By Nathan Worcester
The House of Representatives on Sept. 14 passed legislation that would prohibit bans or limits on sales of gasoline-powered vehicles.
“Electric vehicles will be part of our energy matrix for a long time. … No Republicans deny that, but government is trying to pick what you drive, America,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said during an hour-long debate prior to the House vote.
As part of that same debate, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said, “Nobody is taking away your gas-powered vehicle.”
H.R. 1435, the Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act, was approved on a 222–190 vote. No Republicans voted against the proposal, while a few Democrats broke ranks to support the measure, which was introduced in the House in March.
The Republican-led push to protect internal combustion engines comes after the California Air Resources Board approved a measure that would prohibit the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
The state must secure a Clean Air Act waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to proceed with the ban. California already received a similar waiver for its ban on new diesel-powered heavy trucks that starts in 2036.
H.R. 1435 is a response to those efforts.
“Our bill will restrict the EPA from issuing the waiver California needs to execute its proposed ban, and by doing so will ensure all American consumers have choices in their transportation options,” Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), who co-sponsored the bill, said in a statement after the legislation was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce earlier this year.
“If California bans all gas-powered vehicles, as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is attempting to do, our cost of living will increase, blackouts and brownouts will become more frequent, and commuting families in my district will suffer.”
The legislation would revoke existing waivers from at least 2022 onward. California’s diesel-powered heavy truck waiver was granted earlier this year.
“The bill would put existing waivers dating back to 2013 in jeopardy,” Mr. Pallone wrote in an Energy and Commerce Committee report (pdf) on the bill.
At an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in June, the EPA’s Joseph Goffman told Mr. Pallone, the ranking Democrat on that committee, that H.R. 1435 “could limit California’s or, more precisely, EPA’s authority to grant a waiver to California.”
Seventeen other states representing roughly 40 percent of the U.S. car market tie their own standards to California’s under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act. In practice, a California gas-powered vehicle ban could be felt across the nation.
Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy floated his own plan to phase in a new gas-powered vehicle ban by 2035. New York and the European Union have introduced similar proposals.
When Rep. John Joyce (R-Pa.), who introduced the bill in the House, asked Mr. Goffman at that same hearing if a California ban extending to those partner states “would be a de facto national policy,” Mr. Goffman said he was “not sure.”
“My understanding is historically auto manufacturers have striven to avoid making more than just one national fleet,” he said.
Clashing Perspectives on Bill in House
In the House debate on Sept. 14, Democrats and Republicans clashed over the bill.
Mr. Pallone accused Republicans of “once again doing the bidding of their corporate polluter friends at the expense of Americans’ health and security and our nation’s economy.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) described the legislation as “a love letter to Big Oil.”
“We have a chance to stop climate change before it is too late,” she said.
Some GOP lawmakers pointed out the current limitations of electric vehicles (EVs).
“A rush to EV expansion could overwhelm our electric grid,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said.
Mr. Pallone credited emissions standards for spurring the growth of “a large and growing fleet of cleaner, more affordable cars that benefit all Americans.”
But Mr. Joyce said the EPA’s carveout allowing California to secure Clean Air Act waivers “was designed to combat smog and pollution in and around Los Angeles.”
“It was never intended to be used as a tool to ban the vehicles that have transported Americans for over 100 years,” he said.
Mr. Joyce also drew attention to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s recent EV road trip, during which her entourage blocked a family’s access to a charger. The family called the police.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) argued that the bill would stand in the way of technological progress.
“For over a hundred years, America has been the greatest auto manufacturing nation in the world, and this is largely because we have embraced innovation, and we have embraced our skilled, unionized workforce, and if we want to continue to retain this title, we need to embrace the changes that are occurring in that sector,” he said.
“The transportation revolution is here.”
Mr. Tonko also noted that $7.5 billion in federal spending through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will soon greatly expand and improve EV charging stations.
Rep. Gus M. Bilrakis (R-Fla.) argued that a waiver for California would come at the expense of auto manufacturers and, ultimately, everyday consumers.
“Currently, auto manufacturers face significant losses with their EV divisions, and rely on the profits from their gas-powered vehicle sales to maintain profitability. If this California rule stands, auto manufacturers will likely be forced to increase retail costs on all their vehicle options to remain profitable,” he said.
Republicans ‘Trying to Pick Political Fights’
Prior to the vote, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told The Epoch Times that the bill “sucks.”
“I think what we’re doing right now is to distract attention from the fact that they are about to shut the government down,” he said.
Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) questioned why California is in a position to be “setting the standards for the rest of the country.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said her Republican colleagues were “trying to pick political fights here around emissions.”
When asked about concerns over the affordability of EVs, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif) told The Epoch Times that “the way to get the cost down is to have more investment in battery technology and drive the cost of the battery down.”
The bill still needs to pass the Senate. If it does so, it would need the signature of President Joe Biden or enough votes from both chambers to overcome his veto.
In a Sept. 12 statement of administration policy (pdf), the White House stated that it “strongly opposes” the legislation’s passage.
Jackson Richman and Joseph Lord contributed to this report.