Longtime Oil and Corn Foes Unite to Battle Biden Car Standards

image is BloomburgMedia_SEZAGHT1UM0W00_13-06-2024_16-00-06_638538336000000000.jpg

Traffic on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, California. 

Advocates of rival petroleum- and plant-based fuels are joining forces to challenge new Biden administration pollution limits they say will unlawfully force automakers to sell electric cars while slashing demand for their own products.

Nearly three dozen companies and trade associations will open their legal fight against the vehicle standards Thursday, filing petitions with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The challengers include such oil industry heavyweights as the American Petroleum Institute as well as the National Corn Growers Association, which backs ethanol. 

Auto dealers, fuel marketers and convenience stores have also joined the effort, with at least three separate complaints being filed against the requirements, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in March.

“Congress has not authorized EPA to effectively ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars and overhaul the US economy in such a major way,” said Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association that represents refiners.

The litigation will test one of President Joe Biden’s most far-reaching climate regulations. Together with incentives in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the new standards are already reshaping the US auto industry, steering it toward more emission-free vehicles. Manufacturers have announced $179 billion of investments in more than 350 electric vehicle and battery manufacturing plants across the US, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis.

Biden’s pro-EV policies have also become a battle line in the upcoming presidential election, with presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump vowing to scrap them if elected. 

Opponents say the EPA overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act by setting pollution standards that only electric vehicles can meet. The cap on carbon dioxide emissions — 85 grams per mile for model year 2032 — is too stringent for cars and light trucks burning gasoline or diesel. The EPA’s approach, however, is based on fleet-wide averages, meaning automakers can keep selling cars that exceed the cap so long as they also sell a growing number of EVs. 

Critics fault the EPA for focusing on tailpipe pollution while ignoring other environmental impacts, such as when battery-powered cars use electricity generated with coal. They also accuse the agency of arbitrarily dismissing other pollution-cutting options, such as boosting gasoline octane levels, which could have expanded ethanol sales.

Representatives of the EPA declined to comment on pending litigation. But administration officials and supporters of the standards say the new requirements are well within the agency’s authority. 

The legal attack unites longtime foes, as both oil and ethanol producers increasingly find common ground after years of jockeying over market share. Now, the growth of electric vehicles threatens all liquid transportation fuels.

The EPA’s “attempt to use its authority in this novel way to reverse engineer an electric vehicle mandate is not allowed,”  said Michael Buschbacher, a partner at Boyden Gray PLLC representing a coalition of state corn grower groups and biorefining manufacturer ICM Inc. “We all agree it’s a transformation of their statutory authority to do something that Congress never envisioned.” 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy


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