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  • Allen Schaeffer

Fire, Aim, Ready

Image: Rich Kassel, AJW Inc.

New “technology-neutral” federal regulations are designed to drive automakers toward electric vehicles, but there is skepticism whether the U.S. will be ready or if consumers even want this.


Fire, aim, ready—that’s one assessment of the playbook for how climate and energy policy are being made in the U.S. as the shift to a clean-energy economy picks up full steam.


Three new regulations issued by U.S. EPA will mark what will be remembered as the most consequential three-month period in regulatory history because of their cost and impact on society. The rules establish new emissions and efficiency standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles, commercial vehicles and power plants. All of the rules are driven by efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and fundamentally they are driving the economy away from fossil fuels. The target sectors have been identified and the rules have been launched, but there is growing skepticism about whether the U.S. is or will be ready for this transformation.


New automobile tailpipe-emissions standards were announced as “technology neutral,” according to EPA, but in reality they are designed to drive manufacturers toward zero-emission—and preferably electric—vehicles (ZEV); 30 percent to 56 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales and about 20 percent to 32 percent of new medium-duty sales would be battery electric by 2032. As for heavy-duty trucks, about 40 percent of Class 8 tractor-trailer size trucks would likely be ZEV by 2032. Power plants are likely to see the end of coal-fired generation with the new rules. EPA backed off moving fully away from natural gas but applied extremely stringent rules requiring carbon capture for any new power plants.


There are many common features of these three rules. They were scaled back from initial proposals in time and expectations for achieving the switchover to lower- or zero-carbon fuels and technologies. In the case of the automotive-sector rules, if you read between the lines there is a continued, and likely dominant, future role for advanced internal-combustion vehicles. The automotive and power-plant rules have been characterized as unrealistic in timeframes and certainty of market conditions. Both are heavily dependent on the development of a completely new fueling infrastructure (solar, wind, electric) in record time and consumers willing to adopt new lifestyles for their new technology.


In the case of heavy-duty trucks, to meet the envisioned ZEV goals, one industry association estimated that 1,995 heavy-duty electric chargers must be installed nationwide each and every month between now and the rule’s effective date in 2032. Is our grid even able to realistically deliver clean electrons from renewable power sources in a timeframe that makes this work? Probably not.


Where are renewable fuels in these new carbon-cutting policies? Regrettably they are mostly on the sidelines. EPA’s tailpipe rather than lifecycle emissions approach diminishes the opportunity for carbon reductions from renewable fuels. Renewable fuel producers and suppliers are making investments for more capacity while also expanding feedstocks. What is missing is a correspondingly progressive and growth-oriented policy from government.


And then there’s the money. The Biden administration delivers a near constant flow of funding for all aspects of electrification: $900 million for electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations; $623 million in grants to build out the EV-charging network; $46 million to boost EV-charging performance, to name just a few. The New York Times captured the total for EVs at $174 billion.


You don’t need an accounting degree to see the stark differences between that $174 billion and the mere few-hundred million for renewable fuels, even considering the December 2021 $800 million in post-pandemic restoration funds for biofuel producers and infrastructure. The heralded Inflation Reduction Act puts just $500 million to increase the availability of domestic biofuels. This year, just $9.4 million was provided to spur development of advanced biofuels (February) and then in April USDA announced $43 million in grants under the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program.


Using more biofuels now helps reduce emissions immediately and leverages everything that we know works—our internal-combustion engines, our fueling and distribution systems, and the fuel producers. Many of the Biden administration’s clean-energy investments in electrification won’t see any benefits for years or decades to come, and that is if they stay on track, if they are accepted by end users, and if they are successful at the scale envisioned. That’s a lot of “ifs.”


There are many ways to get to a reduced-carbon future. We’ll get there faster by using more proven renewable and available biofuels. More progress in the near term means less severe actions in the future. And that is something we should all get behind.

Author: Allen Schaeffer

Executive Director

Engine Technology Forum




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