The Biden administration rolled out new rules on Wednesday designed to thrust the United States — the greatest car culture the world has ever known — into the era of electric vehicles.

With new tailpipe pollution limits from the Environmental Protection Agency, automakers will effectively be forced to make a majority of new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States all-electric or hybrids by 2032. To meet the new standards, 56 percent of new cars sold by 2032 would be zero-emissions and another 16 percent would be hybrid, according to the E.P.A.’s analysis.

E.V.s account for only 7.6 percent of new car sales today, so the targets represent an ambitious attempt to overhaul one of the country’s biggest industries in a remarkably short amount of time.

A successful phaseout of gas-powered cars and trucks would also make a big dent in the fight against climate change; cars and other forms of transportation are the biggest source of planet warming emissions generated by the United States.

But there are plenty of things that could derail the White House plan.

Electric vehicles are now squarely a part of the culture wars. A Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Republicans would not buy an E.V., compared with 17 percent of Democrats.

Former President Donald Trump has used increasingly brutal language about electric vehicles and their effect on the American economy, claiming they will “kill” America’s auto industry and calling E.V.s an “assassination” of jobs. It is a virtual certainty that he will continue that theme in his presidential campaign.

Speaker Mike Johnson called the rule part of President Biden’s “crusade against American energy and gas-powered vehicles,” saying it would limit consumer choices, raise costs for consumers and increase American dependence on China.

The fossil fuel industry is also pushing back against the new E.P.A. rule.

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a lobbying group, has started a large ad campaign to politicize what it falsely calls “Biden’s E.P.A. car ban” in swing states.

And a coalition of fossil fuel companies and Republican attorneys is expected to sue to block the rule. Those challenges could wind up at the Supreme Court, which in recent years has issued several rulings curtailing the E.P.A.’s authority.

America’s car dealers are a major obstacle to the transition to E.V.s. At one point last year, two-thirds of U.S. dealerships did not have a single E.V. for sale, according to a Sierra Club report. And about half of dealers said they wouldn’t offer an E.V. even if they could.

There are several reasons for dealers’ resistance. The profit margins for E.V.s. are generally smaller than for gas-powered cars, and selling them requires infrastructure investments. Perhaps more important, dealerships make nearly half of their profits by servicing cars. Electric vehicles have fewer parts, require far fewer trips to the service department and are cheaper to maintain than gas-powered cars and trucks.

And dealers are politically influential, with donations that are heavily tilted toward the Republican Party. In many states, they are protected by legislation that bans carmakers like Tesla from selling to consumers directly.

Early adopters drove the surge in sales of Teslas and other all-electric hits such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E. But demand has slowed in recent months. Ford said in December that it would cut production of its highly touted F-150 Lightning pickup — the electric version of the best-selling vehicle line in America — by half.

E.V.s are still the fastest-growing segment of the American car market, but many consumers remain reluctant to walk away from their gas guzzlers. Electric vehicles generally remain more expensive than their conventional counterparts, and there are fewer models to choose from, as well as fewer S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, the most popular categories in the country.

Prices could eventually fall, especially if China’s new generation of inexpensive E.V.s makes it to the United States. But given the Biden administration’s increased scrutiny of Chinese E.V. imports, that currently seems unlikely.

American drivers, especially those in rural areas, have concerns about the range of E.V.s. And charging an E.V. outside major cities can still be a big challenge, as I found out during an ill-fated reporting trip last year.

Not all E.V.s can power up at all E.V. chargers, it can take hours to refill a battery, and chargers remain few and far between in huge parts of this vast country. For anyone without a charger at home, or anyone planning a trip of more than a few hundred miles, charging is a major issue.

The federal government was supposed to help with this. In 2021, Congress allocated $7.5 billion to build tens of thousands of E.V. chargers around the country. But as of December, not one had been installed.

Despite the many obstacles, there is also reason to believe the E.P.A. rule might just work — or at least make a big difference.

Carmakers have been slow to introduce new E.V. models, but a wave of cheaper, better-performing electric vehicles is expected to come to market in the next few years. Charging infrastructure is being standardized, and car companies are investing their own money in building out a better network.

And while the E.P.A. rule is likely to face legal challenges — and Trump has pledged to “terminate” the Biden administration’s climate rules if he is re-elected — it cannot be easily overturned.

This week, the heat index in Rio de Janeiro reached 144 degrees Fahrenheit, or 62 Celsius, the highest ever measured in the city. The national government issued health warnings because of extreme heat in multiple cities.

In South Sudan, temperatures were forecast to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the 90-degree highs typical of the dry season from December to March, as my colleague Abdi Latif Dahir reported.

In Bengaluru, India, water supplies are running low, and last month Ghana and Nigeria issued heat warnings to the public.

We don’t yet know whether all these events were caused or worsened by climate change. But we do know that human-caused global warming was behind many of the extreme heat events that helped make last year the hottest on record. A recent study also concluded that climate change made the extreme heat West Africa experienced in February 10 times as likely, my colleague Delger Erdenesanaa reported.

What’s abundantly clear is that many of these developing nations are not prepared to protect people from this kind of heat.

Most schools in South Sudan are congested and underfunded and lack infrastructure such as air-conditioners. And in West African nations, about half of the urban population lives in informal housing, including homes built with sheet metal, which traps heat.

Maja Vahlberg, one of the authors of the study on West Africa, told Delger that this means “people are left with very limited options for individual coping strategies, such as using air-conditioning and drinking or taking more showers.” — Manuela Andreoni


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Credit: NYTimes.com

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