On Thursday, President Joe Biden said he wants 50% of all vehicles sold by the year 2030 to be electric. The EPA has set 2026 as the year for automakers to reach a 52-MPG fleet average. 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss what will be needed to achieve those targets. They also discuss the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and what the short-term future may hold.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair. Our transportation industry is changing. And now, in a reversal of Trump administration policy, President Biden is pushing for half of all vehicle sales to be either electric hydrogen fuel cell or plug-in hybrid by the year 2030. And that would, of course, be a significant increase from where sales of those vehicles are today. President Biden signed an executive order with those targets included yesterday. And among those on hand for the signing is the person on the other end of the WEMU phone line. Debbie Dingell represents Michigan's 12th Congressional District, which includes portions of Washtenaw County. And thank you for the time again today. We appreciate it.
Debbie Dingell: Morning, David. How are you?
David Fair: I am excellent. Now, I want to clarify exactly what this executive order really does. As I understand it, it's a reverse of Trump-era policy and allows the process to begin of reversing his executive orders and setting the rules that will give us the best chance of hitting those sales and emission reduction goals, right?
Debbie Dingell: I'm going to divide it into two categories of what happened yesterday. First, as people may recall, Donald Trump--President Trump--repealed the Obama CAFE standards. What was done yesterday is to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, were put out. One from DOT, one from EPA. And that would set standards for the autos. It's proposed rulemaking, set standards for the autos through 2030, I think is the out year. The standards with the proposed rulemaking did not address. Separate from that was a voluntary goal that the president announced which would try to get by the year 2030, 50 percent of the sales would be electric vehicles. The auto companies, in one statement--Stellantis, GM, and Ford--said that they were committed to trying to reach 40 to 50 percent as part of their sales. And the other manufacturers--Honda, Toyota, auto innovators--also said that they were committed to trying to reach that target. So, there was a lot of complicated stuff going on yesterday. But I think the important message to take from this is that there's been a lot of hard work, and it's far from done of stakeholders talking about this. General Motors has already said they're committed to producing 100 percent electric vehicles by 2035. Ford has pretty much followed with saying this. All of the companies have said that they're going to cut it, but that's where their goal is. And by the way, we're not the only country doing it. People say we're going to be uncompetitive. China's already doing that. Europe's already doing that. We need to do this for many reasons. One, to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology. I want Michigan to stay at the forefront of the global industry. But it's also what we need to be doing for the climate. But it's not just going to happen. I put it into three buckets that we all have to work very intensely on. And that is one: these vehicles have to be affordable. Right now, the Tesla is not an affordable vehicle, and they're working on doing that in many ways, which are beginning to produce more. Prices do tend to go down consumer tax credits, which there have been some that have kept out for General Motors and Tesla making that incentivizing, helping out that we need to build the battery here in the United States of America. We can't outsource that anymore. 80 percent of the minerals are being made in China, but we also have to develop a battery that has range and the people have confidence will get them there and back. And we have to make sure that those batteries are being built with good-paying union jobs, so that we're not going to be eliminating some jobs and not keeping jobs here in the U.S. for working men and women. And three: we've got to develop an infrastructure. There have to be charging stations throughout the United States. It's going to take a lot of thoughtful thought about how we do that. Cultural changes in terms of, you know, some people can charge overnight, high speed chargers cost more, and we have to upgrade our power grid. So, yesterday was a great announcement, a great target. But I'm very focused on the nitty gritty, because this isn't going to work if we don't do the nitty gritty.
David Fair: Well, as you have mentioned, a lot of related work needs to be done from further electric battery development to building the national infrastructure for charging stations to retrofitting homes and rental units to accommodate electric vehicles to advance as quickly as targeted. What level of public private partnership is going to be needed to get there?
Debbie Dingell: It's going to be critical, and the work is really--some of the very critical work--is going to be done in the next few weeks as both the bipartisan bill and what the additional budget legislation. You're going to start to hear the word "reconciliation" more and what is in the reconciliation bill to help support this transition.
David Fair: Along with the range of battery cost, as you mentioned, has been and continues to be a primary concern among potential consumers, a lot of the electric and hybrid sales that have taken place to date have been subsidized. And that is not a sustainable model. With such ambitious targets for emission reduction in sales percentages, how does the industry get there that quickly without actually driving the prices higher?
Debbie Dingell: We're going to have to deal with that. The credit for the first five years will be a part of that. But if you start to do more mass production, prices will go down. You know, the other piece of this is that I think a lot of people, the electric vehicle---we get to even change our language, David. I'm thinking, perhaps here in the morning hours, but one of the most important things that happened was when the President came to Michigan to drive that F-150 truck. People want the same performance, the same ride, the same utility as the vehicles that they have now. So when they understand that the F-150 truck, that most popular truck in America, is going to have all of those things, and by the way, Ford has said that they will make it at an affordable price, but will even be able to do more things. If there's a power outage in your house, that truck will be able to fuel your home, take the place of the electricity that's out for three days. It can run your refrigerator. It can be an office. One of the things that autos are going to build these very they're going to build vehicles. They've got to show the consumer. They're going to build vehicles that are going to still have the performance of their internal...
David Fair: Combustion engine.
Debbie Dingell: Combustion engine. But it's also going to have a lot more to it. And all of the manufacturers know that they've got to be very focused on how do they make these cars competitively.
David Fair: On a personal level, have you made the switch to electric or hybrid yet?
Debbie Dingell: I have not. I have driven them. You know, another issue people have to think about is I don't have the charger in my garage yet. And not everybody has a garage, David, that they can charge in. So we're going to have to figure out that. I don't have an ideal situation. In my world, I drive a lot. You know, I drive over to Ann Arbor and back to Dearborn when I'm home almost daily. So I need a battery with range, and I need chargers that I can plug in. And I'm very pragmatic. I know that, for global climate change, we have to get here. But I also know that we have to address the kinds of questions you and I are talking about today.
David Fair: We're talking with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. We only have a couple of minutes left together. And I don't want to ignore the global issue that is once again knocking on our door locally. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire, and some areas of the country are back in crisis mode at hospitals. Here, in Washtenaw County, the CDC says we officially meet the standard to be classified as substantial when it comes to COVID-19. And the wearing of masks is once again recommended in indoor locations, though not mandated. Representative Dingell, are you of the opinion we are headed for more public restrictions?
Debbie Dingell: I'm going to talk about this in a different way, David. I think it's real. I think we need to be concerned. Yeah, there were conversations I had with the White House about both Wayne and Washtenaw, because we were not there on Tuesday, and the numbers increased this scientifically base that those numbers went up. I've got the map to show everybody. I've been wearing it. People have seen me at the farmer's market, and it walks and runs. People know that I've been wearing my mask outside for the last several weeks. It just makes common sense. And I think we need to let science drive the decision. There have been breakthrough cases. People who for the most part, who get breakthrough cases and have been vaccinated are not ending up in the hospital and are not dying. People who are unvaccinated are the numbers that are going back up. I wish that science could drive all of this for us and that it not become so politicized. I do not want to see anybody else die. You don't want to see anybody else get long haul or brain fog. And I just think that if we hold the common sense of where your mouth is, wash your hands and try to keep distance. And what we really need to worry about is that next variant--we're hearing some from Latin America--that the vaccine may not work on. And we can keep these variants from happening if people get vaccinated and we try to bring down these numbers. I don't want anyone to get sick. I'm wearing my mask. No one has to tell me to do that. And I encourage others to study the data and let data drive them.
David Fair: You mentioned politics. The pandemic and its impacts have been among the most divisive political issue in the country, and it's not likely to change. So is there a point where the Biden administration should come forward and say, "Politics be damned?' This is what is right for the health and safety of our country?
Debbie Dingell: I think science should drive it, and I think its numbers continue in the direction they are. We're going to have to look at serious discussions again. Remember what it was like only in Michigan in April, how high those numbers were and how scary they were. I don't want to see a surge.
David Fair: I would like to thank you for taking time to talk with us. And I appreciate it. And we'll look forward to our conversation next Friday.
Debbie Dingell: Thank you, David. Have a good, safe week.
David Fair: That is Representative Debbie Dingell. She is 12th District Congressional representative, representing portions of Washtenaw County. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station. Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD, one Ypsilanti.
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