Merkley, Whitehouse unveil 100% ZEV bill

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2018

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island today introduced legislation to accelerate the country’s transition to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles.

The ambitious climate measure, dubbed the “Zero-Emission Vehicles Act,” would for the first time set a national zero-emission vehicle standard.

The bill would require that plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles account for 50 percent of all new car sales by 2030, and ultimately 100 percent by 2040.

Currently, California is the ringleader of a state-level ZEV program. Ten other states have followed California’s lead, including Oregon, Maine and New York.

The ZEV program provides a key lever for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California, where cars and trucks are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide. In 2016, cars and trucks also surpassed power plants as the top carbon emitters nationally.

Merkley linked the bill to the latest installment of the National Climate Assessment, which found that climate change is already harming Americans’ livelihoods, and fossil fuels will increase the risks in the coming decades (Climatewire, Nov. 23).

“As the National Climate Assessment spelled out in stark, disastrous detail, we have no time to waste in taking on climate chaos,” Merkley said in a statement.

“To save our economy and our way of life, we have to aggressively reduce carbon pollution,” he added. “Since transportation is currently the largest source of carbon emissions in America, we must address that challenge head-on and drive the transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

Whitehouse emphasized the need to shift away from fossil fuels in order to stave off the worst impacts of warming.

“The writing is on the wall: to avoid the worst of climate change, we need to transition away from fossil fuels across our economy,” Whitehouse said. “Our auto industry is already making some of the most exciting electric vehicles on the market. This standard would lead to a nationwide transition away from polluting cars and trucks and help cement the United States as a global leader in electric vehicles.”

The bill is strikingly ambitious, as electric vehicles currently account for around 1 percent of new vehicles sold in the country. Gas guzzlers continue to dominate the market.

Another wrinkle: The legislation comes as the Trump administration moves to roll back Obama-era tailpipe pollution standards for cars.

The administration’s proposal calls for freezing fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. It also calls for revoking California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which helps provide the legal basis for the state’s ZEV program.

The legislation from Merkley and Whitehouse is unlikely to pass in the next Congress, with Republicans retaining control of the Senate and the White House.

But as a messaging tool, the bill signals that veteran Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee remain serious about legislatively addressing climate change, as incoming freshmen in the party — led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — double down on their demands for a “Green New Deal” (Greenwire, Nov. 19).