Environmental Groups: EPA’s Proposed Federal Clean Car Standards Important First Step But Must Be Improved

EPA’s new rule addresses pollution standards for vehicles, but must be strengthened to fully tackle the climate crisis


Siham Zniber, Earthjustice, szniber@earthjustice.org

Larisa Manescu, Sierra Club, larisa.manescu@sierraclub.org

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose revised greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards (or “clean car standards”) for new light-duty cars and trucks. 

The Biden administration made reversing the Trump administration’s weakening of the clean car standards a Day 1 priority. This proposal is the first step in restoring and strengthening one of our most effective policy tools to address pollution from the transportation sector, the leading source of carbon pollution in the U.S. 

In the announcement, President Biden will also detail how EPA and the Department of Transportation will tackle transportation emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Regulating truck manufacturers is a major environmental justice issue and will benefit the communities — overwhelmingly communities of color and low-income communities — that suffer from diesel-polluting truck traffic. 

The clean car standards for light-duty cars and trucks must deliver real-world benefits and urgently recover the crucial ground lost during the Trump administration, and put us on a path to 100% new electric vehicle sales by 2035.

President Biden will also announce an executive order today committing to a target that 50% of new cars sold will be zero emission by 2030. However, to adequately accelerate the transition to zero-emission cars, the administration should increase the target to 60%. The U.S. requires vehicle emissions standards that meet the moment.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in our country, and it is imperative that we quickly and equitably reduce vehicle emissions to tackle the climate crisis,” said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for Climate and Energy at Earthjustice. “Cleaner cars are a win for our environment, public health, and the economy. The Biden administration must meet this moment with the strongest possible clean car standards and bold action to accelerate our transition to a pollution-free transportation sector.” 

“Our communities, our health, and our future deserve bold climate action,” said Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz. “Each year, we’re experiencing worsening climate disasters and the inequitable consequences of polluted air, with transportation making up the bulk of emissions driving the crisis. President Biden must seize the moment and craft stronger federal clean car standards, one of our most impactful tools for climate action. The Sierra Club will continue to mobilize its millions of members and supporters in our push for the strongest final rule possible that will deliver emissions reductions and put us on track to achieve 100% zero emission vehicle sales by 2035, an achievable and imperative target.”


This rule comes after the Biden administration announced a proposed rule in April to reinstate California’s right to set more ambitious standards than the federal government, which impacts 14 states and D.C. 

The federal clean car standards and California’s right to set more ambitious standards were targets of the Trump administration, which sought to undo both. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice, together with a broad coalition of environmental and public health groups, took the Trump administration to court to fight for people’s rights to clean air and a healthy climate

The world isn’t the same as it was in 2012 when President Obama signed his historic clean car standards, and climate science demands that we go stronger than ever on standards that slash vehicle pollution, advance 100% electrification of the transportation sector, and protect public health. A May report from the International Energy Agency asserts that globally all new cars sales must be electric by 2035 in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit warming to 1.5 C.

Meeting and exceeding the Obama-era standards is even more feasible today than when they were adopted originally because vehicle efficiency technology has advanced considerably in the last decade. 

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