Three years ago, California announced it would ban the sale of new vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel, and biofuels by 2035, effectively mandating a 100% transition to electric vehicles. The plan is extreme, particularly given the glaring absence of sufficient EV charging infrastructure, EV supply chain uncertainties, and the state’s perpetually challenged electricity grid. But rather than learning from California’s example, the Environmental Protection Agency under President Joe Biden has decided to bring California’s policies mainstream with a national proposal to eliminate most new liquid-fuel-powered cars and trucks in an even tighter time frame.
Everyone should be concerned that California’s extremism is going national and that the Biden administration is abusing the authority it’s been given to make this happen. For starters, banning traditional vehicles and, by extension, the American-made, American-grown fuels they run on, is unlawful. Setting transformative, economywide energy and transportation laws is Congress’s job, not the president’s, which the Supreme Court continues to reaffirm. This sweeping policy change also defies economic sense.
Proponents of bans on gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles cite the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut emissions as reasons to force a transition to EVs. Both arguments lack merit. On the former, that argument might have held water 50 years ago when we had to import most of our energy from overseas. But this is not the 1970s.
American energy development and refining investments changed the game. Today, the United States produces more gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, renewable fuels, and refined products than anywhere else in the world. Most of the fuel we use is made right here from American crude oil. A full 84% of the oil we refine is North American — it’s not from overseas. We are more energy secure than ever, and our vehicle fleet is the cleanest, most powerful, and most efficient on record. And we did not have to sacrifice comfort, performance, energy security, or consumer choice to get here. Likewise, we don’t need to ban gasoline and diesel cars and trucks, shutter refineries, or spend trillions on forced electrification for these improvements to continue.
The Biden administration feels differently. It would have us trade our domestic energy advantages to become dependent on a battery and electric vehicle supply chain controlled by China, which could, at any turn, threaten to cut us off from critical minerals and batteries (as it has done before).
With regard to emissions, the EPA and California, at best, propose merely to relocate emissions, not eliminate them. Their policies focus exclusively on one category of emissions, tailpipe emissions, and ignore all others. By this flawed calculus, a giant Hummer EV, with its several-thousand-pound battery, would count as having zero emissions and environmental impact, but a Toyota Prius would get penalized.
If this administration is committed to cleaner transportation, it must account for all emissions associated with manufacturing, operating and charging vehicles, replacing parts, and eventually recycling vehicles. It must also keep an open mind and factor in the potential for renewable fuels, carbon capture, and fuel production efficiencies to continue lowering the emissions intensity of transportation. Anything less than a holistic, life-cycle view ought to be a nonstarter.
Congress must take a stand against the Biden administration’s proposals. I testified recently in support of three bills moving through Congress that aim to hold the Biden administration to account and eliminate any doubt as to where Congress has and has not authorized the EPA to regulate:
- The Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act would stop the EPA, whose permission is required by law, from authorizing California to enact its ban on gas and diesel vehicles.
- The Choice in Automobile Retail Sales, or CARS, Act would stop the EPA’s proposal to require roughly 70% of new car and truck sales to be electric in less than 10 years. The EPA can continue to set ambitious vehicle emission standards, but the standards must uphold consumer choice and be technology neutral.
- The No Fuel Credits for Batteries Act makes clear that the EPA does not have the authority to add a nine-figure EV subsidy to the Renewable Fuel Standard , or RFS, a policy meant to support U.S. energy security and American-grown biofuels.
Nothing in these bills disadvantages EVs or would do anything to stop people who want an EV from purchasing one. But the way to expand the market for EVs is to require them to compete and become more affordable, accessible, and convenient. It’s not to ban other vehicles or use policies such as the RFS to inflate the cost of alternatives.
Refiners support these bills and urge members of Congress to do the same. We are helping to reduce emissions by cutting the carbon intensity of our operations and our fuel products, and we want to continue doing so. But our liquid fuels have an enduring role to play in a cleaner, cost-competitive transportation sector, and in a world where the U.S. remains energy secure.
Chet Thompson is president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. He previously served as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the George W. Bush administration and was a partner at Crowell and Moring, where he chaired the Environment and Natural Resources Group.