What Will President Biden’s Environmental Policies Look Like?

Renewable energy like this wind farm is key to Biden's environmental policies

Now that the electoral college voted for Joe Biden as the next president, it’s time to consider his environmental policies. They will definitely not look anything like Donald Trump’s policies that opened the nation’s air, water, and soil up to fossil fuel companies to exploit. 

Biden’s first days in office will certainly include undoing the damage of Trump’s policies. He has pledged to reinstate the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. Biden will not need Senate approval since the U.S. involvement with the accord was set up by an executive action

A 100 percent clean energy economy and net zero-emissions by 2050

Achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050 is one of the key parts of Biden’s environmental policies and climate change plan. Using the federal government procurement system, which spends $500 billion annually, as a driver to meet the 100 percent clean energy goal is one of those measures. Making U.S. government buildings, facilities, and installations more efficient and environmentally-friendly is another measure. 

Biden’s plan recognizes that transportation is a key sector as it is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution. He pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. One of those ways is by using the Clean Air Act. Another way is developing new fuel economy standards to ensure 100 percent of new sales for light and medium-duty vehicles will be electric.

Protecting nature

Biden’s environmental policies include a climate change plan committed to protecting nature. The exact opposite of President Trump’s administration. Instead of offering up public lands to fossil fuel and mining companies, Biden pledges to protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. Biden’s plan also includes protecting areas impacted by President Trump’s executive actions. The president-elect vows to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas that face environmental destructions due to Trump’s policies.

He pledges to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters and create programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters. He has a goal to double offshore wind by 2030. 

Investing in clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles

Biden’s environmental policies also include pledges to make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in clean energy over the next 10 years. He also pledges to leverage private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion in investments. This summer, Biden mentioned the $90 billion investment the Obama administration made in clean energy. “We’ll do it again, but this time bigger and faster and smarter,” Biden said. “We’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity and meet this moment in history.”  

The Biden plan will incentivize clean technology deployment in several ways. One of those is by improving the energy efficiency of the nation’s buildings. He pledges to set a goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock by 50 percent by 2035. Part of that includes directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make housing for low-income communities more efficient and directing the U.S. Department of Energy to redouble efforts to accelerate new energy efficiency standards for household appliances.

Biden pledges to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles. One of the barriers to accelerating the deployment of EVs is the lack of charging stations. Biden’s plan includes working with governors and mayors to support deploying more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by 2030. He will also restore the full EV tax credit.

The next great railroad revolution

Biden’s plan includes starting the second great railroad revolution. The first part of his plan is bringing higher speed rail to the Northeast Corridor.

He pledges to shrink the travel time from Washington, D.C. to New York by half. He also pledges to make progress on California’s high-speed rail project, start constructing end-to-end high-speed rail across the Midwest and West, and begin construction of a high-speed rail system that will connect the coasts. 

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The Rise Electric Heavy-Duty Vehicles

An electric bus plies the streets. The market for electric heavy-duty vehicles is set to surge.

Part of fighting climate change is reducing emissions from the transportation sector. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounted for the biggest portion (28 percent) of all U.S. GHG emissions in 2018. In California, the most populous state, transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 40 percent of the state’s emissions. 

While heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) make up about five percent of all vehicles on road, they generate over 25 percent of all emissions from the transportation sector. Addressing the emissions from HDVs is crucial to reducing the transportation sector’s emissions. A battery-electric bus is the lowest-carbon option in every part of the nation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The good news is that battery and fuel cell electric trucks and buses already operate in cities across the U.S. The fleets of electric buses continue to expand. One of those reasons is that some cities have committed to 100 percent zero-emission transit buses in their fleets. Two of those cities are New York and Los Angeles, which represent the nation’s two largest bus fleets.

The Future for Zero-Emission Commercial Transportation

Manufacturers recognize that the future of the commercial vehicle industry is zero-emissions, according to a new report. The report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, Propulsion Quebec, and the Environmental Defense Fund identifies at least 125 zero-emission truck models either in production, development, or demonstration. Commercial trucks and buses are the “next wave in the global transition to electric mobility,” the report states. 

The market for zero-emission HDVs is just beginning to grow. In 2019, only 600 units sold in the U.S. and Canada, up from 100 units in 2015. The combined sales in both countries only made up a tiny portion of the global market last year, representing less than 0.1 percent of the commercial truck and bus market. The transit bus sector represents the largest portion of zero-emissions HDVs but only represents three percent of sales in 2019. However, over the last five years, commercial activity in electric heavy-duty vehicles surged. Dozens of manufacturers in the industry significantly invested in electric HDVs. The report predicts that the transition to electric heavy-duty vehicles will accelerate over the next decade. 

The expected growth of the market for Electric Heavy-Duty Vehicles

Experts expect the number of available models to double in the U.S. and Canada by 2023. “We expect the market to continue to accelerate,” said Ben Sharpe, Senior Researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation. “With ambitious policies such as California’s Advanced Clean Trucks regulation coming into effect over the next few years, as well as steadily decreasing costs for zero-emission technology, the race to zero is heating up fast.”

The electric truck market will reach $1.89 billion globally by 2027, at a 25.8 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), according to a report released in August by Allied Market Research. In 2019, the global electric truck industry had an estimated value of $422.5 million but is expected to hit $1.89 billion by 2027. The heavy-duty electric vehicle segment is expected to grow the fastest at a 31.8 percent CAGR. 

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Are Electric Cars Sustainable?

Refueling an electric car. How sustainable are EVs?

Communities in the Las Angeles area and the San Joaquin Valley have some of the worst air basins in the country. The transportation sector accounts for more than half of all California’s carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog-forming pollution, and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions. A recently enacted mandate will help lower air pollution in the golden state.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in September requiring that sales of all new passenger vehicles be zero-emission by 2035. The zero-emission mandate will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent. Presently, the zero-emissions cars on the market are electric vehicles (EVs). How sustainable are EVs? The key to answering that question is to look at batteries. 

Electric Cars: Reusing EV batteries

Batteries are an essential part of electric cars and other vehicles, whether they are hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs). All three types of EVs use lithium-ion batteries. Most of the components of lithium-ion batteries can be recycled. However, the cost of recycling those components is a challenge. Nonetheless, a report by the U.S. Department of Energy found there are no major technical barriers to employing used batteries in stationary applications. 

How EV batteries can be reused once they can no longer be used in a vehicle is a key part of recycling. “Battery design that considers disassembly and recycling is important in order for electric-drive vehicles to succeed from a sustainability standpoint,” according to the Department of Energy. In other words, being able to reuse EV batteries to power stationary things like homes and buildings is the measure of their sustainability. Batteries removed from a car can be used for energy storage in an electricity grid or a house. 

Recycling valuable materials

Most EVs have not been around long enough for their batteries to approach the end of their lives. Not that many post-consumer batteries from EVs are available, which limits the battery recycling infrastructure. Making battery recycling widespread would keep hazardous from entering the waste stream. One of the blocks in battery recycling is recovering high-value materials. 

Once repurposed batteries reach the end of their lives, recovering the valuable materials inside of them occurs. Those materials include stainless steel, copper, aluminum, plastic, cobalt, and lithium salts. VW developed a recycling concept for batteries to return valuable materials to the manufacturing process chain. The company started a pilot plant for recovering materials at its Salzgitter plant in Braunschweig, Germany. The plant can recycle about 1,200 tons of materials recovered from EV batteries, which corresponds to 3,000 vehicle batteries. The company expects to develop other recycling plants, which will help it meet the goal of recycling 97 percent of all raw materials. 

Ethically-sourced materials

There are ethical concerns when it comes to battery production. More than 60 percent of the global supply for cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country known for exploitative labor practices in its cobalt production. Two companies company set an example. Tesla set a goal of sourcing materials only from North America for its battery production plant. Its battery supplier LG Chem says they have stopped using cobalt sourced from the DRC. BMW announced last year that the cobalt used in EV batteries will come from Australia. 

While Volvo did not commit to sourcing cobalt from outside of the DRC, it did commit to tracing the origin of the cobalt it uses in its electric cars. In 2019, the company announced it would implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by using blockchain technology. The use of blockchain technology will create a transparent and reliable data network that can detect the origin of cobalt.

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