Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Illinois agriculture groups urge U.S. EPA to reconsider new emissions standards

Jonathan Kos-Read/Flickr

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal would require two-thirds of all light passenger vehicles and almost 50 percent of trucks adhere to new, tougher emission standards by the year 2032.

Beginning with 2027 model vehicles and continuing through 2032 model vehicles, new vehicles made in America would be required to adhere to federal tailpipe emission standards so strict, NPR reported in April, up to 67 percent of new vehicles sold in 2032 may have to be electric in order for carmakers to be in compliance.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposed standards would eliminate 7.3 billion tons of CO2, equivalent to four years worth of the entire U.S. transportation sector while saving lives through reduced air pollution, according to NPR’s Camila Domonoske. While the proposal has gained the approval of environmental and conservation groups, certain industries are pushing back against the measure. Opposition is coming from automakers, farmers, and transportation and renewable energy proponents who are seeking to soften the proposed regulations.

Illinois farm groups fight EPA proposal

In an interview with WCBU-WGLT, Lauren Lurkins, director of environmental policy for the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), said that opposition to the new emission standards is coming from the farm bureau, the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), among others.

“This is a proposed rule with a comment period that closes July 5, so we had been trying to get information out about this well in advance of the July 4 holiday. But with all of the other (EPA) policy proposals out there, this one may have not gotten as much attention as it should’ve,” she said. “This regulatory approach allows a lot of preference for electric vehicles. First there was an executive order that led to a lot of incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act and even the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This is being followed through with (these) regulations to push people in this direction.

“We at the farm bureau and in agriculture here in the Midwest in general see this particular proposed rule as the Biden administration unfortunately making its position on renewable fuels pretty clear. What they have in there is a mandate towards their goal of having 50% of vehicle sales in this country be electric by 2030, so it’s no longer about consumer choice.”

In addition to concerns about consumer choice, farmers are concerned about what role their crops would play in continuing to augment the nation’s fuel supply (i.e. corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel), according to Lurkins.

“We believe those fuels have massive potential to be the fuel of choice in the future while also providing emission reduction,” she said. “This is kind of an abandonment of that approach.”

Illinois corn and, to a lesser extent, soybean growers could see a reduction in farm income if the EPA’s proposal is adopted. Rural communities could suffer economically in turn, Lurkins noted.

“One of the things we are talking about is that there are nearly 11 million acres of corn grown each year in the Midwest. We feel (the proposal) is really jeopardizing the market for both corn and soy,” said Lurkins.

Illinois Corn leads petition charge

The ruling would also impact ethanol production, costing the agriculture industry an estimated one-billion bushels of corn from 2022-2032, according to the ICGA. In addition, the regulations could significantly raise the price of eternal combustion engines after 2032. Moreover, ICGA contends that infrastructure is simply not present to support an electric car fleet of this volume.

Calling the EPA’s proposal “unprecedented,” Illinois Corn joined five other state corn associations and other ethanol interest groups in a petition challenging the EPA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) tailpipe emissions rule for cars and trucks. The petition asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to set aside EPA’s final GHG standards for passenger cars and light trucks.

According to ICGA past president and farmer Martin Marr, of New Berlin, corn farmers support actions to reduce GHG emissions. However, they are opposed to regulatory actions attempting to mandate a single technology solution to reduce emissions. ICGA maintains the regulations could significantly raise the price of eternal combustion engines after 2032, and the United States’ electric infrastructure is not present to support an electric car fleet of this kind.

“Any assumption that corn farmers who work hand in hand with the earth and are addressing changing weather patterns every day are not supportive of policies to address cleaner air and water is off base. Corn farmers are so committed to these goals that we want to be allowed to be a part of the solution. Policies that choose who can contribute solutions and who cannot are detrimental to the overall goal,” said Marr, in an Illinois Corn news release.

For these reasons, Illinois Corn urged the EPA to give Congress the opportunity to settle the decision on which way the country should go regarding vehicle standards, rather than “overreaching its authority” and “deciding for consumers” the future of the market.

Farm Bureau: EPA should tap brakes on plan

Rather than rush to essentially mandate that all automakers comply with stringent, new emission regulations that steer the industry towards a mostly electric vehicle fleet by 2032, Lurkins, the IFB and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) would like to see EPA tap the brakes on the plan.

“The proposal is looking at model years starting in 2027, so you are looking at a window of only five years to make that jump (to mostly electric vehicles). That is a little aggressive, we think. We don’t actually support the idea of a mandate at all; there is room in the marketplace for technology to develop not only on the renewable fuels side, but also with EVs,” said Lurkins.

“What we have asked in our public comment to EPA is for them to actually go back to the drawing board and start all over again, taking renewable fuels into account.”

The farm bureau believes the EPA plan gives little acknowledgement of recent strides in vehicle emissions-- particularly regarding proven reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in urban markets thanks to biodiesel use for public transit.

“If you look at what’s on the road now in terms of light and heavy-duty vehicles and buses, technology has reduced emissions from common pollutants by about 99% to date,” Lurkins said. “We do believe at the farm bureau that if EPA could consider an all-of-the-above, technologically neutral approach to GHG reduction, that would actually create opportunities for market-based solutions and innovation without (creating) winners and losers.”

Final rule subject to change

According to NPR, EPA’s proposed emission standards include “several alternative options’ to the plan that could be integrated into the final regulation, which will be issued sometime following the public comment period. As it stands today, the proposed rules would add $633 to the cost of making a vehicle in 2027 and around $1,200 per vehicle in 2032. According to an EPA analysis, however, consumers would save money because EVs are cheaper to operate and tax credits are offered to new EV buyers.

No matter what the final draft of the proposal entails, EPA’s Regan has promised the agency will work closely with labor, automakers, and other groups to “usher in a new generation” of environmentally cleaner cars. “We’re going to envision and innovate and achieve this future together,” Regan said in a media phone call attended by NPR reporters. “It is well within our grasp. Make no mistake about it.”

The proposed new regulations would require new vehicles to emit just 82 grams of GHGs per mile by 2032, a reduction of 56 percent from 2026 target emissions. According to analysts, Tesla would be the only American auto manufacturer to meet the standard if it were applied today.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.