BlueGreen Alliance | Clean Cars, Clean Air, Good Jobs Blog Series: Part One – The Importance of Clean Vehicle Standards

Clean Cars, Clean Air, Good Jobs Blog Series: Part One – The Importance of Clean Vehicle Standards

March 18, 2024

By Gerald D. Taylor, Research and Policy Analyst

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of finalizing two important clean vehicle standards. The first is a multi-pollutant emissions standard that would apply to model year (MY) 2027 and later light-duty (LDVs) and medium-duty vehicles (MDVs); the second is a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standard that would apply to MY 2027-2036 heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs). Both are technology-neutral standards that permit automakers the flexibility to meet emissions reduction targets using whatever technologies they choose, including electrification, hybridization, tailpipe emissions reduction systems, and efficiency improvements.

We know that clean vehicle standards advance a variety of pressing climate, public health, and environmental justice goals. When implemented carefully and intentionally, and when accompanied by investments in U.S. manufacturing, we know they can also help to rebuild a strong, domestic auto manufacturing industry with high quality, union jobs. But it won’t happen by accident.

The reality is that new jobs in the domestic auto manufacturing sector, including those building the clean vehicles of the future, are of lower quality than the auto jobs of the past. Research on new investments in the electric vehicle (EV) supply chain finds that as of March 2024, only 11% of the facilities where EVs and their parts are made are union. These non-union jobs tend to come with lower wages, poorer healthcare coverage, sparser fringe and retirement benefits, and inferior health and safety protections compared with their union counterparts.

The domestic auto industry—one that once represented a reliable pathway to the middle class for thousands of workers through community-sustaining, union jobs—has weathered poor trade, labor, and industrial policies that have reduced the number and quality of auto manufacturing jobs here in the United States. But it is not too late to reverse course and ensure that the vehicles of the future are built here in the United States, creating and sustaining good jobs from California to Ohio to South Carolina. And clean vehicle standards can be a part of the solution.

Our aim in this series is to counteract misinformation and to correct the record on how clean vehicle standards can contribute to the creation and protection of high-quality, union, auto manufacturing jobs.

Here, in the first part of the series, we explain how clean vehicle standards can help to support workers, improve public health, and safeguard the environment. In the second part, we explain how onshoring the EV supply chain can create more high-quality auto manufacturing jobs, not fewer. In the third and final part, we unpack three oft-repeated claims about the supposed dangers of adopting clean truck standards, and we set the record straight.

Clean Vehicle Standards Are Good for Workers, Public Health, and the Environment

Progressively strengthening vehicle emissions standards is important for several reasons. The first and most obvious of these is that clean vehicle standards are an essential part of our response to the deepening threat from climate change. The transportation sector generates nearly a third of all GHG emissions in the United States, with LDVs and MDVs together accounting for more than half of those emissions, and HDVs accounting for about a quarter. Clean vehicle standards are the primary tool that the government has at its disposal to reduce these emissions, as they encourage automakers to continually develop and deploy cleaner vehicles and technologies.

In this way, technology-neutral clean vehicle standards—such as those proposed by EPA—serve as key drivers of innovation in the auto industry. By setting annual emissions and pollution reduction targets with ample lead time and clear timelines, these standards project a clear demand for clean vehicles into the future, providing manufacturers with both the impetus and the time they need to design and proliferate those technologies. Indeed, this basic dynamic has already resulted in the development of several important clean vehicle technologies, including exhaust aftertreatment, diesel particulate filters, plug-in hybrid vehicles and, of course, battery-electric vehicles.

When these technologies are manufactured here in the United States, they can support the economy by creating and protecting good union jobs in the auto manufacturing sector. A Synapse report found that clean vehicle standards generate positive employment impacts in both the short-term and the long-term. Furthermore, a study by the BlueGreen Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that clean vehicle standards played a vital role in the auto industry’s recovery in the wake of the Great Recession. Newly strengthened standards spurred significant investment and innovation in the clean vehicle technology space, which in turn drove the creation of the kinds of stable, community-sustaining job opportunities that have historically propped up the middle class.

Crucially, the standards also support U.S. competitiveness in the global auto manufacturing market, so that cars and components made in the United States meet vehicle emissions standards in other markets like Europe and Asia. In order to rebuild a better and stronger domestic auto industry with good union jobs, we must ensure that the industry is prepared to meet U.S. demand for clean vehicles, and to compete on the global stage. In this way, vehicle emissions standards provide the auto industry with the direction it needs.

Finally, clean vehicle standards have transformative potential for public health outcomes, especially in the ‘fenceline’ communities that are situated near high-traffic areas like ports, warehouses, freight routes, railyards, and airports. HDVs in particular account for an enormous 45% of total NOx emissions and 57% of particulate matter (PM) emissions from mobile sources, which are known precursors of soot, smog, and other harmful air pollutants, and which are associated with a wide range of poor health outcomes, including asthma, heart attack, stroke, and premature death. People of color feel these health impacts disproportionately—Asian, Black, and Latine people in the United States are 34%, 24%, and 23% more like likely to be exposed to them, respectively.

Emissions from fossil-fuel-burning vehicles, particularly those without tailpipe emission reducing technology, generate a serious and expensive public health burden. But clean vehicle standards are also helpful here. EPA estimates that, if enacted, the proposed LDV/MDV multi-pollutant standard could generate up to $280 billion in financial benefits from improving public health outcomes alone. Likewise, the American Lung Association estimates that significantly reducing air pollution from HDVs in high-traffic areas—through the use of more fuel-efficient engines and fuels, filters, electrification, and other strategies spurred on by strengthened standards—could yield as much as $735 billion in public health benefits by 2050.

By reducing air pollution and alleviating associated health issues, vehicle emissions standards help to clean up our environment and reduce excessive public health costs. And by fostering technological advancement and driving job growth in the auto manufacturing sector, these standards also serve to bolster the U.S. economy and achieve important environmental justice goals.


Read Part Two of the series here.

Read Part Three of the series here.