Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Experts Say Proposed Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Rules Not an EPA ‘Ban’ on Gas-Powered Cars

Pending regulations under review by the Biden administration could greatly increase the number of electric vehicles sold in the U.S. But if implemented, the proposals to reduce tailpipe emissions and raise the fuel efficiency standards of cars and trucks would not “ban” the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles, as a trade group for fuel makers falsely suggests in an ad campaign.

Policy experts told FactCheck.org that carmakers – particularly under the suggested federal regulations – would have flexibility in how they meet the proposed requirements, including by making vehicles with internal combustion engines more efficient.

“Requiring vehicles to be more efficient and emit less is something that regulators in the US have done for decades, and automakers are free to comply with those standards in whatever strategy works best for them,” John Helveston, a George Washington University assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering, said in an email.

However, two ads airing in seven states and the Washington, D.C., area give viewers the impression that cars that run on gas soon will not be allowed to be made and sold in the U.S. The ads are part of a reported $7 million issue-ad campaign the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers began on Feb. 12.

“We don’t all live in cities, but President Biden’s EPA is rushing to ban new gas-powered cars even though some of us drive long distances, live too far from a charger, or can’t afford an expensive electric vehicle,” say the narrators in the AFPM ad titled “All of Us.”

In the other ad, called “Open Roads,” a narrator makes an identical claim, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency “wants to end” the “freedom to travel where you want” and “how to get there.”

In a press release, the AFPM says its ad campaign informs the public about “various Biden policies designed to eliminate gas vehicles,” including one from the EPA and another from the U.S. Department of Transportation. On its website, the fuel group also says it is concerned about a California policy that needs EPA approval before the vehicle emissions regulations a state agency adopted in 2022 can be put into effect.

We’ll review the three proposals in question, and why experts told us the policies are not an EPA “ban” on gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

EPA’s Proposed Emissions Rule

We’ve already written that President Joe Biden’s EPA has not “dictated that nearly 70% of all cars sold in the United States must be fully electric less than 10 years from now,” as former President Donald Trump misleadingly claimed in a September speech at a Michigan auto parts plant.

Instead, five months earlier, in April, the EPA announced new proposed rules designed to reduce pollution from vehicles by setting stricter limits on the tailpipe emissions produced by newly made light-, medium and heavy-duty cars and trucks. As written, most of the proposed standards would begin to phase in as early as 2027, with updated standards for some heavy-duty vehicles starting the following year.

Companies that are not in compliance could face penalties, including fines.

The EPA said in a statement that the proposed standards are “projected to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles,” which have zero tailpipe emissions when running only on electricity. In order for auto manufacturers to meet the new standards, EVs “could account for 67% of new light-duty vehicle sales and 46% of new medium-duty vehicle sales” in 2032, the agency said.

That is in line with Biden’s stated goal to have electric cars account for 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030 – up from 7.6% in 2023, according to Kelley Blue Book estimates.

A New York Times article in May said the EPA’s proposal was “designed to ramp up sales of electric vehicles while ending the use of gasoline-powered cars” — a quote that was paraphrased in the AFPM’s “All of Us” ad. But an April New York Times article used different language, saying the proposal was “designed to ensure two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States are all-electric by 2032.”

For its part, the EPA said that the number of EVs produced in the future ultimately would depend on “the compliance pathways manufacturers select” to meet the standards.

Automakers, in theory, could use alternative strategies to ensure their fleets meet the lower emissions targets without needing to manufacture as many EVs. That’s what Joseph Goffman, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in congressional testimony last June.

“We know that Americans need and want flexibility in the types of vehicles they drive,” he told lawmakers on a House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee. “The proposed standards are performance-based emissions standards and are technology-neutral, meaning that manufacturers choose the mix of technologies, including internal combustion engines.”

However, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an auto industry trade association, said the standards “are neither reasonable nor achievable in the timeframe covered in this proposal.”

Now the New York Times reports that, as of February, the EPA is planning to revise the proposed rule, slowing the pace at which companies would need to comply. The newspaper said the EPA’s final rule is expected to be published by early spring.

DOT’s Proposed Fuel Standards

As for the Transportation Department, its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July proposed updating Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards for passenger cars and light trucks, as well as heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans.

NHTSA said the proposal “includes a 2% per year improvement in fuel efficiency for passenger cars, and a 4% per year improvement for light trucks, beginning in model year 2027 and ramping up through model year 2032, potentially reaching an average fleet fuel economy of 58 miles per gallon by 2032.”

For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, the efficiency standards would increase at a rate of 10% per year for model years 2030 through 2035.

The agency said the proposed standards will “complement and align” with the EPA’s proposed emissions standards for similar vehicles.

While the AFPM argues the standards “are so severe they can only be met if the new vehicle fleet is primarily composed of cars and trucks that run on electrons rather than gallons,” NHTSA said “manufacturers may use all available technologies – including advanced internal combustion engines, hybrid technologies and electric vehicles – for compliance.”

California’s Plan for Zero-Emissions Vehicles

Prior to the introduction of those federal proposals, regulators in California adopted a plan in 2022 to eventually prohibit the sale of certain new vehicles powered only by gasoline and other fuels.

The Advanced Clean Cars II rule, which was approved by the California Air Resources Board, would require an increasing percentage of new vehicles sold in the state each year to be zero-emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, and plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs. Beginning in 2026, “sales of new ZEVs and PHEVs will start with 35% that year, build to 68% in 2030, and reach 100% in 2035,” the resources board says on its website.

Cars travel along Interstate 80 on Jan. 16 in Berkeley, California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

To meet the requirements, automakers would only be able to use full battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In addition, the board says, plug-in hybrids, which run on fuel when the vehicle’s electric battery is almost depleted, cannot make up more than 20% of an automaker’s fleet. Also, the PHEVs must be able to travel at least 50 miles while in the all-electric range.

The requirements, which still need EPA approval, would apply to all new passenger cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the state. Notably, the plan also would allow Californians to continue driving their existing gas cars, as well as purchase a used gas car.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California is permitted to set its own vehicle pollution standards – that other states can then follow – but officials must get a waiver from the EPA to do so. The EPA has not yet issued its ruling.

In September, 214 House Republicans and eight House Democrats passed a bill that would block the EPA from granting a waiver to California or another state that sets standards to “directly or indirectly limit the sale or use of new vehicles with internal combustion engines.” But the measure has not been taken up in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

The AFPM argues that if California receives a government waiver, it could lead more than a dozen other states “to adopt California’s ban as their own.”

No EPA ‘Ban’ on Gas Cars

But experts told FactCheck.org that the AFPM ads go too far by claiming that the proposed federal regulations are equivalent to the EPA “rushing to ban new gas-powered cars.”

“I think the statement is exaggerated, because the various federal policies do not ban gasoline vehicles — explicitly or implicitly — anytime soon,” Arthur van Benthem, an associate professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an email.

Jeremy Michalek, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of engineering and public policy, agreed.

“[T]he new standards are not a ban on gasoline vehicles, and I don’t think anyone expects automakers to stop making gasoline vehicles in response to these standards,” Michalek, who also heads the school’s Vehicle Electrification Group, wrote in an email.

They both acknowledged that the proposed federal rules are quite strict, and would require manufacturers to make a portion of their fleet all-electric to comply. But Michalek said automakers would still have the flexibility to include some gasoline-powered vehicles.

Even under California’s state policy, which is “close to a ban by the year 2035,” van Benthem said, “plug-in hybrids can still be sold and they do partially run on gasoline.”

“In short, all three [proposals] would allow gas-powered cars to remain on the road – they would just have to be much more efficient than the cars today,” said Kenneth Gillingham, a professor of environmental and energy economics at Yale University.

Still, “the standards are ambitious and would provide a strong incentive for automakers to produce and sell more electric vehicles,” he said.

In December, 216 House Republicans and five House Democrats passed a bill that would block the Biden administration from moving forward with the EPA’s proposed vehicle emissions regulations. The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where it stalled.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.