President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a set of actions intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from cars and trucks, moves that would reduce planet-warming emissions from the No. 1 sector contributing to climate change in the U.S.
Biden signed an executive order setting a goal that half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 are zero emissions vehicles, specifically electric vehicles powered by batteries or fuel cells or hybrid-electric vehicles.
Biden pitched the goal to dramatically increase electric vehicle sales as a way for the U.S. to claim a bigger share of that market and the manufacturing jobs from increasing demand for electric vehicles and components like batteries, as well as a big step toward his climate goals to dramatically reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions. He said electric vehicles are like a "vision of the future now beginning to happen" and there's no turning back.
"The question is whether we'll lead or fall behind in the race for the future. It’s whether we'll build these vehicles and the batteries that got them to where they are in the United States -- here in the United States, or we’re going to have to rely on other countries for those batteries," Biden said in remarks on the White House South Lawn with electric vehicles staged behind him in a White House driveway.
After signing the order, he ran over to a Jeep Wrangler 4xe, took off his suit jacket, got behind the wheel and took the electric SUV for a short spin.
Sales of electric vehicles have lagged in the U.S. compared to growing popularity in China and Europe in recent years. Electric vehicles represent about 2% of new cars sold in the U.S. in each of the past three years, according to data from the International Energy Agency
Biden argued an investment in electric vehicle production through the infrastructure plan will create blue-collar jobs and repeated an argument that has been a theme of his presidency that combating climate change can also be a source of economic growth for the country.
"Beyond the devastation of the lives and livelihoods and the health of our very planet, when I hear climate, I think jobs. Good paying union jobs," he said, before an audience of union officials and members of Congress, including Michigan's congressional delegation.
"I want the world to see there was a consensus or an inflection point in world history," he said. "If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of good paying jobs and raise the standard of living for people not only here, but around the world. I also wanted to put the world on notice. America is back. America is back. We're in the competition for the 21st century, the future that will be built right here in America."
Automakers Ford, GM and Stellantis endorsed the move in a statement Wednesday night, saying they aim for 40-50% of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric. They also said that goal can only be met with resources to expand electric charging stations that it part of Biden's proposed infrastructure plan.
"With the (United Auto Workers) at our side in transforming the workforce and partnering with us on this journey, we believe we can strengthen continued American leadership in clean transportation technology through electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing," the companies said in a joint statement. "We look forward to working with the Biden Administration, Congress and state and local governments to enact policies that will enable these ambitious objectives."
The administration is also announcing fuel efficiency standards that will more than reverse the rollback of the clean car standards under former President Donald Trump. A senior administration official said the administration will build on higher fuel efficiency standards set by California the senior official said will ultimately save 200 billion gallons of gasoline and reduce 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, according to the senior official.
The standards would require vehicles to reach the equivalent of at least 52 miles per gallon by 2026, making it the strictest emissions standard ever set for cars and trucks. Transportation makes up 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and the Environmental Protection Agency says the standard would avoid 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
Climate advocates praised the emissions standards as a critical step to reducing carbon emissions and meeting the goals to limit the impacts of climate change as much as possible.
"The importance of these new vehicle emission standards is hard to overstate. Along with the infrastructure investments currently under consideration in Congress, these standards will be among the most impactful measures that the Biden administration can take to address the climate crisis," Dan Lashof, president of the World Resources Institute said in a statement.
"Transportation is now America’s number one source of carbon pollution, so these new emission rules will be a primary tool to achieving the United States’ commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030."
Those rules will still need to go through a formal rule-making process at Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation.
Former President Barack Obama issued similar fuel efficiency standards meant to require new gas-powered vehicles to use less gasoline, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from cars and trucks. Under Trump the EPA relaxed those standards, prompted a legal battle between the administration and California over more stringent goals set by the state.
At least environmental group was unimpressed with Biden's announcement.
"This proposal delivers less carbon pollution reductions than the Obama-era standards and must be strengthened by eliminating excessive giveaways to the industry," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.
ABC News' MaryAlice Parks contributed to this report.
ABC News' Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.