Gas War: Biden Selects 'Obama All Stars' for Transportation Department, EPA

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

With America currently split between people arguing about how seriously the 2020 election needs to be investigated, there hasn’t been much in the news about cars beyond the omnipresent background hiss of manufacturers promoting green vehicles they have yet to build. That leaves us having to belly crawl through journalistic muck in the hopes of finding a morsel of useful information. Fortunately, we located a crumb worth saving in Joe Biden’s transition teams for the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department.

A Biden administration means bringing back Obama all-stars in a concentrated effort to restore that era’s regulatory standards. That entails flipping just about every single initiative launched by President Trump, including the national fuel rollback that’s at the heart of the Gas War. Biden has also said he would reenter the Paris Climate Accords, gradually abandon fossil fuels, and “establish ambitious fuel economy standards” surpassing anything the nation has seen before.

This will be facilitated by Biden’s tapping of Patrice Simms to quarterback the EPA. Simms is an environmental attorney at Earthjustice, which has leveled over 100 lawsuits at the Trump administration and previously worked as deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s environment division. Other Obama-era lawyers have been named, according to Reuters. The available list currently includes Joe Goffman, general counsel at the agency under Obama EPA chief Gina McCarthy, and Cynthia Giles, who served as an assistant administrator in the EPA’s enforcement office.

Biden’s Transportation Department team will be led by Phillip Washington, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, a former Transportation official under Obama, has also been selected — as has Therese McMillan, former acting head of the Federal Transit Administration under Obama.

From Reuters:

For the Interior Department, Biden named former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn to head up the transition, signaling an emphasis on indigenous representation at the agency that oversees federal and tribal lands.

Other Obama-era Interior officials on the team include Elizabeth Klein, former deputy assistant secretary, policy, management & budget, who has been working with an organization representing state attorneys general challenging the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, and Kate Kelly, a senior adviser to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The team also includes Maggie Thomas, previously a climate policy adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Biden likewise named Sue Biniaz, who helped pen the Paris Agreement, as part of his State Department transition team. This, along with everything else, paints a pretty clear picture of which direction his presidency would be heading. We’re anticipating increasing fuel prices as drilling slows and stringent emissions regulations mimicking what we’ve seen in Europe and China. That could help shape new vehicle models on a long enough timeline, presumably resulting in more small-engine hybrids and fewer hulking V8s. On the upside, the Great American Gas War will finally end — albeit with California winning as the state’s regulatory benchmarks presumably become national ones.

We’re also a little confused about the mechanism for achieving success under the Paris Climate Accord if rejoined. The United States would really only be going back to make others happy, as each country is left to set their own “Nationally Determined Contributions.” The U.S. previously committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 (from the baseline set in 2005). By contrast, China’s commitments have been more ambitions but the goals were set in a way that didn’t require the nation to do anything until after 2030. China’s greenhouse gas emissions are now so huge (over 10.06 billion metric tons per year) they eclipse both the United States and Europe combined. Many also believe the Asian nation will withdraw from the climate agreement before it’s officially obligated to make any meaningful changes.

Ah, progress.

[Image: Lev Radin/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Nov 12, 2020

    Well, this will last about 2 years (assuming Biden/Harris's election is confirmed, which seems likely) until the 2022 midterms. That is assuming the likely and predicted economic consequences of all of this foolishness comes to pass. In the Senate, there are more Democrats up for re-election in '22; and if the Democrats' octogenarian crew (Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn) continues to run the House, their majority will be wiped out. I say "foolishness" because large amounts of US electricity are generated by burning fossil fuels (although cheaper--and cleaner--natural gas has displaced coal for economic reasons). So, rather than promote a proven workable and effective technology -- hybridization -- gobs of public and private money is being thrown at EVs, even though a large segment of the population can't use them either because or lack of access to overnight charging or because of range issues. As an example, the new Toyota minivan -- a legitimate 6 or 7 passenger vehicle -- is available only as a hybrid and is EPA rated at something over 30 mpg. According to a few reviews I've read, in real world use, it achieves those ratings. But there's big money to be made in "renewables" and selling clean air credits (Tesla), so hybridization has pretty much stalled.

    • See 2 previous
    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Nov 13, 2020

      @Lou_BC Even if they do win both races, Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already said he would not vote for things like the Green New Deal and packing the court. You look at the state that he represents and he really can't support that stuff...he'd be out of a job. He really is sort of the last of the old school "Blue Dog" Democrats. I don't believe they flip both of those seats though...Jon Osoff lost by nearly 2 points in an environment where Biden won at the top of the ticket. I don't see where he gets the votes. Republicans will turn out because their TV is currently airing every far left thing that Pelosi/AOC/The Squad have supported. A democrat senate is the apacolypse to them. So how do the democrat senate candidates repeat the level of enthusiasm that led them to show up and dump Trump AND find another nearly 100k votes that they lost by in the Perdue Race. I don't see it.

  • White Shadow White Shadow on Nov 15, 2020

    The stupidity here is sad. Trump is not serving a consecutive second term. The country will not be destroyed in the next four years. And nothing significant will change in the automotive world. Fuel prices always vary due to a number of different reasons. ICE vehicles aren't going away anytime soon.

  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.