EDITORIAL: Biden limits vehicle choices by greenlighting of California emissions rules

Liberty has been all about the opportunity to make choices that satisfy needs and wants. It is meant for individuals, but President Biden is granting government the freedom to constrain Americans’ selections for personal transportation. By granting California the freedom to maintain its own tailpipe-emissions standards, the president’s regulators would effectively force car shoppers nationwide to choose from pricey vehicles they would rather leave on the lot.

Consumers’ car conundrum results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) plan to repeal a Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles measure, which the Trump administration altered in 2019 to block California’s enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions rules more onerous than Washington’s. Where the Left Coast goes, so goes the rest of the nation, and the move could signal the end of the American love affair with gasoline-powered vehicles.

The powerful California Air Resources Board, which regulates the state’s air quality, has administered automotive emissions standards stricter than other states since the 1960s. The board has further ratcheted up its restrictions to require that 8 percent of the state’s fleet comprise zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) by 2025 — a far greater proportion than the 1 percent of emissions-free electric vehicles currently sold nationwide. Moreover, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has ordered that every new passenger vehicle sold in 2035 be zero-emissions. Choose any color, he intimates, so long as it’s green on the inside.

In its campaign to erase all things Trump-related, the Biden administration is disregarding the intent of Congress in creating a national emissions standard with the 1975 passage of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and the subsequent Corporate Average Fuel Economy program. Traditionally, auto manufacturers met federal fuel-efficiency rules by offering consumers a choice of vehicles that include fuel-sippers and gas-guzzlers.

Owing to California’s unique regulations, though, most automakers have simply knuckled under and agreed to build vehicles to meet the demands of their largest market. Other states are joining the green revolution, with 13 adopting Golden State standards. Consequently, average fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.4 miles per gallon by 2026 that Mr. Trump had required is likely to rise to the 54 miles per gallon President Obama sought.

Mr. Biden clearly wants an all-electric U.S. fleet, but Americans take a dim view of the proposition. The hassle of charging up at home is one reason about 20 percent of Californians who purchased electric vehicles between 2015 and 2018 switched back to gas, according to a study published recently in the journal Nature Energy.

Another is cost. Fuel efficiency is the holy grail of motoring, but the 2022 electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup Mr. Biden test-drove in Michigan on Tuesday is expected to run $70,000 for the base model. Pricey electric turn-offs are likely to convince prudent consumers to stick with gas-powered F-150 models, starting this year at $29,000. That’s how hardworking Americans solve the car conundrum.

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