Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Thursday he was unaware of any support by the Biden administration to ban gas-powered vehicles after 2035 as California aims to do.
Asked by a lawmaker at a U.S. House hearing if the Biden administration supported California's plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars and trucks in 2035, Buttigieg said he had "not heard of anything to that effect at the national or federal level."
He did note that automakers like General Motors have set a goal of ending gas-powered passenger vehicle sales by 2035. "I've not heard of that in a mandatory context but that certainly seems to be where the U.S. auto industry is headed."
During the 2020 campaign, Biden declined to endorse California's plan.
The auto industry plans to invest $250 billion in vehicle electrification by 2023, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents GM and most major automakers in the U.S. The association has pledged to work with the Biden administration on accelerating electrification and establishing a national program for vehicle tailpipe emissions that is “roughly midway” between the Trump-era standards and those of former President Barack Obama.
This week, a growing number of Democratic lawmakers have called on President Biden to endorse banning gas-powered vehicles by a specific date.
On Wednesday, a group of more than 70 U.S. House Democrats led by Rep. Doris Matsui urged Biden to set tough emissions rules to ensure that 60 percent of new passenger cars and trucks sold are zero-emission by 2030, while 10 U.S. senators led by Democrat Edward Markey urged Biden "to set a date by which new sales of fossil fuel vehicles will end entirely."
Markey's letter, which was also signed by Sens. Richard Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley and others, said it is essential "to ensure that we are on a trajectory to achieve the near-zero emission fleet that scientists have called for by 2050."
The House letter urged Biden to adopt "ambitious post-2026 standards that put us on the path to having all light-duty vehicles be zero-emission by 2035."
On Monday, California's two senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein also urged Biden to set a date to end gas-powered vehicle sales.
AV policy, safety
As for federal policies to support the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles in the U.S., Buttigieg told committee members the department is “prioritizing safety,” while leaving room for innovation in transportation technology.
“The biggest thing that we need to do is, of course, establish safety and establish certainty for industry,” he said.
Buttigieg added that U.S. policy framework has fallen behind advancements in technology, pointing to a need for Congress and the department to work together to modernize regulations that don’t account for self-driving vehicles.
“That's a problem both from a safety perspective and from a market perspective because a lot of other countries are developing very robust strategies for that,” he said. “We intend to pay a lot of attention [to] that and do everything we can within our authorities.”
The secretary said the department also will be “engaging with counterparts across the administration” to address the 5.9 GHz band — a radio spectrum long assigned to automakers to develop connected-vehicle technology that could prevent crashes and save lives.
The Federal Communications Commission voted in November to split part of the auto safety spectrum, shifting more than half of the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi. Automakers — represented by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation — have urged the FCC to abandon the effort.
“We'll be working to ensure that we're having the right posture with respect to the interagency conversations and the conversation with industry — with once again the fundamental North Star of our department being safety,” Buttigieg said.
Reuters and Audrey LaForest of Automotive News contributed to this report.