A few quick thoughts on the new EPA regulations

This morning the EPA announced new proposed regulations to move the economy toward electric cars, and it’s stronger and faster than I would have expected:

The proposed tailpipe pollution limits for cars, first reported by The New York Times on Saturday, are designed to ensure that 67 percent of sales of new light-duty passenger vehicles, from sedans to pickup trucks, will be all-electric by 2032. Additionally, 46 percent of sales of new medium-duty trucks, such as delivery vans, will be all-electric or of some other form of zero-emissions technology by the same year, according to the plan.

The E.P.A. also proposed a companion rule governing heavy-duty vehicles, designed so that half of new buses and 25 percent of new heavy trucks sold would be all-electric by 2032.

(New York Times)

I don’t think there’s any way to argue against the new proposed regulations as a net good: according to the Times, these new rules will get us over the line for reducing carbon emissions by half by 2030. The rules on their own should slash emissions by 10%, with the other 40% projected from the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year.

There are bound to be the usual legal challenges and whining from the expected corners, but there are some legitimate concerns as well. The article notes the potential for pushback from automobile unions (an electric car requires less labor to assemble than a gas-powered car, the Times reported), and the environmental impact of making all those batteries isn’t great. But really, I’d love to see even more focus on transit and density than what we got:

  • The bus rule is probably the most interesting one. While the car fleet rule is getting the most attention, the requirement that 50% of buses sold will need to be zero emission will have the fastest impact. New cars can stay on the road for 25 years, while most transit properties replace buses on a ten-to-twelve year schedule.1Interestingly, shorter buses have it rougher than longer ones: a 40-foot bus can usually run for 15 years, while a 30-foot will operate for ten. Not that I didn’t have a special place in my heart for 5138, a 1981 Orion UTS was still running in 2004. There will be a much higher proportion of non-combustion buses much more quickly, and hopefully that will help drive charging capability in urbanized areas.
  • Infrastructure challenges are coming. Charging capability and range anxiety are going to be the major sticking points for the public to accept the new rules. We are a car-light household, and we generally only drive a couple of times a week for groceries and errands. But when we do drive, it’s generally more than 90 miles as we are visiting family back in New York. That could be challenging—especially since we don’t have a garage or driveway to charge a larger battery.
  • Fewer cars overall is still a better goal, even if the federal government can’t regulate us that way. If there was frequent enough service between the Lehigh Valley and New York, I wouldn’t worry about the range anxiety so much—I could just hop on a train or a bus to visit the family. If there was better bus service locally—or a walkable supermarket—I wouldn’t even need to drive to get groceries. Enhanced transit, and walkable neighborhoods could reduce emissions even further, especially now that many people are able to work from home.

Of course, what I’m talking about there is the idea of the “15-minute city,” where everything a person needs for daily life is within a 15 minute walk or transit ride. Unfortunately, a certain segment of the population has already been poisoned against this idea by some conspiracy theories that make the “death panel” discourse look sane and dignified. Any federal nudge in that direction would unleash all kinds of stupidity. You can’t blame the Biden administration for wanting to avoid that!