Apr 16, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
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Ramsey Touchberry

NextImg:EV mandates to phase out gas-powered cars collide with House Republicans

Bills to roll back state and federal electric vehicle mandates have been making their way through Congress, as Republican lawmakers attempt to immobilize Democrats’ green energy agenda.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed a trio of GOP-led measures to scuttle rules that would phase out gas-powered cars in California and similar proposals by the Biden administration, and block changes to a federal biofuels program that shower subsidies on EV manufacturers.

“We aren’t against EVs, but such government mandates aren’t letting the free market play out. It’s not sustainable,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson during a recent committee session. “None of these bills prevent Americans from purchasing EVs if it makes sense for them, and they want them. But we must ensure that they do not have to live with de-facto government EV mandates if they prefer another type of vehicle.”

All three bills will die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But a forthcoming vote in the full GOP-led House, which will not occur until after Congress returns from August recess in September, will force moderate Democrats in swing districts to take more difficult votes on environmental measures.

One of the bills would revoke a Biden administration waiver to California that allows the Golden State to require 100% of new cars sold in 2035 to be zero-emission, thereby phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles.

Republicans said the state policy is a national issue because many blue states follow California’s lead on environmental rules, thus manipulating the market.

Democrats argued that revoking an existing waiver from the Biden administration, which allows California to enact stricter regulations than the federal government under the Clean Air Act, would create “grave and unnecessary uncertainty” among automakers. 

Another measure would block a similar proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to curb tailpipe emissions by requiring 60% of new vehicles sold nationwide by 2030 to be EV and 67% by 2032 — an ambitious timeline prompting feasibility concerns from automakers and the transportation sector. 

EV market share for 2022 was 7% of vehicles sold, according to the industry lobbying group Alliance for Automotive Innovation. That number climbed to 8.64% in the first quarter of this year.

Such EV mandates “lack common sense and pragmatism,” said GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.

The transportation sector accounts for nearly 30% of America’s carbon footprint, making it the largest emissions contributor in the U.S. and a leading target of climate change provisions.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, ranking member of Energy and Commerce, called the GOP measures “shortsighted and politically motivated.”

California Rep. Scott Peters, a leading climate hawk, said the bills would “keep us stuck in the past and our heads in the sand.”

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell, whose district borders the automotive hub of Detroit, agreed with Republican concerns about EV affordability. But she feared the U.S. would fall behind the shift to cleaner transportation by foreign competitors.

“We are competing in a global marketplace, and if we don’t make sure we are creating and building the technology of the future, we are seceding our leadership and mobility in transportation,” Ms. Dingell said. “I’ll be damned if the United States of America will ever do that.”

Republicans say that China’s dominance over critical minerals needed for EV batteries means that more EVs — not less — is the real threat.

“We have several solutions before us that will ensure Americans continue to have the ability to choose the vehicles and fuels that best serve their needs,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican. 

“The legislative solutions today will ensure we don’t hand our automotive or communications future to the Chinese Communist Party.”

A top U.S. trade official on Thursday said that the Biden administration is acutely aware of threats posed by China as America looks to ditch gas-powered cars in favor of electric vehicles. 

Brian Janovitz, chief counsel for China Trade Enforcement in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said there are levels of defense the U.S. has against the communist nation from spreading its EV influence, including a 27.5% tariff on Chinese-made vehicles and new tax incentives to bolster domestic production.

“We will obviously continue to assess the challenges. We are vigilant to threats, and we won’t take things off the table,” Mr. Janovitz said during a virtual event held by the Washington International Trade Association. “We will take responses as necessary to meet the challenges of protecting workers against unfair trade.”

Should EPA finalize its tailpipe emissions rule to reach 60% EVs by 2030, Republicans are likely to have another crack at scuttling it via a Congressional Review Act resolution, a measure by which Congress can overturn agency rules.

Republicans have used the same procedure several times to combat President Biden’s regulations, but Congress has been unable to overcome his vetoes.

Another bill advanced by Republicans would prevent the EPA from overhauling the biofuels program known as the Renewable Fuel Standard and giving lucrative credits to EV manufacturers. Biofuel producers supported the EPA proposal, but the administration backed away from it in June after pushback from refiners.

Oil refiners would have faced mandates for higher concentrations of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol and other advanced fuels to cut emissions or purchase more tradable credits from other companies to comply. EV manufacturers such as Tesla would have been able to generate billions of dollars in tradable credits each year by selling vehicles that could be charged with biofuel-powered electricity.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at