beginning to happen, a future of the automobile industry that is electric, battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, fuel cell electric. It's electric.

    And there's no turning back. The question is whether we will lead or fall behind in the race for the future.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, the plan is dependent on the infrastructure bill, which includes $7.5 billion for new charging stations around the country. The government would set tougher fuel standards as well. Automakers are expected to have to meet an average of 52 miles per gallon for new passenger vehicles by 2026.

    For some perspective on all of this, we turn to two to two people deeply immersed in the challenges ahead.

    Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund. And Dan Becker is director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center For Biological Diversity.

    Welcome to you both. And thanks for being here.

    I want to come to both of you for a quick reaction to the announcement.

    Fred, I will start with you.

    You called this a defining moment. Why?

  • Fred Krupp:

    Well, it was just inspirational to be out there on the South Lawn.

    The president's vision of half of cars being electric vehicles by 2030 brought people together. It brought all three of the Big Three automakers, GM, Ford, Stellantis, which, of course, Chrysler. It brought the UAW, lawmakers, environmental groups all supporting the president's vision, because it can protect the climate, clean our air, and create good, high-paying jobs for American workers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dan, I want to come to you for your reaction. And I will quote you quickly.

    In a strong statement, you said that this look like a loophole-laden, Swiss cheese rules.

    Why don't you think this is going to work?

  • Dan Becker:

    Well, I think Fred is — first of all, thank you for having me on.

    Fred is right. The vision is good. But action is better. And these standards don't take enough action. The president is right that global warming is an existential threat. It's roasting the West. It's stoking forest fires. It's worsening storms.

    So now isn't the time to propose weak standards riddled with loopholes and promise strong ones later. The Biden proposal expands loopholes, and so it cuts less carbon emissions than the Obama standards that auto companies agreed to nine years ago. And the climate crisis was a lot less worse then.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Fred, a lot of people have raised this question about some of the existing loopholes and the enforceability of a lot of this.

    The Biden administration says this will dramatically cut emissions. But, if it it's not enforceable, does it really make that much of a difference?

  • Fred Krupp:

    Well, actually, the — I agree with Dan. This is an urgent problem. We have got to get after it.

    But what the president did with his executive order is order the EPA to put in place binding standards. And we will work with Dan and everyone else to make sure that the standards are robust, that there's accountability, and that they are transparent.

    The Obama standards only went out to 2026. These go out to 2030. The Obama standards didn't mandate any electric cars. The president is promising half the fleet, half of new car sales will be electric by 2030, under an EPA rule.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Dan, on those numbers, when you look at — and I want to make this point too. This is the new standard applied to new cars, right, not to the full existing fleet.

    But it's worth pointing out 17 million new cars sold every year in America. So, even if half of those do improve their fuel efficiency, doesn't that make a substantial difference?

  • Dan Becker:

    Oh, of course, it makes a big difference, if it happens.

    But as the voluntary pledges, the only way to ensure that carmakers actually make the clean cars that they're talking about is to require it by law. They're not very good at doing things by themselves without the prodding of the force of law.

    And these are the same companies that tore up the last set of standards, the Obama standards that they negotiated in 2012. So how can anybody trust them on a voluntary basis to go forward? The executive order that you refer to lacks the force of law, and the automaker aspirations lack any meaning whatsoever.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Dan, I'm going to stick with you for a moment.

    Stepping aside from the automakers, there's a consumer component to all of this as well. When you look at auto sales right now, just 2 percent of auto sales in America are electric right now. Did you see a plan for how to incentivize consumers to get on board with this?

  • Dan Becker:

    Well, first of all, the auto companies have to make the vehicles.

    And Ford, for example, only sold 11,000 E.V.s, electric vehicles, through — last year through April. So the auto companies are whining about the consumer, but they're not advertising these vehicles. They spent $14 billion last year mostly advertising gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs.

    If they start advertising electric vehicles, maybe some consumers will learn about them and will want to go and buy one.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Fred, what about the consumer part of this? We mentioned those billions of dollars in the infrastructure bill for charging stations, but the automakers say they're going to need billions more. But there's no consumer incentives in the plan right now. Is that a problem?

  • Fred Krupp:

    Well, the — pending in Congress is also provisions of Senator Wyden's Clean Energy for America Act that has plenty of consumer incentives. And we're supportive of that, too. So other things have to happen.

    But the president's order saying EPA should immediately begin work on those rules, I take that seriously. And the fact is that the three — Big Three auto companies are going to invest. They have announced investments of $100 billion.

    Why? Because these are the cars consumers now want. They're just fun to drive. They perform better. My three-year-old electric car, I haven't had to have maintenance. I'm saving thousands of dollars on gasoline. Americans are going to love not having to go to gas stations. Electricity cost half as much to drive.

    On the Ford F-150 Lightning, there's 100,000 people on waiting lists to get it. The Mustang electric car is outselling the internal combustion engine version. GM has announced electric school buses. Why? Because these are the cars consumers want.

    The real question is, are we going to make them here or be importing them from Germany and China? There are an awful lot of people at the White House today that would be rather — would rather be driving cars made in Michigan, in Georgia and Texas, and not importing them from Germany and Asia.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we know a big part of this, of course, is remaining competitive with China.

    And, Dan, I want to come to you on this final point, though, which is the fact that the rules seem to change with each administration, right? In this move today, you had President Biden's administration going back to Obama era rules that had been undone by President Trump's administration.

    None of these things go into effect tomorrow. So could these all have the impact of not having any impact at all?

  • Dan Becker:

    That's a big fear. These standards are an Edsel, not a Tesla. They're not very good.

    And if they remain the standards that are implemented, and the long-term visionary standards that both Fred and I hope the Biden administration promulgates are then thrown away by the next President Trump, then we end up with really nothing.

    And the fact that the auto companies have been a nefarious player trying to prevent strong standards from coming into force, telling President Trump to roll back the Obama rules that they had just negotiated — these weren't Fred's and my rules. These were GM and Ford rules with President Obama.

    So we really need to move forward. And these standards will get us on a trajectory — or should get us on a trajectory to really get to those visionary standards of the future. And we call on the president to treat this set of standards as a first draft, and to order his staff to go back and do a better job toughening them up, so that they get us on that trajectory for the long-term goals.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign and Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund.

    Thank you to you both.

  • Fred Krupp:

    Thank you.

  • Dan Becker:

    Thank you for having us on.

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