Will there be an EV mandate? Will gas vehicles be banned? It's complicated

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WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Wednesday that would bar the government from banning gas-powered cars for Americans.

It's unlikely the legislation can muster enough Democratic support to pass in the Senate, let alone get President Joe Biden's signature. But it is the latest development in months of Republican frustration over the Biden administration's policies promoting electric vehicles. They've argued the White House has used federal rulemaking to force Americans to give up their gas-powered cars and buy battery-powered ones.

Their anger stems from an April proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency that would set the strongest emission standards for new vehicles in the agency's history with the hope of slowing global climate change. As of 2021, transportation made up the greatest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

The EPA estimates its rules would prompt more than two-thirds of new car sales to be electric by 2032, a rapid increase from their current share of around 8%.

"There's no hiding. The proposed rule is an electric vehicle mandate," said bill sponsor Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., on the House floor Wednesday. "Not only does this EV mandate display breathtaking government overreach into the auto industry, but it's also unaffordable, unattainable and unrealistic for American consumers."

Is the EPA's rule a mandate for Americans?

The EPA's proposal doesn't specify how automakers should reach the new requirements, which tells them to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions across their fleets or pay penalties for breaking the rules.

But regulators estimate automakers will use electric vehicles to do so — in part because the industry was already investing heavily in the vehicles beforehand.

Even before EPA's proposal, car companies had invested tens of billions in shifting their production to electric vehicles. General Motors announced in January 2021 that it would no longer sell gas-powered cars by 2035, and other leading automakers similarly promised rapid shifts.

Given these investments, industry analysts expected a rapid rise from the current paltry EV sales numbers. Goldman Sachs estimated earlier this year that EV sales would make up around 50% of all new car sales by 2030 and 70% by 2035.

Still, car companies have said it will be nearly impossible to shift to EV production so quickly.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group representing most automakers selling cars and trucks in the U.S., has said the proposal is "neither reasonable nor achievable" because there is a global shortage of the critical minerals needed to build EVs and because there aren't yet enough chargers to prompt consumers to take a chance on them.

However, the Inflation Reduction Act, one of Biden's signature policies, pumped billions of dollars in incentives into manufacturing of low-emission vehicles, which may help car companies come closer to the goal.

What does it mean for Americans buying cars?

Car companies are going to continue building gas-powered cars in the years to come, as a majority of consumers remain skeptical of EVs and because bigger SUVs and trucks remain their major source of profits.

Given all the constraints, experts expect gas cars and trucks to be available until at least 2050, though a handful of states will phase them out as soon as 2035. To date, those states include California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

Once purchased new, vehicles stay on the road for 12 years on average. So every new gas-powered car bought today will still be available in the used market for years to come. Plus, the EPA's rules are not yet finalized.

As car companies invest in them, the number of electric vehicles on the road is likely to increase quickly, even if businesses can't meet the government's required deadlines. That will mean more varied and reliable options for people who do want to drive electric vehicles.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will there be an EV mandate? Will gas vehicles be banned?