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Biden faces political, auto industry pressure as EPA emissions decision nears

Grant Schwab, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump wants to create an electric vehicle problem for Joe Biden in Michigan — but the sitting president already has one.

After almost a year of pressure from automakers and industry groups, the Biden administration is expected to soften proposed regulations meant to sharply curb vehicle emissions and promote EVs, two sources familiar with the situation told The Detroit News. The move would come as Michigan and the auto industry take center stage in the looming Trump vs. Biden battle for the White House.

"They ordered a hit job on Michigan manufacturing with this insane electric vehicle mandate," the Republican frontrunner said during a speech in Waterford Township, Michigan, last month that telegraphed what’s likely to be a frequent line of rhetorical attack against Biden in the coming general election campaign.

Asked if policies promoting EVs are a political liability for Biden, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, the Ann Arbor Democrat, told The Detroit News: “I think Donald Trump is going to make it one.”

Technically speaking, the Biden administration's original proposal was not an EV mandate. But Trump and his allies are trying to stoke that notion to persuade Michigan voters that a second Biden term would crush individual purchasing freedoms and cripple the state’s bellwether auto industry.

How much Biden scales back the final rules when they're released later this month or next would signal his willingness to compromise in an election year and accept tough feedback from a critical industry in one of the most consequential electoral states in the country.

 

EVs will be essential to meeting future emissions targets, even if the final regulations are scaled back when they're released. But in Michigan, EVs are less popular with consumers than in any other state Biden won in 2020. Adoption rates are still low across most of the country as the auto industry struggles to figure out a formula for providing profitable, affordable EVs and lagging vehicle-charging infrastructure remains a headache for drivers.

Dave Dulio, an Oakland University political scientist, said EV policy is important for Biden in Michigan. EVs are "a really important issue for a really important segment of the electorate," he added, referring to blue-collar auto workers in Michigan who are concerned about job losses as the Detroit Three continue to lose money on EVs. Models with internal combustion engines, meanwhile, remain profitable for the companies.

"There's enough stories out there about California, for instance, where it sure as heck seems like a mandate from the state government to phase out gas-powered engines," he said. "I think Trump has picked up on that and is going to hammer that because he sees it as a winning issue."

In reportedly softening its tailpipe emission reduction targets, Dulio called the Biden administration smart to recognize they "had their foot too hard on the gas pedal."

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