Many automakers are now bracing for a likely push by the incoming Biden administration for a return to stricter tailpipe emissions rules, and have signaled they are committed to working with administration officials.
“It’s appalling that auto companies cheat on pollution rules but then want President Biden to negotiate with them about new clean car standards,” said Dan Becker, who directs the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. “After reneging on their previous commitments, why should anyone trust the automakers?”
The auto industry has been plagued by emissions-related scandals in recent years. In 2017, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States government after it acknowledged that it had rigged its diesel-powered cars to meet air-quality standards while being tested, even though the cars exceeded those standards in regular driving. Last year, Daimler, another German automaker, agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle accusations that Mercedes-Benz cars and vans sold in the United States were programmed to cheat on emissions tests.
Car owners themselves have also been accused of tampering with their vehicles. A federal report concluded this year that owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling the emissions control technology in their vehicles over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road.
Transportation, which remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels, makes up the biggest chunk of emissions of planet-warming emissions, ahead of emissions generated by the power sector, manufacturing or agriculture. Scientists have long warned that the world’s cars and trucks must shift away from gasoline to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Recent estimates have shown that transportation-related emissions in the United States did decline almost 15 percent in 2020, as millions of people stopped driving to work and airlines canceled flights. But experts warn that emissions from cars and trucks will rebound unless policymakers take stronger action to keep emissions low.