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What Democrats’ climate change plans mean to Michigan automakers, workers

Climate change plans of Democrats in Michigan’s March 10 presidential primary would have major implications for Detroit automakers, suppliers and workers throughout Michigan.

The candidates are proposing a series of proverbial carrots and sticks to ensure all new light vehicles sold in the United States emit no carbon as soon as 2030.

That would be a major disruption for the domestic auto industry, which is moving toward electric vehicles but is far off that pace and would likely require major federal spending to incentive purchases, retool manufacturing facilities and build public charging stations across the country. 


The proposals come as Republican President Donald Trump, who is up for re-election, looks to roll back fuel economy standards established by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump says strict standards would keep vehicle prices low for consumers and expects newly brokered international trade deals to benefit manufacturers in states like Michigan. 

Here’s a look at the Democratic candidate plans: 

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator proposes the most aggressive disruption to the U.S. auto industry — and specifying the most expensive price to ensure all new vehicles sold by 2030 are electric or otherwise produce zero-emissions. He wants to spend $100 billion on research and development to reduce the cost of electric vehicles and ensure they can be sold for $18,000 or less. Sanders also proposes $2.09 trillion in grants for low- and moderate-income families and small businesses to trade in fossil-fuel vehicles for electric versions, and a separate $681 billion trade-in program to get older cars off the road. The avowed democratic socialist wants to spend $85.6 billion to build a nationwide system of electric vehicle charging stations. It’s all part of a Green New Deal plan he’s suggested would “pay for itself” by creating jobs and a clean energy economy. Read Sanders’ climate and cars plan

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

The former vice president from Delaware wants a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 and is proposing to work with governors and mayors to deploy more than 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles by 2030. Biden promises to “restore the full” $7,500 federal tax incentive for consumers and says he’ll develop new fuel economy standards that go “beyond” regulations put in place by former President Barack Obama that President Donald Trump is working to scale back. Read Biden’s plan for climate and cars


Tulsi Gabbard

The Hawaiian member of Congress has not released a presidential campaign plan for the auto industry or electric vehicles, but she introduced aspirational legislation in 2017 that proposes requiring all new vehicle sales to be emissions-free by 2035. That legislation also proposed a “car allowance rebate” program for consumers who want to trade in an older vehicle for a zero-emissions model. Gabbard has also suggested further consumer incentives to purchase electric vehicles, including single-driver use of carpool lanes and reduced vehicle registration fees. Read Gabbard’s “Off Fossil Fuel” legislation

Editor's note: This article was updated March 5 to remove positions of candidates who have dropped out of the campaign since publication. Several candidates who have quit the race also will appear on Michigan's primary ballot.

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