Biden’s ridiculous electric-car mandate

The EPA announced new emissions requirements aimed at having 67 percent of cars sold in the U.S. with zero tailpipe emissions by 2032. About a year and a half ago, the Biden administration said it wanted 50 percent to meet that mark by 2030.

It’s one thing to want an outcome. It’s another to mandate it, without saying how to get there, or making it any easier to get there.

The EPA’s mandate gives carmakers freedom to meet the emissions targets in any way they see fit. On the one hand, that’s better than attempting to micromanage corporate decision-making from Washington, D.C. But on the other hand, it perfectly illustrates the progressive delusion that government can, merely by speaking, create better outcomes in the economy with no unintended consequences.

This new standard, the EPA tells us, will propel the U.S. to utopia. Four years’ worth of carbon-dioxide emissions would vanish, the average consumer would save $12,000 over the life of a vehicle, and the benefits would outweigh the costs by $1 trillion. Premature deaths, heart attacks, respiratory illness, and cancer would decline.

All that and more will occur if only the EPA publishes the right words in the Federal Register, the Biden administration wants us to believe. If the benefits are so huge and so obvious, no government mandate would be necessary. Of course, reality is more complicated.

Environmentalists aren’t the only interest group the Biden administration has to please, and labor unions have it working at cross purposes with itself on electric-vehicle adoption. EV tax credits come with domestic-content requirements, which reveals that EV adoption isn’t quite as life-or-death as the Biden administration wants us to believe.

Another reason for the domestic-content requirements is that one of the top sources for affordable EVs right now is China. EVs are easier to manufacture than internal-combustion cars, so they are better suited to China’s less-skilled workforce. Playing into an international adversary’s comparative advantage makes for poor foreign policy.

The EPA’s rules are also separate from the DOT’s CAFE standards, which have been a textbook study in unintended consequences. By relating fuel-efficiency minimums with car size, the CAFE standards have encouraged U.S. automakers to focus on the production of larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, which is part of the reason that U.S. carmakers have largely stopped making smaller cars.

What unintended consequences will this new mandate bring? First, we don’t know how it will interact with the CAFE standards, which aren’t going away and will be updated by the DOT later this year. Second, the downstream effects of the EPA’s mandate will present significant challenges.

Carmakers will need more minerals to build more batteries for more EVs. Mineral extraction is a grubby business against which Western environmentalists and their allies in government often throw up roadblocks. It will be easier to obtain those raw materials from developing countries with less-stringent environmental standards and, in some cases, fewer qualms about the use of child or forced labor. To be sure, that’s an unpleasant thought, but doubtless the EV lobby will try to justify it with the argument that there’s a planet to save, no omelet without broken eggs and so on. Even then, “easier” may be easier said than done. It’s no secret that China has established a dominant position in battery manufacturing. But that commanding position extends down through the battery supply chain, whether in rare earths mined and processed at home or in sourcing additional raw materials from other countries, which may, even when they are not contractually bound to China, prefer to prioritize a powerful customer that doesn’t ask too many awkward questions about the way in which those raw materials are extracted.

More EVs means more EV chargers. Charging still presents one of the biggest problems for EV adoption. So far, the median range for EVs is only about 200 miles, with worse performance in cold weather. “Fast” chargers still take around 30 minutes. Cheaper chargers take hours. There aren’t anywhere near enough of them right now, and we don’t find the Biden administration’s assurances that enough will be built as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, about which it has lied in many other respects, all that convincing.

More EV chargers means more electricity. Note that the EPA mandate specifies zero tailpipe emissions (meaning that hybrids will be pushed onto the dirty side of the ledger), as EVs still create emissions by consuming electricity generated at greenhouse gas–emitting power plants. And so do the factories that manufacture EVs or the components that go into them. It is true that EVs still come out ahead of gasoline-powered cars, emission-wise, but where is all this extra electricity going to come from? The same environmentalists that make it hard to mine also make it hard to build power plants, even low-emission nuclear ones. We have already seen state-level no-charge warnings go out to EV owners on days of high electricity demand, and that’s with miniscule EV adoption compared to the two-thirds the EPA wants.

When government says to jump, American carmakers usually reply, “How high?” That’s especially true after the Great Recession bailouts. They have cheered on the Biden administration’s emissions goals so far, and gone further. General Motors has promised to make zero internal-combustion cars starting in 2035. EVs will grow more popular by then, but the idea that nobody will want a new internal-combustion car in the near future is more likely to be preparation for a government ban than response to the market.

Car customers might want to give some feedback to their representatives in government, but they are largely outside this process as well. It’s through administrative rulemaking, not debate among elected officials, that progressives are seeking to remake America’s transportation sector. When the promised benefits of their proclamations don’t materialize as intended, they should be prepared for backlash. And drivers should prepare to start shopping for clunkers.

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