March 4, 2020

House Democratic Climate Proposals Series: Clean Transportation Initiatives

Holland & Knight Energy and Natural Resources Blog
Beth A. Viola | Isabel C. Lane

In an eight-part series, we will examine initiatives outlined in recent congressional Democratic climate proposals, particularly the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation's (CLEAN) Future Act introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats and the Moving Forward infrastructure framework developed collectively by House Democrats. General outlines of these frameworks can be found here and here.

Continuing our series, we're focusing on provisions that could impact the transportation sector. As we have noted previously, while the House Energy and Commerce CLEAN Future Act contains more specific detail, the Moving Forward infrastructure framework also includes several notable and well-funded proposals to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

Of particular note, both House proposals recognize the importance of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the mid- and heavy-duty sectors to meaningfully lower overall emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Specific to the mid- and heavy-duty sectors, in 2017, approximately 25 percent of the U.S. transportation sector's GHG emissions came from mid- and heavy-duty vehicles, aircraft, ships and boats. By 2050, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections show growth in miles traveled in these sectors of 1.4 percent for commercial light trucks, 1.3 percent for freight trucks and 1.8 percent for air travel. These projections appear to be relatively inflexible even if the relative price of travel increases, demonstrating the importance of reducing transportation emissions outside the passenger car space.1

Notable transportation sector proposals from both frameworks are outlined below.

Vehicle Performance Standards

The CLEAN Future Act directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promulgate GHG emissions standards for virtually all categories of vehicles. The approach is engineered to increase emissions reductions over time, gradually approaching the net-zero goal.

Vehicle Type


New passenger cars

Year-over-year reduction of 6%

Light duty trucks

Year-over-year reduction of 6%

Medium-duty passenger vehicles

Year-over-year reduction of 4%

Heavy-duty vehicles

Year-over-year reduction of 4%

Non-road engines and vehicles, including locomotives

Year-over-year reduction of 4%

New and existing aircraft

50% reduction by 2030

In addition to directing the EPA to promulgate national standards, the legislation expands the number of states eligible to adopt California's motor vehicle emissions standards. Currently, under the Clean Air Act (CAA), only states with nonattainment zones are permitted to adopt California's standards. The legislation would amend this to permit any states to adopt California's standards, bringing into play, among others, numerous states in New England, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.

Furthermore, the CLEAN Future Act directs the federal government to increase the percent of alternative-fueled vehicles in the federal fleet. With some exceptions, the proposal would gradually increase the volume to 100 percent zero-emissions vehicles by 2050 for light-duty vehicles and to 50 percent alternative-fuel vehicles by 2050 for the medium- and heavy-duty sectors.

The Moving Forward infrastructure framework does not address vehicle performance standards.

Zero-Emissions Vehicles

The CLEAN Future Act and Moving Forward infrastructure framework have myriad provisions to support infrastructure buildout and expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, which include battery electric vehicles in addition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

In some ways, the bills overlap. For example, both include a Clean Cities Coalition grant program to fund projects and activities that improve air quality and increase the supply of alternative fuels, authorized at $50 million initially and increasing to $100 million from 2025 to 2030. The Moving Forward infrastructure framework would authorize the grant program at $300 million over five years.

The House Moving Forward infrastructure framework includes a general $1.5 billion to deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure, but does not provide detail on how these funds would be distributed. It also includes $925 million over five years for state and local governments to support transportation sector electrification.

Highlights from the more specific CLEAN Future Act include:

  • a rebate program for installation and replacement of publicly accessible electric vehicle and hydrogen fuel cell refueling infrastructure, providing up to $75,000 per installation for networked direct current fast-charging equipment, up to $100 million annually through 2030
  • amendments to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), section 111(d), requiring states to consider authorizing utilities to recover from ratepayers investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and excluding from regulation as electric utilities entities selling electricity to the public through charging stations
  • requirements to update model building codes for integrating electric vehicle supply equipment in multifamily buildings
  • programs to increase the use of zero-emissions vehicles for school buses and refrigerated vehicles
  • studies and assessments to evaluate supply and develop standards supporting deployment; the legislation also nods to the needs of underserved communities, specifically directing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct assessment of availability and opportunities for deployment in these areas

Renewable Fuels

Making the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) germane, the CLEAN Future Act includes a provision to require the EPA to automatically approve pathway petitions after 90 days if the pathways are approved for sale in at least one state program (i.e., California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard program). Of note, this provision creates a vehicle for the potentially broader reform of the RFS, which has not been updated since 2007.

The Moving Forward infrastructure framework is less specific and does not specifically enumerate Clean Air Act amendments, but does include language on support for alternative jet fuels. Specifically, it outlines a general incentive for the creation and use of sustainable aviation fuels in commercial aviation.


Lastly, the CLEAN Futures Act would make modest changes to the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program at the DOE. Most notably, it expands eligibility to manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that comply with Obama-era emissions standards for model year 2024 vehicles. The bill would also increase the maximum federal cost share for manufacturing facilities – those that produce both advanced technology vehicles and related components – to 50 percent from 30 percent.

While any modifications to the ATVM program that expand the universe of eligible technologies are welcome, unfortunately nothing in either bill would encourage the DOE to close on a loan, despite dozens of projects sitting in the pipeline. We encourage the committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate to propose solutions to this underlying problem so the provisions in the CLEAN Futures Act can work as intended.

1 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2019, Transportation Sector Key Indicators and Delivered Energy Consumption, Multiple Cases

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