Merkley, Whitehouse Introduce Bold New Legislation to Transition the U.S. to 100% Zero-Emission Vehicles

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—both senior members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee—today unveiled ambitious new legislation that would put the U.S. on the path to achieving 100% zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the coming decades.

The Merkley-Whitehouse legislation, the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act, builds on the movements of 10 states, including California, Oregon, Maine and New York, that have enacted state-level ZEV standards. Much like renewable energy standards, these ZEV standards require a certain percentage of new vehicles sold in the state to be vehicles that emit no carbon pollution, such as fully battery-powered electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The Zero-Emission Vehicles Act would, for the first time, set a comprehensive federal ZEV standard, requiring that of all new car sales in America, at least 50% be zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and ultimately, 100% by 2040. A bold national ZEV standard would put the U.S. at the forefront of the emerging electric vehicles market, positioning the U.S. to lead in innovation and manufacturing.

“As the National Climate Assessment spelled out in stark, disastrous detail, we have no time to waste in taking on climate chaos,” said Merkley. “To save our economy and our way of life, we have to aggressively reduce carbon pollution. Since transportation is currently the largest source of carbon emissions in America, we must address that challenge head-on and drive the transition to zero-emission vehicles. This will also make America a leader in clean energy vehicle innovation, positioning us to create great manufacturing jobs right here at home.”

“The writing is on the wall:  to avoid the worst of climate change, we need to transition away from fossil fuels across our economy,” said Whitehouse. “Our auto industry is already making some of the most exciting electric vehicles on the market.  This standard would lead to a nationwide transition away from polluting cars and trucks and help cement the United States as a global leader in electric vehicles.”

Transitioning to zero-emission vehicles benefits both the economy and public health. According to a 2016 report issued by the American Lung Association, transitioning to zero-emission vehicles would deliver $33 billion in total health and climate savings by 2050. The 90% reduction in the pollution that causes smog and soot would translate to 195,000 fewer lost work days, 96,000 fewer asthma attacks, and 2,200 fewer premature deaths.

Ten states currently require that a certain percentage of new vehicles sold within the state must be zero-emission vehicles. While state commitments like these play a vital role in the transition to electric and zero-emission vehicles, a federal policy is needed to ensure the entire country experiences the benefits of ZEVs.

How the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act Works

The Zero-Emission Vehicles Act would set a Federal Zero-Emissions Vehicle standard to boost the market for battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The standard would require that 50% of all new passenger vehicles sold in 2030 are ZEVs, and ramp up 5% each year to 100% by 2040. The ZEV standard is only applied to the sale of new cars. By reaching 100% of new car sales in 2040, the vast majority of used cars would be ZEVs by 2050.


Like the existing state ZEV standards, the Federal ZEV standard would include a crediting system. Each ZEV would receive one ZEV credit per vehicle. Plug-in hybrids and hybrids receive partial credits based on the estimated average portion of mileage traveled on the battery instead of fossil fuels. Fuel efficient vehicles can receive partial credits based on EPA’s estimated fuel savings. ZEV credits would be allocated to auto-manufacturers, and can be sold or banked for up to 5 years, until 2040.


Revenues from the sales of ZEV credits will help support public infrastructure through the Highway Trust Fund.