(The Detroit News/TNS) – The U.S. House is set to vote Thursday on a bill that would bar states from limiting the sale of gas-powered vehicles.
The GOP-led bill has little chance of becoming law, as the White House says President Joe Biden “strongly opposes” it. But it reflects growing divisions over electric vehicle policy at the federal level, where Republicans are ramping up opposition to climate policy advanced by Democrats.
A bill sponsored by a Republican member of Congress from Pennsylvania would bar the U.S. and California state governments from banning gas-powered vehicles through emission regulations.
The Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. John Joyce, would amend the Clean Air Act to bar state policies that would “directly or indirectly limit the sale or use” of new gas-powered vehicles. It would be applied retroactively, directing the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke any waiver that doesn’t comply.
The proposal is aimed at California, the only state permitted to set its own air quality standards higher than those set by the federal government. Other states are allowed to adopt California’s standards or the federal standards. California has approved a policy that would require all new cars and trucks sold by 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles.
Republicans argued the proposal is necessary because a policy like California’s would significantly reduce consumer choice, pushing new car buyers toward vehicles that are currently more expensive than gas-powered cars and have varied range depending on the weather.
“These bans will substantially increase costs and put personal vehicles out of reach for many hard-working people,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, chair of the House Rules Committee, where it passed out of committee 8-5 Tuesday. “Americans can make consumer choices based on their merits and needs, not on radical mandates rooted in trying to force Green New Deal directives on families.”
Democrats have opposed the proposal, arguing it would limit California’s ability to set standards that fight air pollution and climate change, upend the electric vehicle supply chain, and create uncertainty for the auto industry, which is investing billions into transitioning to electric vehicles.
“I’d think we would want to continue moving forward instead of rolling protections back,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts. It’s “bad policy that would do much more harm than good.”
The White House released a statement Tuesday saying the legislation proposes changing 50 years of precedent and would “restrict the ability of California and its citizens to address its severe air pollution challenges.”
California is the most populous state in the U.S. and accounts for around 11% of all new-car sales in the U.S., according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. It’s a large market with a penchant for stricter environmental rules, which more than a dozen states have chosen to follow.
That means the state wields immense influence over the U.S. auto industry, which often designs vehicles sold nationwide to fit California standards in an effort to streamline production.
Former President Donald Trump revoked California’s ability to set its own air quality standards in 2019, which Biden then reinstated in 2022.
The State of California has had the authority to set its own air quality standards since the 1970 Clean Air Act acknowledged southern California’s unique problem with smog. Every presidential administration before Trump’s had granted the state’s waiver to set stricter auto emissions standards except that of former President George W. Bush, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The vote in Congress will align closely with the expiration of the United Auto Workers’ contracts with the Detroit Three automakers at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Fair wages and benefits and job security amid the shifting industry have been the focus of some of the UAW’s demands in contract negotiations.
Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, said she believes Republican leadership deliberately scheduled the vote for the day the UAW’s contract expires.
“I’m tired of people trying to force people to make false choices. This is not about protecting the environment or not building cars. We can do both,” she said. “I’m focused on ensuring we keep a competitive, domestic auto industry that leads the world in innovation, and that those vehicles are going to be built here by union workers, not in China.”
Spokespeople for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who schedules legislation for consideration, did not comment on Dingell’s allegation.
There is currently no Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for the bill.