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New vehicle emission rules are meant to quicken the change to electric vehicles

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Your local auto dealer's parking lot could look very different in a few years.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A new federal rule makes it likely that that lot will have a lot more electric and hybrid vehicles. By 2032, the government expects two-thirds of new cars, trucks and SUVs to have a plug. Here's EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL REGAN: I'm pleased to announce the strongest vehicle pollution technology standard ever finalized in United States history.

INSKEEP: NPR car and energy correspondent Camila Domonoske joins us. Camila, good morning.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I love that job title, by the way. You're the car-espondent (ph) is what I think you are.

DOMONOSKE: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: OK. Anyway, anyway. How do these rules work?

DOMONOSKE: Well, they're setting average limits on tailpipe emissions - that includes both greenhouse gases and the stuff in exhaust that's bad for human health - starting in model year 2027. And this is not a ban on gas cars. It's not even a mandate that companies have to make electric cars. What it does is it sets this standard that you can meet however you like so strict for these tailpipe emissions that, realistically, companies are going to have to make a lot of battery-powered cars or at least plug-in electric cars, which also can run on battery power, to meet these rules.

INSKEEP: I got you. So this has been one of the concepts of climate efforts for a while - set a standard, leave it to companies, leave it to industry to figure out how to meet them. But it seems to mean electric cars. So what does this mean for those of us who might be looking for a new car in a few years?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So in a few years - three years - not much of a difference. In a few years - eight years - a big difference - a lot more electric vehicles than there would be otherwise. And that timeline - the EPA had initially proposed rules that kicked in a lot faster, and autoworkers and the autoworkers' union and automakers lobbied really hard for a slower start to give more time for things like charging infrastructure. And they got what they asked for. So it kicks in slower.

INSKEEP: It's interesting that the union was against too quick a change here - obviously, big supporters of President Biden. So how does the auto industry itself feel about these final rules now that they've been changed?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, pretty good. I hear the word challenging a lot, but there's a positive tone. It's important that despite some negative headlines about EVs lately, the auto industry is really adamant that electric vehicles are the future. And in that context, having regulations around how fast that transition happens can be helpful. It puts everyone on the same timeline and gives some certainty around investments.

You know who's not happy about these rules is the oil industry and the biofuels industry, for that matter. Expect some lawsuits challenging them in the future.

INSKEEP: Oh, so a little bit less certainty, depending on how the lawsuits go. I'm thinking about, then, the effects of this. This is - you're saying this is a less radical timeline than the administration initially wanted, but they've adopted the timeline that they can given the politics, given the economics. How good will it be for the environment?

DOMONOSKE: These are still historic standards. Environmental groups say they're very significant. EVs are much cleaner than gas cars, even counting the footprint of batteries and charging, so very significant for the climate. This also helps human health and - side note - saves money on fuel. That's if they stick, like you said, Steve. And that is part of the reason why the administration bent over backwards for the car industry's interests here. The rules are more durable. They're harder to overturn by lawsuit or by future administration if the industry that's actually being regulated will stick out their necks to support them.

INSKEEP: NPR's Camila Domonoske, thanks so much.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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