UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

A billion dollar policy for electric vehicles that you probably haven’t heard of

Combined, Pacific Gas and Electric (16 million people), Southern California Edison (15 million people), and San Diego Gas and Electric (3.6 million people) provide electricity to nearly 90 percent of California’s 39 million people.

Two years ago, California passed Senate Bill 350, requiring 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. This was big news. Hawaii had just passed a similar bill requiring 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. There was a lot of well-deserved excitement around these renewable portfolio standards.

One section of the California bill that didn’t get a lot of attention outside of policy circles, however, requires electric utilities in the state to come up with plans to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.” The bill recognized the critical role electric cars, trucks, and buses must play to meet air quality, climate, and public health goals.

Fast forward two years and we’re in the middle of what could be the largest single investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States to date. Over $1 billion of investments have been proposed over a five-year period by the three large, investor-owned utilities in California: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).* For comparison, the Volkswagen “dieselgate” settlement will result in $800 million of charging infrastructure in California over ten years.

The so-called “SB 350 transportation electrification” plans are currently being reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and I’ve been representing UCS in this public process. Here’s a snapshot of the process, which has already spanned several months and several thousand pages of documents.

What’s going on?

In January, PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E submitted plans for advancing transportation electrification in their service territories. The plans mostly focus on providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. SCE and SDG&E also proposed new charging rates for electric vehicles to address “demand charges,” which increase bills for large draws of electricity at once, but depending on how they are structured, may discourage the use of electric vehicles.

The utilities submitted projects for “priority review” and “standard review.” Priority review projects were designed to speed up decisions on smaller, “non-controversial” projects. These projects were limited to one year in duration, costs of less than $4 million per project, and no more than $20 million in priority review projects per utility. The idea is that lessons learned from these short-term projects can guide future investments. Standard review projects are larger in scope and subject to the full evidentiary hearings typically associated with proceedings at public utility commissions.

Proposals from PG&E and SCE focus mostly on charging infrastructure for trucks, buses, and heavy-duty equipment, while SDG&E’s proposal focuses mostly on residential charging infrastructure. The CPUC made it clear from the onset that utilities’ proposals should not merely be an expansion of existing pilot projects, which focus on light-duty vehicles.

Senate Bill 350 also provided guidance that utilities’ proposals should benefit communities most impacted by air pollution. This also explains the focus on heavy-duty vehicles in proposals from PG&E and SCE. Heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately contribute to air pollution, making up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but 33 percent of NOx emissions (harmful alone but is also a precursor to smog) and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants combined.

What’s next?

The CPUC recently released a proposed decision on the priority review projects; a final decision is expected as early as the second week of January. The proposed decision would approve 15 of the 17 priority review projects totaling nearly $43 million. Projects proposed for approval include infrastructure for electric school buses, delivery trucks, airport ground equipment, transit buses, truck stops, and park-and-ride parking lots.

A decision on the standard review projects is expected in May 2018. SDG&E’s proposal would support 90,000 residential electric vehicle chargers. Proposals from SCE and PG&E would support charging infrastructure for up to 15,000 and 5,000 electric trucks and buses, respectively. Approval of these projects would be significant, but compared to the 25 million automobiles and 1.5 million trucks and buses operating in California, it would be just one step towards reducing global warming emissions and air pollution to safe amounts.

A major investment in electric vehicle infrastructure couldn’t come at a better time. Sales of passenger electric vehicles are growing. Manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles are offering a wide array of electric vehicles, and fleets such as transit agencies and delivery companies are increasingly adopting electric buses and trucks. In all, availability of charging infrastructure and fair electricity rates is critical to the continued uptake of these clean vehicles.

*Note, publicly-owned utilities are not under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and thus were not required to submit plans, nor were Community Choice Aggregators (e.g., Marin Clean Energy) who don’t own infrastructure related to electricity generation or distribution. Small, electrical corporations were required to submit plans, which are being considered separately from those of the three large, investor-owned utilities.

Image: California Energy Commission

Automakers’ Long List of Fights Against Progress, and Why We Must Demand Better

Vehicle pollution is a major issue for human health and the environment.

Today, we are releasing a report documenting the long, sordid past of the auto industry, who has fought regulation tooth and nail at every turn. From pollution control to seatbelts and air bags to fuel economy, the industry has spent the vast majority of the past 7 decades doing whatever it can to wriggle out of government regulations, at the expense of the American public.

Cars have drastically improved, but not without a fight

Time for a U-turn looks at the tactics that automakers consistently deploy to fight against federal rules and standards that deliver better cars to the nation, tactics like exaggeration, misinformation, and influence. It also outlines concrete actions that automakers can take to leave behind their history of intransigence, and ensure that their industry rises to the challenges of the 21st century.

There is no doubt that the cars built today are significantly improved over the vehicles from the 1950s:

  • today’s safety standards require not just airbags and seatbelts but also features like crumple zones which help to minimize occupant injury;
  • tailpipe pollution standards have dramatically reduced the emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants like volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides; and
  • fuel economy and global warming emissions standards have saved consumers about $4 TRILLION dollars in fuel, severely reducing both the demand for oil and impact on climate change.

It’s clear when put to the task, automotive engineers have been more than capable of meeting whatever challenge is laid in front of them, resulting in a tremendous positive impact for the public.

Unfortunately, the industry has a long history of putting its lobbyists to work instead, promoting misleading claims and interfering politically to weaken or delay the standards that protect the public.

Automotive Chicken Little and a “Can’t Do” Attitude

One of the most frustrating aspects of the volumes of research I did for this report was the sheer repetition of the arguments.  According to the auto industry, any type of regulation would force them out of business…and yet they are still here.  Here are a few examples:

“[I]f GM is forced to introduce catalytic converter systems across the board on 1975 models . . . it is conceivable that complete stoppage of the entire production could occur, with the obvious tremendous loss to the company, shareholders, employees, suppliers, and communities.” – Ernie Starkman (GM) in his push to weaken the 1975 tailpipe emissions standards put in place by the Clean Air Act.

Not only was Starkman wrong that catalytic converters would shut down GM, but they proved so popular that GM actually used them in its advertising in 1975!

“Many of the temporary standards are unreasonable, arbitrary, and technically infeasible. . . . [If] we can’t meet them when they are published we’ll have to close down.” – Henry Ford II (Ford), responding to the first motor vehicle safety standards.

Clearly, Ford did not have to close down.  In fact, Ford proved more than capable of meeting these “unreasonable” requirements by using features like safety glass and seat belts, which are commonplace today.

“We don’t even know how to reach [35 miles per gallon by 2020], not in a viable way.  [It] would break the industry.”  — Susan Cischke (Ford), discussing the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) that have led to the strong standards we have today.

Not only have strong fuel economy standards not broken the industry, but today it is thriving, with three consecutive years of sales over 17 million, an historic first for automakers.  And because of standards that drive improvements across all types of vehicles, we are not only on track to meet the requirements of EISA but doing so in spite of a growing share of SUVs and pick-ups.

Fighting the Science

Of course, even worse than the repetitive “sky is falling” attitude that has proven false at every turn is the assault on science that automakers have used in the past, seeking to eliminate policy action by diminishing either the solution or the problem:

“We believe that the potential impact of [fuel economy standards] on the global issue of planetary warming are [sic] difficult to demonstrate.” – Robert Liberatore (Chrysler)

Believe it or not, after James Hansen’s Congressional testimony in 1988, there was bipartisan support on the Hill to address climate change, including from transportation-related emissions.  Mr. Liberatore used an argument straight out of today’s Heritage Foundation claiming that fuel economy standards in the United States won’t have an impact on a global problem.  This flew in the face of science then, just as it does now.

“The effects of ozone are not that serious . . . what we’re talking about is a temporary loss in lung function of 20 to 30 percent.  That’s not really a health effect.” – Richard Klimisch (American Automobile Manufacturers Association).

In 1996, the EPA was moving forward to strengthen air quality standards for ozone (related to smog) and soot (particulate matter).  In order to push back on this solution, automakers campaigned against there even being a problem to address, claiming that a little loss in lung function wasn’t a big deal.  Needless to say, the EPA ignored this ridiculousness and implemented stronger standards. However, even these stronger standards did not fully address the problem, pushing the Obama administration to move forward on strengthening the standards further still.

Breaking the Cycle?

After the Great Recession, automakers seemed to turn over a new leaf, working closely with the Obama administration to craft stringent fuel economy and emissions standards that would drive efficiency improvements across all types of vehicles, including SUVs and pick-up trucks.

“[The industry has] had a change of heart, but it’s fairly recent. We had data about consumers’ preferences about fuel economy, but we chose to ignore it; we thought it was an anomaly. But it’s by having a bias against fuel economy that we’ve put ourselves in the pickle we’re in now.”  — Walter McManus (ex-GM), speaking about a shift in automaker thinking.

Unfortunately, this awakening seems to have been short-lived, as automakers are now urging the current administration to weaken the standards with the same types of tactics we’ve seen before:

  • Automakers are using direct political influence, sending a letter to the Trump administration to withdraw EPA’s determination that the strong 2025 standards remain appropriate.
  • Automakers are again exaggerating the facts, claiming widespread catastrophe if the EPA does not alter the standards based on a widely debunked study and ignoring the findings of a more thorough (albeit still conservative) report they themselves funded because it doesn’t fit their messaging.
  • Industry is pushing to expand the midterm review to include lowering the 2021 standards while acknowledging that lowering the 2021 standards would have no impact on their product offerings and simply is a form of regulatory relief “any way we can get it” (Chris Nevers, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers).

Despite talking a good game about being “absolutely committed to improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions for our customers” (Bill Ford, 2017), Ford and other automakers are engaging in the same intransigence we’ve seen over the past seven decades.

It’s time for automakers to end this multidecadal war against regulation and start siding with progress.  To build back trust and leave this history behind, automakers must seize this opportunity and:

  • support strong safety and emissions standards and keep the promises they made to the American people to build cleaner cars;
  • distance themselves from trade groups that seek to undermine today’s standards, and make it clear that these groups do not speak for all automakers on issues of safety and the environment; and
  • cease spreading disinformation about the standards and their impacts.

Pruitt’s War on the Planet and the EPA—and What Congress Can Do About It

We have now endured almost a year with Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His tenure is unprecedented—a full frontal assault on the agency he heads, and a retreat from the mission he is charged by law to advance. And thus far, Administrator Pruitt has not had to account for his actions.

But an accountability moment is nearing: for the first time since his nomination, Mr. Pruitt will appear before Congress to offer an update on the status of work at the agency—first before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on December 7, and next before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 31. These oversight hearings offer a critical opportunity for leaders on both sides of the aisle to ask tough questions, demand responsive information rather than platitudes, and voice their disapproval about how Administrator Pruitt has run the EPA.

Here are key topics for our elected representatives to focus on:

Mr. Pruitt’s empty “back to basics” promise

During his nomination hearing last January, Administrator Pruitt knew he would be questioned about his commitment to EPA’s mission and his repeated lawsuits against EPA when he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He came equipped with a clever counter-narrative. He claimed that he would make EPA a more effective agency by de-emphasizing “electives” such as climate change. He promised to steer the agency “back to basics” by focusing on core responsibilities such as enforcing clean air and water laws and cleaning hazardous waste sites.

Members of Congress should compare that promise to Administrator Pruitt’s actions over the past year. Almost immediately after taking office, he signed off on a budget that would cut EPA by 31 percent, despite the absence of any financial exigency requiring such draconian action. A few weeks later, he approved plans to lay off 25 percent of the agency’s employees and eliminate 56 programs. The proposed budget cuts target not only items Pruitt may think of as electives, but also basic bread-and-butter functions. For example, he proposed to strip $330 million from the $1.1 billion Superfund program and cut funding for the Justice Department to enforce cases.

And, in a clear contradiction of his testimony that he would work more cooperatively and effectively with state environmental protection agencies, he proposed to cut the grants that EPA gives to states for enforcement by 20 percent.

We are already starting to see the results of this effort to hollow EPA out from within. Experienced and talented career staff are leaving the agency in droves. The Chicago EPA office, for example, has already lost 61 employees “who account for more than 1,000 years of experience and represent nearly 6 percent of the EPA’s Region 5 staff, which coordinates the agency’s work in six states around the Great Lakes.” This means, among other things, a smaller number of inspectors and likely an increased number of businesses operating out of compliance with clean air and water laws.

With less staff and fewer experienced staff members, it is no surprise that EPA has seen a roughly 60 percent reduction in the penalties it has collected for environmental violations compared with the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations at comparable stages in their respective terms. And while the Obama administration cleaned up and de-listed 60 hazardous waste sites and added 142 sites over eight years, so far the EPA, under Mr. Pruitt, is far off that pace, deleting just two sites and adding only seven.

Perhaps most troubling, civil servants have been deeply demoralized by the combination of proposed cuts and constant statements by the president and Administrator Pruitt denigrating the agency as a job killer, which it is not. As one staffer said in a recent publication entitled EPA under Siege “I think there’s a general consensus among the career people that, at bottom, they’re basically trying to destroy the place.”

Said another: “Quite honestly, the core values of this administration are so divergent from my own, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity [for retirement]….I found it difficult to work for an agency with someone who is so disrespectful of what we do and why we do it.”

Members of Congress should question Mr. Pruitt about his “back to basics” promise. They should ask why he advocated for such deep budget cuts, layoffs, and buyouts, and demand that he explain with specificity how the agency can possibly do better with such drastically reduced resources. Congress should also require Mr. Pruitt to provide clear, apples-to-apples comparisons of the record of environmental enforcement during his tenure with that of his predecessors, as measured by inspections, notices of violation, corrective actions, fines and litigation.

Administrator Pruitt’s “Law and Order” charade

Administrator Pruitt put forth a second narrative during his confirmation hearing. He promised  to restore “law and order” to EPA, claiming that the EPA had strayed beyond its statutory authority during President Obama’s tenure.

The record tells a very different story. In less than a year, Mr. Pruitt’s actions have repeatedly been found by courts to be “unlawful,” “arbitrary,” and “capricious.”

One example is particularly instructive. At the end of the Obama administration, the EPA issued a final rule requiring operators of new oil and gas wells to install controls to capture methane, a highly potent contributor to global warming. The rule was set to go into effect in early 2017. Administrator Pruitt unilaterally put the rule on hold for two years to allow EPA to conduct a sweeping reconsideration. This, the court found, was blatantly illegal, because it attempted to change the compliance date of a rule without going through the necessary rulemaking process.

Unfortunately, this tactic has become a pattern, as Mr. Pruitt has sought to put on hold many other regulations he doesn’t care for, including rules intended to reduce asthma-causing ozone pollutiontoxic mercury contamination in water supplies, and a requirement that state transportation departments monitor greenhouse gas emission levels on national highways and set targets for reducing them. Environmental nonprofit organizations and state attorneys general have had to sue, or threaten to sue, to stop this illegal behavior.

The EPA’s lawlessness is not confined to official acts, but also concerns the administrator personally. In an obvious conflict of interest, Mr. Pruitt played a leading role in the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. Yet, just a few months before taking over at the EPA, Mr. Pruitt had led the legal fight against the rule as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

In effect, he played the role of advocate, then judge and jury, and ultimately executioner, all in a matter of a few months.

In addition, Administrator Pruitt is under investigation for misusing taxpayer dollars for $58,000 worth of private chartered flights, and has wasted $25,000 of taxpayer money to build himself a secret phone booth in his office.

Congress needs to ask Mr. Pruitt how he can be said to have restored respect for the law at the EPA, when the EPA (and perhaps Administrator Pruitt personally) have been flouting it. They need to ask him about what role he played in the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and how he can square his conflicting loyalties to the state of Oklahoma (which he represented as an attorney) and to the American people (who he is supposed to represent as head of the EPA). Congress should also investigate his personal use of taxpayer funds and his penchant for cutting corners on legally mandated processes.

An “Alice in Wonderland” approach to science

The EPA’s five decades of success rest on its longstanding commitment to the best available science, and to its well-trained professional scientists who deploy that science. Administrator Pruitt has taken a wrecking ball to this scientific foundation.

First, he ignores staff scientists when their conclusions do not support his deregulation agenda. On the crucial scientific question of our time—climate change and what is causing it—Mr. Pruitt says he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary cause. Of course, this statement runs directly counter to the conclusions of EPA scientists (as well as those of the recently issued US Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report). And, in one of his first policy decisions, Administrator Pruitt overturned EPA scientists’ recommendation to ban a pesticide (chlorpyrifos) that presents a clear health risk to farmers, children, and rural families.

But Mr. Pruitt is not only ignoring staff scientists, he is also sidelining and suppressing advice from highly credentialed and respected scientists who advise the EPA. Last summer, he sacked most of the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors, a committee of leading scientific experts that advises the EPA about newly emerging environmental threats and the best use of federal research dollars. And he has used this as an excuse to suspend the board’s work indefinitely.

More recently, he issued a new policy which states that a key outside Science Advisory Board will no longer include academic scientists who have received EPA grants in the past, under the purported theory that the grants render them less objective. Yet, Administrator Pruitt will fill these posts with industry scientists who are paid exclusively by industry, and with scientists who work for state governments that receive grants from the EPA. This new policy has enabled Mr. Pruitt to fill these boards with scientists who are clearly aligned with industry, scientists such as Michael Honeycutt, who has railed against EPA limits on soot and even testified before Congress that “some studies even suggest PM [particulate matter] makes you live longer.”

Administrator Pruitt’s attack on science also includes the EPA deleting vital information from agency websites. For example, the EPA has deleted key information about the Clean Power Plan, even though the agency is in the middle of a public comment process on whether to repeal that rule, and what to replace it with. The EPA has also eliminated information on the “social cost of carbon” and the record of its finding that the emission of greenhouse gases endangers public health.

These deletions seem designed to make it more difficult for the scientific community, and members of the public, to access the scientific information that stands in the way of Mr. Pruitt’s agenda.

Congress needs to probe deeply on these multiple ways that Administrator Pruitt has diminished the role of science at EPA. Representatives and senators should make him explain why he thinks he knows more about climate science and the harms of pesticides than his scientists do. They should demand that he explain why it is a conflict of interest for academic scientists who receive EPA grants to advise the EPA, but not for state and tribal scientists who receive these grants, or industry-paid scientists. And Congress must find out why so much valuable information about climate science, the social cost of carbon, and other matters have vanished from EPA websites.

Making the world safe for polluters

In December 2015, more than 190 countries, including the United States, approved an agreement in Paris to finally tackle the greatest challenge of our time—runaway climate change. Donald Trump pledged to pull the United States out of this agreement when he ran for office, but for six months into his term, he did not act on the pledge, and there was an internal debate within his administration.

Mr. Pruitt led the charge for the US withdrawal from that agreement. He has followed up on this by going after almost every single rule the Obama administration had put in place to cut global warming emissions. This includes the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the “re-opening” of the current fuel economy standards that are now on target to roughly double cars’ fuel efficiency by 2025, the repeal of data gathering on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, and tampering with how the EPA calculates the costs of carbon pollution, among many other actions.

But Administrator Pruitt’s rollback of safeguards is not limited to climate-related rules; it also includes cutting or undermining provisions that protect us all from more conventional pollutants. He has started the process of rescinding rules that limit power plants from discharging toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead into public waterways; regulate the disposal of coal ash in waste pits near waterways; and improve safety at facilities housing dangerous chemicals.

The breadth and ferocity of these rollbacks is unprecedented. Congress needs to push back hard. For starters, representatives and senators need to demand that Mr. Pruitt explain how it fits within his job duties to lobby the president against one of the most important environmental protection agreements ever reached. Similarly, they need to highlight the impacts on human health and the environment from all of the rollbacks that Administrator Pruitt has initiated, and force him to explain how the EPA can be advancing its mission by lowering environmental standards.

Congressional oversight is needed now more than ever

Many aspects of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure are truly unprecedented. However, he’s not the first EPA administrator to display fundamental disrespect for the agency’s mission. As one legal scholar has noted, during the Reagan administration there were “pervasive” congressional concerns that former Administrator Anne Gorsuch and other political appointees at the agency “were entering into ‘sweetheart deals’ with industry, manipulating programs for partisan political ends, and crippling the agency through requests for budget reductions.”

Congressional oversight back then was potent: among other things, Congress demanded that the EPA hand over documents about the apparently lax enforcement of the Superfund law requiring cleanups of hazardous waste sites. When the EPA head refused to comply with those demands, Congress held Administrator Gorsuch in contempt. Senators, including Republicans such as Robert Stafford and Lincoln Chaffee, publicly voiced their alarm. Eventually, President Reagan decided Ms. Gorsuch was a liability, and he replaced her with William Ruckelshaus, EPA’s first administrator under President Nixon, and a well-respected moderate who stabilized the agency.

These oversight efforts were “the decisive factor in causing Ms. Gorsuch, as well as most of the other political appointees at the agency, to resign.”

It may be too much to expect that the current, polarized Congress will exhibit the same level of tough, bipartisan oversight it did in the Reagan era. Yet, bipartisan support for vigorous environmental protection remains strong today and some Republican leaders have already called upon Administrator Pruitt to step down. It is high time for Congress to do what it can to ensure that Mr. Pruitt’s EPA does not continue to put the interests of a few industries ahead of the clean air, water, and lands that the agency is mandated to protect.

The EPA Knows Glider Trucks Are Dangerously Dirty: It’s Time to Keep Them Off the Road

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards. Photo: Jeremy Rempel. CC-BY-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

Today, I am speaking at a public hearing at EPA to push back on the agency reopening a “zombie truck” loophole. I wrote about the political motivations behind the attack on public health previously, but we now have even more information about exactly how dirty these trucks are from an interesting source: the EPA itself.

A reminder about what is at stake

Glider vehicles are brand new trucks that are powered by a re-manufactured engine.  While they look like every other new truck on the outside, on the inside they have engines which were manufactured under weaker pollution standards than other new trucks. Because they are resurrecting these older, more highly polluting engines from the dead, they are sometimes referred to as “zombie trucks.”

While initially glider trucks were used to replace vehicles whose bodies had been damaged, more recently a cottage industry has sprung up selling about 20 times more trucks than historic levels solely to bypass pollution restrictions.

In the “Phase II” heavy-duty vehicle regulations, the EPA closed the loophole that allowed these awful pollution spewers to be manufactured in the first place. However, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has proposed repealing this action, reopening the loophole primarily to benefit a company with political ties.

Dirty science for dirty trucks

In support of this repeal, Fitzgerald Trucks (the manufacturer requesting the loophole be reopened) submitted the results of a slapdash series of tests it claimed were from independent researchers.  However, the tests were paid for by Fitzgerald and conducted using Fitzgerald’s equipment in Fitzgerald’s facilities.  The results of the tests were incomplete and indicated that the work was sub-standard. However, we didn’t know just how unscientific the research was until EPA technical staff posted a memo detailing a meeting with the researchers.  Here are just a few of the absurd shortcomings in the tests:

  • Researchers did not use industry standard test procedure, so any numerical results could not be directly compared with regulatory requirements or literally any other research in the technical literature.
  • Researchers did not actually take samples of soot during testing, despite the fact that this is not just carcinogenic but one of the specific pollutants at issue with these engines which causes such detrimental health impacts.  Instead, they “visibly inspected” the test probe. Yes, you read that right–they just looked at it to see if it was dirty.
  • Researchers did not test under any “cold start” conditions. Like when you first turn on your car, this is when the engine emits elevated levels of pollution, which is why it is a standard part of regulatory tests for both cars and trucks.

Believe me when I tell you that I could not get my doctorate if my lab work were of that low quality.

Ignoring the EPA’s own technical data

While pointing to the subpar Fitzgerald / Tennessee Tech data, the EPA was actually aware of much higher quality data being done at its own facilities.  Instead of waiting for these tests to be completed, the politicos at EPA moved forward with the proposed repeal anyway.

Well, the results from those tests are in, and they are at least as bad as the EPA’s technical staff feared.  In fact, it may be even worse:

  • According to the test results, it appears that these engines actually exceed the legal limits they were initially designed for.  This means that the “special programming” of the engine Fitzgerald claims to do to the engines may result in greater fuel economy, but it means greater pollution, too.
  • The soot exhausted by these engines is so large that it caused a fault in the EPA’s equipment, after which the EPA had to adjust the throughput.  A good comparison to this is like when you have your volume adjusted for a TV program you like and then suddenly a really loud commercial comes on…except now imagine that commercial just blew out your speakers.

  • The two collectors on the left of this image are what happened when they first tried to collect the pollution from these vehicles; the two collectors on the right are what it looked like before the test.  Now imagine what that experience must be like for the lungs of a child with asthma.

The EPA had already projected that every year of production of glider vehicles at today’s levels would result in as many as 1600 premature deaths–this new data suggests that number could be even higher.

The science is clear, so closing this loophole should be the easy thing to do.

I am speaking today at the hearing against because I want to make sure EPA listens to its own scientists and closes this loophole, to abide by its mission statement and protect human health and the environment.  And today I will be among a chorus of dedicated citizens reminding the agency of its mission.

EPA

Vehicle Fuel Economy Standards—Under Fire?

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert, US Air Force

Last year, transportation became the sector with the largest CO2 emissions in the United States. While the electricity industry has experienced a decline in CO2 emissions since 2008 because of a shift from coal to natural gas and renewables, an equivalent turnaround has not yet occurred in transportation. Reducing emissions in this sector is critical to avoiding the effects of extreme climate change, and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions standards are an important mechanism to do so.

The most recent vehicle standards, which were issued in 2012, are currently undergoing a review. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is initiating a rulemaking process to set fuel economy standards for vehicle model years 2022-2025. At the same time, DOT is also taking comments on its entire policy roster to evaluate their continued necessity (including the CAFE standards).

A number of criticisms have been raised about fuel efficiency standards, some of which are based more in confusion and misinformation than fact. An intelligent debate about the policy depends on separating false criticisms from those that are uncertain and those that are justified.

In fact, as new research I did with Meredith Fowlie of UC Berkeley and Steven Skerlos of University of Michigan shows, the costs of the standards could actually be significantly lower than other policy analyses have found.

Costs and benefits of the regulations

What my co-authors and I have found is that automakers can respond to the standards in ways that lower the costs and increase the benefits.

Many policy analyses do not account for the tradeoffs that automakers can make between fuel economy and other aspects of vehicle performance, particularly acceleration. We studied the role that these tradeoffs play in automaker responses to the regulations and found that, once they are considered, the costs to consumers and producers were about 40% lower, and reductions in fuel use and GHG emissions were many times higher.

The study finds that the fact that automakers can tradeoff fuel economy and acceleration makes both consumers and producers better off. A large percentage of consumers care more about paying relatively lower prices for vehicles than having faster acceleration. Selling relatively cheaper, more fuel-efficient vehicles with slightly lower acceleration rates to those consumers allows manufacturers to meet the standards with significantly lower profit losses. Consumers that are willing to pay for better acceleration can still buy fast cars.

Debunking some common criticisms

One common criticism is that the regulations mandate fuel economy levels that far exceed any vehicles today. This misconception stems from the frequently quoted figure when the regulations were first issued that they would require 54.5 mpg by 2025. But, the regulations do not actually mandate any fixed level of fuel economy in any year. The fuel-economy standards depend on the types of vehicles that are produced each year. If demand for large vehicles is up, the standards become more lenient; if more small vehicles are sold, they become more strict. The 54.5 mpg number was originally estimated by EPA and DOT in 2012 when gas prices were high. EPA has since revised it to 51.4 mpg to reflect lower gas prices and higher sales of large vehicles. Taking into account flexibilities provided in the regulations and the fact that this number is based on EPA’s lab tests, which yield higher fuel economy than drivers experience on the road, the average target for 2025 is equivalent to approximately 36 mpg on the road. Fueleconomy.gov lists 20 different vehicle models that get at least this fuel economy today.

Another common but unjustified criticism of the standards is that they push consumers into small vehicles. The regulations were specifically designed to reduce any incentive for automakers to make vehicles smaller. The standards are set on a sliding scale of targets for fuel economy and GHG emissions that depend on the sizes of the vehicles. As a result, an automaker that sells larger vehicles has less stringent fuel economy and emissions targets than one that sells smaller vehicles. Research has shown that the policy likely creates an incentive for automakers to produce bigger vehicles, not smaller.

Two easy ways to strengthen the fuel economy standards

There are, of course, advantages and drawbacks to any policy, including today’s vehicle standards, which focus entirely on improving the efficiency of new vehicles.  Fortunately, there are improvements that can be made to the CAFE and GHG regulations to increase their effectiveness and lower costs.

The first is ensuring that automakers that violate the standards pay very high penalties. Companies who cheat steal market share from those that follow the standards, effectively raising the regulatory costs for the automakers that are playing fair.

The second improvement involves the way automakers are able to trade “credits” with each other.  These credits were created to equalize regulatory costs across companies. So, if one automaker finds it relatively easy to reduce emissions, it can reduce more than its share and sell credits to another automaker having trouble reducing emissions. This trading is currently negotiated individually by each pair of automakers, which raises the costs of the transaction. Creating a transparent market to trade these credits would help to achieve the target emission reductions at lower costs.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), which implements the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, is currently soliciting comments on regulations “that are good candidates for repeal, replacement, suspension, or modification.” The comment period ends December 1.

 

Dr. Kate Whitefoot is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She is a member of the NextManufacturing Center for additive manufacturing research and a Faculty Affiliate at the Carnegie Mellon Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. Professor Whitefoot’s research bridges engineering design theory and analysis with that of economics to inform the design and manufacture of products and processes for improved adoption in the marketplace. Her research interests include sustainable transportation and manufacturing systems, the influence of innovation and technology policies on engineering design and production, product lifecycle systems optimization, and automation with human-machine teaming. Prior to her current position, she served as a Senior Program Officer and the Robert A. Pritzker fellow at the National Academy of Engineering where she directed the Academy’s Manufacturing, Design, and Innovation program.

 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

More Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Coming to Massachusetts

Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities today approved a proposed $45 million investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The investments in electric vehicle infrastructure come as part of a complicated rate case that involves a number of important issues related to rate design, energy efficiency and solar energy. But at least on the electric vehicle part, the utilities and the DPU got it right.

Why do we need more investments in electric vehicle infrastructure?

Electric vehicles are a critical part of Massachusetts’ climate and transportation future. Under Massachusetts’ signature climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state is legally required to reduce our emissions of global warming pollution by 80 percent by 2050.

Transportation is the largest source of pollution in Massachusetts, and it’s the one area of our economy where emissions have actually grown since 1990. Achieving our climate limits will require the near-complete transition of our vehicle fleet to electric vehicles or other zero-emission vehicle technologies.

The good news is electric vehicles are here, they are fun to drive and cheap to charge, and when plugged in to the relatively clean New England grid, they get the emissions equivalent of a 100 mpg conventional vehicle. EV drivers in the Boston area can save over $500 per year in reduced fuel costs. Electric vehicle technology has advanced to the point where mainstream automakers and countries like China and France are now openly talking about the end of internal combustion engine.

But while the future for EVs is bright, electric vehicles are still a very small share of the overall vehicle fleet. Nationally, EVs represent less than half of one percent of new vehicle sales. In 2012, Massachusetts committed to a goal of putting 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025. Five years later, we are still about 288,000 EV sales short of that goal.

What investments are coming?

One of the biggest challenges facing the growth of electric vehicles is limited infrastructure. People are not going to buy an EV if they don’t know where to plug it in. A survey of Northeast residents conducted last year found that limited access to charging infrastructure is one of the biggest obstacles to EV purchases.

We have had over a hundred years – and billions in public subsidies – to build the infrastructure of refineries, pipelines, and gas stations that service the internal combustion engine. New investments in charging infrastructure are critical to making EVs as convenient as filling up at a gas station.

Today’s decision will speed the transition to electric vehicles by making investments in charging infrastructure. These investments include more funding for infrastructure for people who live in apartment buildings, more fast charging infrastructure along highways, and increasing charging infrastructure in low income communities, and greater access to workplace charging.

Overall, the proposal anticipates the construction of 72 fast-charging stations and 3,955 “Level-2” home and workplace charging ports over the next 5 years. Of those charging ports 10 percent will be in low income communities, where utilities will also provide consumers with a rebate for charging stations. These investments will provide thousands of Massachusetts residents with access to EV charging stations.

The DPU did deny Eversource the right to use ratepayer funds for education and outreach. This is unfortunate, as our survey also found that most Northeast residents are not aware of the many incentives available for EV customers, both here in the Northeast and at the federal level.

What more needs to be done?

One big question that is left out of the decision today: how do we best manage EV charging to maximize the potential benefits to the electric grid.

The key issue is when does EV charging take place? If most people charge their EVs at night, or during times of high production of renewable electricity, then the transition to electric vehicles can make our electric system more efficient and speed the transition to renewables. This will mean significant cost savings.

On the other hand, if EV charging mostly happens during “peak” hours (such as morning and early evening), then adding more EVs onto the grid could strain existing electricity infrastructure and require additional investments in pipelines and power plants. This would both raise emissions and cost ratepayers money.

There’s a simple way to address this issue: provide a financial incentive for EV drivers to charge their vehicles during periods of low demand, a policy known as Time of Use Rates. The DPU decision today punts this issue, accepting the utility position that it will take time and additional data to determine how to best implement TOU rates. While we agree with the DPU that the most important priority is to get the charging infrastructure installed, this is an issue that we and others in the clean transportation community will be watching closely over the next few years.

Photo: Steve Fecht/General Motors

How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car in Your City?

Everyone can see what gasoline costs, but how much does electricity cost for recharging an electric car? Photo: Tewy CC BY 2.5 Wikimedia)

Most drivers know how much it costs to fill the tank with gasoline. It’s hard to miss the glowing numbers at the corner station.  But how much does it cost to recharge an electric car? And how much money do EVs  save drivers compared to gasoline-powered cars? To help answer these questions, our new report, “Going From Pump to Plug,” looks at the price of recharging an EV at home in the fifty largest cities in the US, as well at public charging stations.

Charging an EV at home can be much cheaper than gasoline

After comparing the findings for large cities across the US, the answer is clear: for every electricity provider we looked at, charging an EV is cheaper than refueling the average new gasoline vehicle.

Compared to using the average new gasoline car, driving on electricity would save on average almost $800 per year in fuel costs.

Find EV savings in your city:

<a href=’http:&#47;&#47;www.ucsusa.org&#47;ev-savings’><img alt=’Dashboard 1 ‘ src=’https:&#47;&#47;public.tableau.com&#47;static&#47;images&#47;NP&#47;NP3R36XGZ&#47;1_rss.png’ style=’border: none’ /></a>

var divElement = document.getElementById('viz1511877245282'); var vizElement = divElement.getElementsByTagName('object')[0]; if ( divElement.offsetWidth > 800 ) { vizElement.style.width='812px';vizElement.style.height='527px';} else if ( divElement.offsetWidth > 500 ) { vizElement.style.width='812px';vizElement.style.height='527px';} else { vizElement.style.width='100%';vizElement.style.height=(divElement.offsetWidth*1.77)+'px';} var scriptElement = document.createElement('script'); scriptElement.src = 'https://public.tableau.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js'; vizElement.parentNode.insertBefore(scriptElement, vizElement);

However, where you live and what electric rate plan you choose can change your savings. For almost all EV drivers, choosing a time-of-use (TOU) electric rate plan is needed to see the largest savings.

A TOU plan gives cheaper electric rates during off-peak periods (often late at night), with higher rates for using electricity during high-demand times. Because most EVs are parked at home overnight, TOU rates are a good fit for most EV drivers.

In some cities, especially in California, TOU rates are essential for saving money on fuel costs. For example, in my home in Oakland, CA, recharging using the standard electricity plan is equal to buying gasoline at $3.34/gallon, while using the TOU plan only costs the equivalent of $1.03/gallon.

Public EV charging costs are variable

Costs to charge at public charging stations varies considerably. Some stations are free, while others can cost over twice as much as home charging. However, the impact of public charger costs is often muted by the high preponderance of home charging.  For example, a San Francisco driver that uses higher-cost DC fast charging for 20 percent of charging would only see their average fuel costs increase from $0.78/gallon equivalent to $1.35/gallon.

Savings on maintenance, too

Drivers of battery electric vehicles also can have significantly lower maintenance costs. These EVs have no engine, so no oil changes, spark plugs, or engine air filter to change. Instead, the electric motors and batteries require little to no attention. This means less time and money spent on routine car maintenance. Comparing the Chevy Bolt EV to the Chevy Sonic gasoline car, the Bolt owner will spend over $1,500 less on scheduled maintenance over the first 150,000 miles.

Policies needed to ensure all can access these EV benefits

Electric vehicles can save drivers on fuel and maintenance costs, at the same time they help reduce global warming emissions and air pollution. However, good policies are needed to make sure that all can access the benefits of EVs.

  • Buyers need to be able to afford EVs. Currently, EVs cost more to manufacture compared to similar-sized gasoline cars. These manufacturing costs are coming down as EV production volumes increase and technology advances, but federal, state, and local purchase incentives are vital to accelerate the transition from gasoline to electricity.
  • Policies are needed to ensure that everyone can recharge an EV at a price lower than gasoline cost. Regulators and electricity providers should ensure that EV customers can access lower-cost electricity rate plans, which are key to making EVs a reliable and affordable alternative to gasoline vehicles. Solutions are needed for those who cannot charge at home and those that must drive long distances. Therefore, access is essential to reliable and affordable public charging, especially fast-charging stations. Also, public policies that improve charging options at apartments and multi-unit dwellings will broaden the base of drivers who can choose an EV.
  • Public policies should require manufacturers to produce higher volumes of EVs and encourage a greater diversity of electric-drive models and sizes. There are many more models of EVs available now as compared to just a few years ago, but there is still a lack of some types of vehicles with electric such as pickup trucks. Also, not all manufacturers offer EVs nationwide, making it more difficult for buyers to find and test drive an EV.

Policies like these can help ensure that everyone has access to EVs and can make personal transportation choices that both save them money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Will Automakers Walk the Talk on EVs? Four Things to Look for at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show

Chevy Bolt featured in the 2016 LA Autoshow. Photo: Dave Reichmuth

I’ll be attending this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show to check out the latest and greatest in vehicle technology. While the flashy presentations of the automakers will certainly grab attention, here are four things that I’ll really be paying attention to:

Are there more electric vehicle (EV) options?

The future of transportation is electric drive, but we are a long way from replacing all gasoline and diesel cars with EVs (both plug-in and fuel cell EVs). One barrier in the way of transitioning to electric cars is the availability of EV models. In California, EV sales have been increasing over the last few years, with plug-in sales reaching 4.5 percent of all cars and trucks sold in the state this year. This is a great start, but we’ll have to go a lot further to meet our air quality and climate pollution reduction goals. To get to higher levels of EV sales, we’ll need to start seeing more EV models and a larger selection of sizes and styles available. So, I’ll be looking for what new options are coming, especially in the larger-size vehicle segments like SUVs.

Will automakers showcase the available technologies powering cleaner, more efficient cars?

While the future is electric, many of the cars sold over the next 5 to 10 years will have a combustion engine. Making those conventionally-powered cars and trucks as clean as possible will be important to reduce air pollution and climate-changing emissions. The good news is that the technology needed to meet clean car standards is available and starting to be used by many automakers. This means I’ll expect to see more efficient engines like smaller, turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines replacing larger and thirstier naturally-aspirated engines.

Last year, Nissan showed off an innovative variable compression engine that promises both higher power and better efficiency, but hadn’t released a vehicle using it. Will this year see this engine go into production?

Many automakers are talking EVs. Who’s actually following through?

When I visited the show last year, I heard from automakers detailing plans to electrify their cars and saw a number of new EVs promised for 2017. But how much was talk and who actually followed through? Some companies did bring out successful EVs. A year ago, the Chevy Bolt EV was about to go on sale and just last month it became the sales leader for EVs. Toyota’s Prius Prime was also new to the market last November and is now a top-selling EV. On the other hand, cars like Hyundai’s Ioniq EV had an impressive press showing, but since then has been virtually nonexistent in the US market, with less than 400 sales this year to date.

In California, the division between EV market leaders and laggards is stark: For the first 9 months of 2017, 11 percent of BMW-branded vehicles were plug-ins and Chevrolet had over 14 percent plug-in sales! Over the same period, Honda had less than 0.3 percent electric drive sales, Hyundai sold just over 1 percent EVs, and Subaru sold more than 55,000 cars in the state without a single plug-in option available.

Both the Chevy Bolt EV (left) and Hyundai Ioniq BEV (right) were featured at last year’s LA Auto Show. However, General Motors has sold over 17,000 Bolts in 2017 so far compared to less than 400 sales for Hyundai’s Ioniq. 

There were also several concept and prototype EVs at the show during the last couple of years. Will any of them show up this year as production models? Our research into the EV market last year showed that there a number of automakers that are lagging their peers in making EVs available, despite claims of progress. Our report shows that even though most companies now offer electric vehicles, many are not truly available (especially outside California). The first step in catching up is to start making EVs in volume and marketing them like they do their gasoline cars.

What models are emphasized by the manufacturers?

The LA Auto Show starts with a preview for media, with press conferences and displays of the automakers’ latest offerings. Then, after the press and auto industry executives are gone, the show opens to the public, becoming a showroom for virtually every car, truck, and SUV on the market in the US.

It’s interesting to see what models the manufacturers emphasize for each audience. For example, in 2015, Audi featured a prototype of a full-size all-electric SUV on its stage for the press days, but it was gone by the public days. Last year, Nissan didn’t even show its electric car, the LEAF on the press days. Other brands, like Chevrolet and BMW grouped their electric offerings and called attention to them for both the press and public days.

This inconsistent effort by some manufacturers at an auto show is indicative of the larger struggle playing out within the major automakers. On one hand, the car companies acknowledge that EVs are the future of transportation and will be needed to meet global emissions and EV standards being set by countries around the globe. However, they also have decades of expertise in designing and making gasoline-powered cars and trucks. This provides a powerful incentive to resist the inevitable switch from oil to electricity as the primary fuel for our personal vehicles. That’s why it’s important that we have regulations and incentives in place that both ensure that gasoline vehicles are as clean as possible while also pushing the automakers to move as quickly as possible away from combustion altogether.

 

 

 

Hey Congress! Here’s Why You Can’t Scrap The Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

The fate of the federal tax credit for electric vehicles hangs in the balance. The House version of the GOP-led tax plan removes it entirely while the Senate version (as of Friday, November 17th) keeps it on the books. As lawmakers work to combine the House-passed bill with the Senate version, let’s examine why the EV tax credit shouldn’t be eliminated.

What is the federal tax credit for electric vehicles?

Section 30d of the tax code gives electric vehicle buyers up to $7,500 off their tax bill – or allows leasing companies to receive the credit and lease EVs for lower rates.

The credit is scheduled to phase out for each automaker that surpasses 200,000 EV sales. Some of the early entrants to the EV scene, like Tesla, General Motors and Nissan, are forecast to hit the 200,000 limit in 2018, while others, like BMW, Volkswagen, and Ford, are relying on the federal tax credit to offset the price of EVs that are set to hit dealerships in the next couple years.

What has America gotten for investing in EVs?

The EV tax credit has stimulated a market for vehicles that are cheaper to drive, pollute half as much, and offer a simply better driving experience compared to gas-powered vehicles. If you think that automakers would have produced EVs without the prompting of state and federal policy, may I remind you that automakers fought tooth and nail against seatbelts and air bags, improving fuel efficiency, and pretty much every other vehicle-related regulation that has ultimately benefitted public health and safety. Consumers deserve the opportunity to choose clean vehicles, and the federal tax credit has made that choice easier to make by offsetting the upfront cost of EVs that is often higher than comparable gas vehicles.

The tax credit has also spurred domestic automakers to get in on the EV game. American companies like General Motors and Tesla sell EVs in all 50 states, and are competing with foreign auto giants to become the global leader in EV sales. At a time when EV demand is poised to skyrocket in other countries, eliminating the federal credit will hamper domestic automaker efforts to both sell EVs on their own turf and maintain their global competitiveness.

Federal support for EVs won’t be needed forever

As I’ve previously discussed, the federal tax credit is the most important federal policy supporting the EV market, but won’t be needed forever. Battery costs are forecast to continue their decline, with some projections showing EVs becoming price competitive with gasoline-fueled vehicles in the mid-2020’s. By making EVs cost competitive today, the federal tax credit has helped EVs gain a fingerhold in a market monopolized by gasoline-powered vehicles that have had over a century to mature. Removing the credit now is premature, and will cause EV sales to suffer at a time when the market is just beginning to gain traction.

What will happen to the EV market without the credit?

Even if the federal tax credit is eliminated, the California Zero Emission Vehicle Program will still require automakers to sell EVs in California and the 9 other states that adopted the ZEV program. This program will require EV sales in states that comprised about a quarter of the U.S. vehicle market, so EVs will certainly remain available for sale. Other state support for EVs, like a $5,000 tax rebate in Colorado, will survive too. For state-level EV incentives in your area, check out this handy guide. EVs will also remain cheaper to drive, and a smart choice for millions of Americans who have a strong demand for the technology. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that one of the primary hurdles to more EV adoption is their price (along with access to charging in multi-unit dwellings and the lack of a cheap EV SUV (see Tesla Model Y). So taking away a policy that directly addresses this barrier will make it harder to own an EV, and it will hurt sales. Georgia removed a state tax credit for electric vehicles, and sales dropped an estimated 90% in the following months. I’m not expecting as dramatic as a drop if the federal credit is removed, but EV sales will drop because they will become more expensive and automakers will have less incentive to making them available in the U.S.

So, join UCS in telling Congress that you deserve more clean vehicle options, and that the EV tax credit is a key federal policy that makes it easier to own an EV. Also keep an eye on the UCS website for additional ways you can get involved, and if you are considering an EV, getting one now might be a good option if you are looking to save at least $7,500 of its sticker price.

Tesla, Electric Semi-Trucks and Equity

A truck believed to be Tesla's was spotted last month.

Today is the unveiling of Tesla’s electric semi-truck. There’s been a lot of interest in this truck since it was referenced last summer in Tesla’s master plan. As sales indicate, Tesla makes sought-after electric cars and the potential for the company to replicate this success in the heavy-duty sector is an exciting prospect for clean air and climate change.

While Tesla isn’t the first company to unveil an electric big rig, its likely the first one many people have heard about. Electric truck technology – spanning delivery trucks, garbage trucks, transit buses, school buses, and semi-trucks – exists and is ready to be deployed. The more people that know about these vehicles, the better for our climate and air quality.

As the unveiling nears, excitement about Tesla’s truck has been tempered by news about the company’s labor conditions and accusations of discrimination at the company. While zero-emission trucks are critically important, so are safe and equitable workplaces. Fair work conditions go hand-in-hand with the long-term success of any business.

My hope is that Tesla becomes recognized for the quality of its workplace as much as the quality of its vehicles. I personally believe this is possible.

Job agreements, like the one made between Jobs to Move America and the electric vehicle maker BYD, are one example of how companies can do good for their employees and communities. The Greenlining Institute found that with the right job-training and hiring efforts, truck and bus electrification can be a catalyst for economic opportunity in underserved communities and help overcome racial inequities in wealth and employment.

So why are heavy-duty electric vehicles important in the first place?

Trucks and buses make up a small fraction of vehicle population, but a large fraction of vehicle emissions. In California, for example, heavy-duty vehicles, make up 7 percent of vehicles, but 33 percent of NOx emissions from all sources, 20 percent of global warming emissions from the transportation sector, and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants, see here.

Note, heavy-duty vehicles are defined here as having gross vehicle weight ratings greater than 8,500 lbs, e.g., a small moving truck.

Electric trucks, whether manufactured by Tesla or anyone else, are essential to solving climate change and reducing air pollution. On California’s grid today, a heavy-duty electric vehicle with middle-of-the-road efficiency has 70 percent lower life cycle global warming emissions than a comparable diesel and natural gas vehicle. Electric vehicles also don’t have any tailpipe emissions of NOx, particulate matter, or other pollutants. What this means for communities, especially those near freight corridors, is lower risks from the harmful consequences of dirty air.

What about the performance of electric trucks?

We’ve already seen how Toyota’s fuel cell electric truck stacks up against a diesel truck in terms of acceleration. High torque (i.e., ability to move from a standstill) of electric motors compared to combustion engines is something all electric vehicles excel at.

Given the class leading acceleration and battery range of Tesla’s cars, we can expect similar high performance from its electric truck. Other manufacturers are operating or have unveiled battery and fuel cell semi-trucks with ranges of 100 miles (BYD, Cummins) to 200 miles (Fuso, Toyota, US Hybrid). If reports are true, Tesla’s semi-truck could travel 200 to 300 miles on a single charge.

Zero-emission trucks offered or in development from BYD, Cummins, Toyota, and Daimler (Mitsubishi Fuso).

Despite the image of long-haul, “over-the-road” trucking, 100 to 200 miles of range can meet the needs of many heavy-duty trucks with local and regional operations. A range of 300 miles would be the longest by 80 miles and put to rest any hesitations about range for many local/regional (“day cab”) applications.

In California, there are 20,000 semi-trucks serving ports in the state. So-called “drayage” trucks deliver cargo to and from ports and warehouses in the region and are excellent candidates for electric trucks with today’s range. Conversion of these trucks alone to zero-emission vehicles would have significant air quality benefits for communities near ports and warehouses.

Cross-country trucking is a bigger challenge for electric trucks, but success in local operations is the first step to proving the functionality and economics of moving freight over longer distances with zero-emission vehicles. Tom Randall at Bloomberg shows scenarios under which Tesla’s truck could make economic sense for day cab or over-the-road applications.

In all, the momentum we’re seeing across the industry for zero-emission trucks is incredibly exciting. And just as we hold manufacturers and policy makers accountable for clean air, we must do the same for good jobs.

Reddit Clockwise: BYD, Cummins, Toyota, Daimler

Seven States Take Big Next Step on Climate: Here’s the What, Why, and How

On Monday, November 13,  a bi-partisan group of seven states  (NY, MD, MA, CT,  RI, DE and VT), and the District of Columbia announced that they will seek public input on how to craft a regional solution to greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the region. An announcement to conduct listening sessions may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Here’s why:

First, this region has been successful at reducing emissions from the electric sector, but transportation is lagging behind, as this graph shows:

Source: Energy Information Administration Data

All of these states have committed to economy-wide goals that will be impossible to reach without ambitious policies to reduce pollution from transportation. Monday’s statement demonstrates that policy leaders understand that transportation is the next major frontier in the fight against global warming in the Northeast.

Second, a public conversation is necessary. For several years, these states have talked internally through their departments of energy, environment, and transportation, about how to cut transportation emissions. When I served as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, I was part of those conversations, and they have yielded a number of promising ideas.

But policies that are truly worthy and lasting can’t be hatched in isolation from the public. Public engagement is needed to get the best ideas out on the table, test assumptions, gauge political support, and persuade the skeptical. The states’ announcement shows that the states are serious, and that they are going about this in the right way.

Third, once the states announce a goal (as they have done here), and encourage the public to provide input to it, they create the expectation that action will follow: doing nothing becomes a much harder option. Once these listening sessions begin region wide, as they already have in Massachusetts, state leaders will see that their constituents want clean, affordable transportation, and that they are prepared to invest in that. Thus, the conversation will change from “whether” to implement a regional solution to “how” to do so.

In this regard, it is intriguing that on the day of the announcement, the states also released a white paper on one particularly promising approach—a regional “cap and invest” program.    A cap and invest program would build upon this region’s success with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped to dramatically lower emissions from the electric sector while creating jobs and reducing consumer costs.

The program would set an overall cap on regional transportation emissions, require fuel distributors to purchase “allowances” for the right to sell polluting fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and re-invest the proceeds in improved mass transit, electric cars and buses, affordable housing located near transportation centers, and other proven ways to make clean transportation available to all. The white paper does an excellent job of identifying how such a scheme would work under our existing fuel distribution network. (For more information on this approach, read my op-ed and the blog by my colleague Dan Gatti.)

I encourage UCS members and the public to attend these listening sessions and publicly support a bold regional solution. And I applaud the leaders of these states for taking a critical next step. State leadership, particularly when it is bi-partisan, is the way that the United States can best stay on track to meet its climate goals and assure an anxious world that we are still in the fight, notwithstanding the Trump administration’s abdication of leadership.

Pruitt Seeks to Reopen Truck Pollution Loophole per Cronies’ Request

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards, and you may never know…except for the plumes of pollution behind it, if it’s a glider vehicle. Photo: Jeremy Rempel. CC-BY-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

In a particularly scary development, the EPA just proposed to repeal part of the recent regulations on heavy-duty vehicles. The proposal would affect “glider vehicles” and would reopen a loophole so big you could, well, drive a truck through it…leaving a ridiculously large cloud of pollution in its wake.

What the heck is a glider?

Glider vehicles are trucks that are built from a refurbished engine and a brand-new chassis (called a “glider kit”).  They have been around for a long time and can serve a useful purpose—heavy-duty diesel engines are built to last hundreds of thousands of miles and are a significant part of the upfront cost of a vehicle, so if you crash your truck in the first couple years, it would be worth it to make sure you got the full lifetime use out of that powertrain.

The thing is, no one’s going joyriding in a semi—truck drivers are doing it for a living and generally try to take immaculate care of their vehicle, so one wouldn’t think these types of accidents are very frequent.  In fact, up until recently, only a few hundred such gliders were sold in a given year.

Glider sales on the rise…

That all changed in the past couple years, when members of the glider cottage industry decided to exploit a loophole.  In 2007 and 2010, EPA put into effect new pollution controls for heavy-duty vehicles which cut soot and smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 90 percent.  However, because there is a menagerie of truck types and uses, those regulations are based on emissions tests of the engine, not the vehicle.

Fitzgerald, the leading assembler of glider vehicles, decided to make a few bucks by building a brand around assembling new glider vehicles with old, polluting engines that predate the EPA’s regulations and then selling the trucks as new vehicles.  They and other glider assemblers even put out ads trying to increase the availability of these more polluting engines!

Glider vehicle assemblers typically offer the trucks at a significant discount compared to other new vehicles—it’s amazing at how much cheaper you can make a truck when you don’t care about how much pollution it’s spewing (about 25 percent cheaper, in fact).  This is one of the major complaints from the rest of the industry—it isn’t a level playing field.  In fact, most of the industry is opposed to glider vehicles.

…leads to a LOT of excess pollution

Of course, the public shouldn’t be too crazy about these trucks, either.  Thanks to that “pollution discount” for not meeting modern emissions standards, glider vehicle sales have gone through the roof—just a few hundred glider vehicles were sold a decade ago, but industry sales are now up to about 10,000 vehicles…and perhaps still on the rise.

So just how bad is it?  Virtually all of Fitzgerald’s vehicles are sold with a pre-2004 diesel engine.  Those engines emit upwards of 10 to 20 times the amount of soot and smog forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) of a brand-new engine.  By 2025, EPA’s own analysis shows that these gliders would be emitting about 300,000 tons of NOx and 8,000 tons of soot each year!

Putting that into perspective:

  • That amount of NOx is about 10 times that of the VW Dieselgate scandal (to date)…all in a single year!
  • These levels of NOx emissions would effectively cancel out the reductions in NOx made in passing EPA’s Tier 3 Emissions and Fuel Standards.
  • Small in numbers but not impact—despite representing just 5 percent of the long-haul trucks on the road, by 2025 these glider vehicles would emit about 1/3 of all soot and NOx pollution from long-haul trucks.
  • These excess emissions would have serious health impacts—if this loophole isn’t closed by 2025, these glider vehicles would result in up to 12,800 deaths that could have been prevented, not to mention countless additional emergency room visits and other health issues.

It’s also worth noting that the engines being put into these new trucks are engines that EPA had already previously found in non-compliance with the Clean Air Act because of the use of defeat devices.  That’s right–not only do these engines not meet today’s emissions standards, but they didn’t even meet the emissions standards in place when they were originally manufactured!

In the most recent heavy-duty vehicle standards, the EPA wisely closed this loophole by requiring all new vehicles, including gliders, to have an engine that meets the same model-year standard as the vehicle itself.  Recognizing the previous legitimate use of gliders, they even allowed a small-volume exemption for up to 300 vehicles, curbing the rampant exploitation of the loophole while still maintaining a volume that could keep companies like Fitzgerald in business.

Pruitt’s cronyism threatens public health

The EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is threatening to throw that all away by repealing the sections of the rule that closed the glider loophole.  And he is doing so at the behest of Fitzgerald and Representative Diane Black (R-TN), who’s currently a candidate for the governor of Tennessee.

Rep. Black has tried unsuccessfully to restrict EPA from regulating glider kits via legislative action, willing to sacrifice public health because a few hundred jobs at Fitzgerald are in her district.

Fitzgerald’s owners met directly with Scott Pruitt in May.  They also worked with Rep. Black and a couple smaller glider assembler to submit a petition with some seriously shoddy “evidence” collected by a third party, Tennessee Tech University.  The thing is, TTU’s facilities are…in the Fitzgerald Industrial Park, paid for by Fitzgerald.  Coincidentally I’m sure, these tests were taken and signed off by the head of the center paid for in part by Fitzgerald even before the public-private partnership between TTU and Fitzgerald was announced.

Lo and behold, after receiving the petition from Fitzgerald, Scott Pruitt announced that he would be re-examining the glider provisions of the heavy-duty regulations.

It isn’t clear who exactly benefits from all this backroom dealing (besides the small number of glider assemblers like Fitzgerald)—but it certainly isn’t the American public.

Pending internal review by the executive branch, this proposed repeal should be made available for public comment, so stay tuned as we continue to push back on Scott Pruitt’s ridiculous dismantling of public health protections—I’m sure UCS will be calling on you for your support.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth Is a Terrible Choice for the DOT Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters

The line of political nominees for high-level positions in the federal agencies continues to slowly march through Congress. One of several nominees up for debate in the Senate this week is President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Transportation Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), Diana Furchtgott-Roth.

As someone concerned about the direction of the progressive transportation policy passed under the Obama Administration, Furchtgott-Roth couldn’t be a more troubling pick. Her background and regressive views on public policy make it clear that she has been chosen for this role not because she is a transportation policy expert, but because she is a hard-line conservative economist who can develop, find, and promote research that makes the case for eliminating DOT programs and policy.

Furchtgott-Roth’s views are antithetical to the mission of the DOT Office of Research and Technology

The stated mission of the OST-R is to “transform transportation and make our transportation system safer, more efficient, competitive and sustainable.” To meet this goal, the OST-R five year strategic plan focuses on promoting safety, improving mobility, improving infrastructure, and preserving the environment, which includes addressing the effects of transportation activities on climate change.

Furchtgott-Roth is not known for having expertise on any of these issues. Instead, she is best known for her views on the minimum wage (against), the gender pay gap (a myth), and unions (strong pass). She has also argued that female secret service agents can’t protect the President as well as male agents, climate change is a natural phenomenon, and fuel economy standards kill people. How wonderful! Overall, her career-long campaign against feminism, labor rights and public health make her a concerning candidate in charge of public policy at any level, but especially at the main research arm of the DOT charged with examining transportation-related impacts on the environment, public health, and personal mobility.

Furchtgott-Roth has little experience that is relevant to the DOT Office of Research and Technology

The relevant experience Furchtgott-Roth brings to the table for this role is limited to writing a few articles and blog posts for right-wing think tanks criticizing Obama’s transportation policies. She is an economist by training, a former staffer in the U.S. Department of Labor (and incidentally also formerly managed by current DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, when Chao was the DOL Secretary–#draintheswamp, indeed!), and current senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think-tank whose mission is to foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility (read: get rid of government policy and environmental safeguards). She has no direct experience in transportation-related roles, nor any experience in transportation issues outside of her general anti-regulation commentary.

She herself has a tough time commenting on any relevant experience. Here is what she wrote in response to a Senate questionnaire that asks, “what in your background or employment experience do you believe affirmatively qualifies you for appointment…”

“Nothing is more important to the economic health of America than getting the private sector involved in rebuilding the Nation’s infrastructure. As an economist with over 30 years of experience, I have studied the provision of infrastructure and transportation extensively. I have written articles on transportation issues and on regulation. In addition, I have managed staffs at the Council of Economic Advisers, at the Department of Labor, and at the Manhattan Institute. I have reviewed hundreds of papers and articles to determine their quality and suitability for publication.”

How in the world is any of that either specific enough to be relevant, or related to the mission of the OST-R?

If Furchtgott-Roth was nominated for a role in the DOL, or as an economic advisor, perhaps that would make sense. But for someone with an extensive background in labor and economic issues, not transportation issues, running the DOT OST-R is a bad fit.

Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the full story

Like many political commentators, Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the whole story. Instead, she cherry picks data from studies that best support her argument, without referencing data that supports any counter argument or data that provides a more comprehensive view of any issue. This approach may be appropriate as a bombastic conservative commentator, but not for the person in charge of providing policymakers with impartial, robust data on transportation issues.

For example, Furchtgott-Roth has argued that federal fuel efficiency standards are a bad idea because they literally kill people by requiring automakers to make cars lighter, and therefore less safe. In her book, Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America’s Economy, she writes “for the government, saving fuel is more important than saving lives. It prefers to pay in blood to save oil.”

Now, if you look at the 1,200-page technical report prepared by the EPA and DOT in advance of finalizing the 2017-2025 federal fuel efficiency standards, you’ll find that even though light-weighting can contribute to a car’s safety level (which is also related to a litany of other factors, weight only being one of them), the standards can be achieved and still save lives overall. This is because the standards encourage automakers to reduce the weight more from SUVs than smaller cars. Furchtgott-Roth conveniently left this fact out of her arguments against fuel efficiency standards. Oh, and you know what also kills people? CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR POLLUTION, which the fuel efficiency standards and other EPA/DOT  vehicle policies directly address.

Evidence of Furchtgott-Roth cherry picking data also lies in her claims that climate change either isn’t happening, or is not caused by human activity. In 2015, she claimed “the Earth has been warming and cooling for millennia, certainly before the industrial revolution. It has been steadily warming since the Little Ice Age of the 1700s. Over the past 15 years, despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the warming by some measures has stopped.” Not only has average global temperature continued to increase since 2015, but the short plateau referred to by Furchtgott-Roth has been debunked as a myth.

Overall, Furchtgott-Roth’s misguided use of data isn’t appropriate to lead a public office in charge of reporting accurate data, and should be addressed by Congress when questioning her qualifications for the role.

 

 

Electric Vehicles, Batteries, Cobalt, and Rare Earth Metals 

Battery Pack for BMW-i3 Electric Vehicle (at Munich Trade-Show Electronica). Photo: RudolfSimon CC-BY-2.0 (Wikimedia)

The case for switching to electric vehicles (EVs) is nearly settled. They are cheaper to use, cut emissions, and offer a whisper quiet ride. One of the last arguments available to the EV-hater club, which is largely comprised of thinly veiled oil-industry front groups funded by the Koch brothers, surrounds the impacts from the materials used to make an EV’s battery pack.

Specifically, the use of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals that are part of an EV lithium-ion battery pack has raised red flags toward the poor human rights and worker protection records in the countries where these materials are mined.

A lot of these warnings have been incorrectly categorized under “EVs and rare earth metals.” Though neither lithium nor cobalt are rare earth metals, and rare earth metals aren’t nearly as rare as precious metals like gold, platinum, and palladium, there are important issues surrounding the production of lithium-ion batteries that must be acknowledged and addressed.

It is also important to note that these impacts are not happening just because of EVs. They are also being driven by the global demand for cell phones, laptop computers, and the multitude of other electronic devices that use lithium-ion batteries.

As EVs gain market share, they will be more responsible for the impacts from battery production. But today, EVs comprise a small fraction of global vehicle sales. So, concerns about lithium-ion batteries should be directed not just to the suppliers of EV battery packs, but also toward Apple, Samsung, and the other companies that source lithium-ion batteries for their electronic goods.

Let’s also not forget that the supply chain for gasoline-powered vehicles has its fair share of issues, ranging from human rights violations like the use of child labor, to disastrous oil spills like Deepwater Horizon. But unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, EVs will be able to take advantage of emerging battery chemistries that don’t rely on cobalt or other materials that are linked to exploitative practices.

Cobalt and electric vehicle batteries

Cobalt, a bluish-gray metal found in the Earth’s crust, is one of today’s preferred components used to make the lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, cell phones, and EVs.  Cobalt is mined all over the world, but 50 to 60 percent of the global supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has a poor human rights track record. According to UNICEF and Amnesty International, around 40,000 children are involved in cobalt mining in DRC where they make only $1 – $2 USD per day. DRC’s cobalt trade has been the target of criticism for nearly a decade, and the U.S. Labor Department lists Congolese cobalt as a product it has reason to think is produced by child labor. More troubling, cobalt demand has tripled in the past five years and is projected to at least double again by 2020.

What can be done about EV batteries sourcing issues

First, companies should be held accountable for enacting and enforcing policies to only use ethically-sourced materials. Some companies are off to a good start. Apple has pledged to end its reliance on mining altogether, and one day make its products from only renewable resources or recycled materials. Other tech giants like HP, Samsung, and Sony joined an effort called the “Responsible Cobalt Initiative.” Members of the initiative pledged to follow global guidelines for mining supply chains, which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold.

On the EV side of things, Tesla has committed to sourcing materials only from North America for its new battery production facility, the Gigafactory.  In 2015, Tesla secured two contracts with mining companies to explore lithium deposits in northern Nevada and Mexico, though Tesla still relies on cobalt that may have been sourced from the DRC.

Both Ford and GM get their EV batteries from LG Chem, who has said they have stopped using DRC-sourced cobalt and stated that neither Ford nor GM batteries rely on DRC-sourced cobalt, but some of the LG practices and statements have been called into question by the WaPo.

Second, recycling can help reduce the need to search for new source of battery materials, or rely on sourcing materials from countries with poor worker protections. Cobalt, for example, (as opposed to gasoline) is fully recyclable and roughly 15 percent of U.S. cobalt consumption is from recycled scrap today.

Companies like Umicore are in the cobalt recycling business and have demonstrated that there is a business model for recycling cobalt that can help reduce demand for DRC-mined cobalt.

Third, battery technology is continuing to improve. The multitude of battery applications has generated a strong financial incentive for researchers to find the next greatest battery chemistry, and some of the most promising next-gen battery types don’t rely on cobalt at all.

Lithium-titanate and lithium-iron-phosphate, for example, are gaining importance in EV powertrain applications and don’t need cobalt. Other battery chemistries that rely on magnesium, sodium, or lithium-sulfur are also gaining traction as they have the potential to beat lithium-ion batteries on energy density and cost. Battery research has seen a big shift in recent years. Nearly half of the presentations at the Battery Symposium in Japan were once about fuel cells and lithium-ion battery materials. But since 2012, these topics have been supplanted by presentations about solid-state, lithium-air and non-lithium batteries.

Overall, the human rights issues related to the lithium-ion battery supply chain cannot be ignored. At the same time, they shouldn’t be used by the oil industry and their allies as a rallying cry to dismantle EV policy support, or as reason to stop the growth of the EV industry. Again, it’s not just EVs that are at issue here. All manufacturers of electronic devices need to find better sources for their batteries and it is their responsibility to source materials from places that have worker protections. It’s also the responsibility of our government to ensure that Americans can buy products that are ethically and sustainably sourced.

Why Cap and Invest Is the Right Solution for Massachusetts Transportation

Boston Traffic. Photo: Sarah Nichols CC-BY-2.0 (Flickr)

Over the past decade, Massachusetts has helped lead the nation towards clean and renewable sources of electricity.

Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts established the strongest legally binding limits on global warming pollution in the country. Massachusetts leadership helped establish the first regional limits on pollution from power plants through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We have the most efficient economy in the country, saving consumers millions on our energy bills. We have abolished the use of coal, we have created over 100,000 clean energy jobs, and last year Massachusetts made an investment in offshore wind that will make us a national leader in that technology.

But most of the progress that we have made is in the electricity sector. When it comes to transportation, we have tried but struggled to make overall progress.

Our cars and trucks, rather than our power plants, are now the largest sources of pollution in Massachusetts. Every year, pollution from transportation causes over 3,000 asthma attacks, 500 preventable deaths and $1.3 billion in combined health costs in the state. While emissions from electricity is overall down by 58%, in transportation emissions are about the same as they were in 1990.

To their credit, the Baker administration has recognized that meeting our long-term climate mandates requires more ambitious action to control transportation emissions. The Baker administration has announced four listening sessions to solicit ideas for how to address pollution from transportation. According to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, “Our next target for new policies that will lead to further reductions is the transportation sector and we’re looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and finding solutions.”

Massachusetts needs a better, cleaner transportation system

Of course, pollution is one of many challenges facing Massachusetts’ transportation system these days.

You can’t pick up a newspaper today without reading about some of the challenges affecting transportation in the state: our public transportation services are underfunded and overcrowded, our roads are among the most congested in the country, our transportation agencies are broke, low income communities are poorly served by transit, communities near public transportation are increasingly unaffordable.

Here are just a few articles that have been written about some of the challenges affecting transportation and housing in Massachusetts over the past month:

What these stories have in common is that they all show the critical role that the inter-related issues of transportation, housing and climate change will play in the future of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts needs a public transportation system that businesses and workers can rely on to connect people to jobs and opportunities. We need to be able to provide enough affordable housing near transit to retain talented young professionals and protect low-income residents from displacement and gentrification. As recent storms have demonstrated, we need to protect our transportation system from the impacts of a changing climate by keeping our infrastructure in good repair. And to achieve our climate goals, we need to transition virtually our entire vehicle fleet to cars and trucks that do not pollute.

We need, in short, dramatic and transformative change in our transportation system.

We can do better

The good news is that today we have more tools at our disposal to address transportation challenges than ever before. Exciting technologies such as electric vehicles offer the promise of cars and trucks and buses that can operate without tailpipe emissions and that can be powered by clean energy. Thanks to our relatively clean grid, in Massachusetts EVs can get the emissions equivalent of a 100 mpg vehicle.

New transportation modes such as ride-sharing and automated vehicles open up new possibilities for greater system efficiency – as well as potential new challenges that will need to be addressed through smart policy. Transit ridership is growing faster in Boston than any other major transit system. And a younger generation is coming of age that shows ever greater interest in transit, cycling, and urban living.

Together, these present-day technologies and trends point towards a possible future still on the horizon, if we make the right investments today in clean transportation.  A transportation system that does more but costs less and pollutes less. Where a network of shared, electric vehicles, working in concert with a first-class public transportation system, gets everybody where they need to go without burning a gallon of gasoline or getting stuck for an hour in traffic.

So how do we get there from here?

Obviously no single policy has the ability to address all the challenges facing our transportation sector. Creating a better, cleaner transportation system will require multiple policies and coordination between state and local government and key

But one great place to start would be to join with the other states in the Northeast in launching a cap and invest program modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) covering transportation emissions.

RGGI is a program with a track record of success in reducing emissions while growing the economy and saving consumers money. Under RGGI, the Northeast region has established limits on emissions from power plants, limits that must decline every year. These limits are enforced through a requirement that power generators purchase allowances from within a limited pool. The funds generated by these allowance sales are then invested in clean energy and efficiency programs.

RGGI is a funding source for a variety of programs that have saved money and improved lives in Massachusetts.

Funding from RGGI is used to support the MassSave program, which has provided home energy audits and rebates for home retrofits and energy efficient appliances for thousands of households across the Commonwealth. Through the Green Communities Act, RGGI helps engage local government and local grassroots activists around concrete local energy projects in 155 communities across Massachusetts, such as upgrading the boiler at the local school or putting in LED streetlights.

By investing in efficiency, RGGI has saved consumers over $600 million on their energy bills – with billions in additional savings expected in years to come. Overall, RGGI has helped cut emissions in the Northeast region by over 37 percent, while expanding the Northeast economy by $2.9 billion. In Massachusetts, RGGI has produced over $1 billion in health benefits and created over 2,000 jobs.

What would cap and invest mean for Massachusetts?

The biggest limitation of the RGGI program is that it only applies to power plants. But other jurisdictions, including California, Ontario and Quebec, have successfully expanded the cap and invest program model to include transportation fuels, and the result has been billions of dollars in new investments in clean transportation.

California, for example, is projected to spend over $2 billion on clean transportation and affordable housing investments over the next year. These investments will go to a variety of programs designed to increase access to clean mobility solutions for California residents, including:

  • Expansion of light rail service in every major metropolitan area.
  • Improved bus service, including zero-emission bus service, in dozens of cities, towns and rural counties.
  • Aggressive incentive programs to make it easier for low-income residents to trade in inefficient vehicles for hybrids or electric vehicles.
  • Investments in affordable housing near public transportation.

A cap and invest program covering transportation emissions could potentially raise up to $4.7 billion in funding for similar programs in the Northeast. For Massachusetts, that could mean over $120 million per year in dedicated funding for clean vehicle incentives, $120 million in affordable housing initiatives, and $225 million to improve public transportation.

Lets make it happen

We can have a cleaner and more efficient transportation system in Massachusetts and other Northeast states – and with policy leaders looking closely at bringing cap and invest into transportation, now is the time to engage in this effort.

Massachusetts will conduct four listening sessions over the next few weeks to generate feedback from the public on clean transportation. These sessions will be held:

  • Tuesday, October 31, 9:00am, State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA
  • Thursday, November 2, 6:00pm, MassDEP Central Region Office, 8 New Bond Street, Worcester, MA
  • Monday, November 6, 11:00am, UMass-Amherst, Student Union – Cape Cod Lounge, 280 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA
  • Thursday, November 9, 6:00pm, West Middle School, 271 West Street, Brockton, MA

Advocates will also be hosting a webinar to talk in more detail about the proposed policy.

We encourage everyone with a stake in a better transportation system in Massachusetts – which is to say, everyone in Massachusetts – to come to these events and make their voices heard.

 

 

 

Setting the Record Straight on EVs and Biofuels

Biofuel research in San Diego. Photo: Steve Jurvetson, CC-BY-2.0 (Flickr)

Late last week I submitted a response to an article critical of UCS analysis on electric vehicles that appeared in Biofuels Digest on October 2nd.  The editor graciously printed my response in full on Monday, and I am reposting it here.   

Cutting oil use and transportation emissions is a big job, that will require both electric vehicles and biofuels

Last week, Biofuels Digest ran a piece claiming that biofuels beat electric vehicles on cost and emissions.  The piece specifically took issue with a report my colleagues wrote, Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave, which found that battery electric vehicles (EVs) are less polluting than gasoline powered cars, even when the additional emissions associated with producing the cars, particularly the batteries, are considered.

I’m not interested in stoking an argument between supporters of electric vehicles and biofuels. Cutting oil use and global warming pollution from transportation is a big job, and we need rapid progress on both electric vehicles and biofuels, as I described at length in a recent report on Fueling a Clean Transportation Future.  But my colleagues and I at the Union of Concerned Scientists believe that solving big problems depends on careful analysis, so I feel compelled to set the record straight on a few key points.

The Biofuels Digest piece has significant errors in its calculations on emissions:
  • Biofuels Digest suggests it makes sense to consider only the first owner’s emissions in calculating emissions benefits.  We disagree.  Cars pollute over their whole lives, regardless of how many times they change hands, so it makes sense to calculate emissions benefits over the car’s lifetime. Choosing an arbitrarily low lifetime (less than 7 years) biases the calculation in favor of conventional vehicles.
  • Our calculations for EV emissions were based on the average grid where the cars are being charged.  The Biofuels Digest comparison is a very optimistic scenario of a car running on advanced biofuel with a 50% GHG reduction.  Very few cars run on 100% biofuel, the closest they come is Flex-Fuel vehicles (FFVs) that run on E85 (which is a mix of 51-85% ethanol and gasoline).   Very few FFVs run on E85 most of the time, and the ethanol in E85 is mostly corn ethanol, not an advanced biofuel that meets a 50% GHG reduction as Biofuels Digest assumes.  So, despite claiming that the 50% GHG reduction is conservative, the 50% GHG savings is very much an optimistic case.  To fairly compare optimistic scenarios, we should consider that many EV drivers have also installed solar panels, and an EV charged on solar power virtually eliminates operating emissions.

The emissions associated with driving an EV are coming steadily down, and depend upon where you get your power.  Here is our latest update.

The Biofuels Digest piece also has errors in calculations of the relative cost of driving and owning an EV versus an FFV running on E85:
  • The savings of driving a Chevy Cruze using E85 at current prices does not take into consideration the reduced MPGe while driving on E85.  The E85 prices cited are about 23% lower than E10, which is about the same as the reduction of MPGe compared to E10.  This means it costs about the same to drive a mile on E85 as E10, not 10% less as Biofuels Digest claims.
  • The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the Nissan Leaf bears little relationship to the actual purchase price, once State and Federal tax credits and other incentives are applied.

The cost of fueling an EV is much lower than a gasoline powered car or a FFV, and the price has been remarkably stable compared to volatile oil and ethanol prices.  My colleague David Reichmuth will have much more to say on this topic in the next month.  We are aware that the MSRP of EVs is higher than gasoline cars or FFVs, which is why tax credits and rebates for EVs are so important.  Lest biofuels advocates claim it’s unfair to include these tax credits in the comparison, recall that the scale-up of ethanol and biodiesel was supported with substantial tax credits, and substantial policy support for biofuels remains in the form of the Renewable Fuel Standard (at least for now).

Moving forward together

But while I stand by our analysis of the benefits of EVs, I have no interest in belittling advanced biofuels.  In fact, I spend most of my time defending advanced biofuels, including defending the Renewable Fuels Standard, which is under attack, as I explained in my recent blog, EPA Administrator Pruitt is undermining cellulosic biofuels, the RFS and transparency in government.

It is counterproductive for biofuels advocates to belittle the benefits and growing importance of electric vehicles.  It’s also not a good idea to focus hopes for the future of biofuels on FFVs burning E85.

The large number of FFVs on the road today are mostly the result of a misguided loophole in fuel economy regulations that gave car manufacturers credit for selling FFVs based on the assumption that these cars would use E85 frequently.  This strategy did not work.  FFVs are rarely fueled with E85, and the loophole ultimately did much more to increase gasoline use by making cars less efficient than it did to expand ethanol use.

Instead of FFVs, biofuel advocates should focus on a future that includes using ethanol to maximize efficiency as part of a high octane gasoline blend and in sectors like aviation where electrification is more challenging.  The bioeconomy also has a key role to play in biomaterials, and as part of carbon removal strategies, as I described in a recent article on the bioeconomy in a world without carbon pollution.

Biofuels and the broader bioeconomy have enormous opportunities in a low carbon future, but with GM, European countries, China and California looking beyond internal combustion engines for light duty transport, doubling down on FFVs and E85 is a road to nowhere.

Cutting oil use and transportation emissions is a big job and a major opportunity for both renewable fuels, renewable electricity and electric vehicles.  The hostility of EPA Administrator Pruitt and his friends in the oil industry make this job harder and more important than ever before. Advocates of renewable fuels and electric vehicles need to work together to keep us on track to a clean transportation future.

Why Are So Many Car Companies Making Big EV Announcements?

If you’ve been reading the news lately you might have noticed a trend in the automotive news: Major car brands are announcing their transition plans to go electric.

This is quite a string of announcements in the last few months from some major players in the automotive industry! Why is this happening now and what does it mean for the industry and the environment?

International and domestic pressure to clean up cars and trucks

To answer the question of why now, let’s look at another list of headlines from this year:

These countries (and state) are in different stages of enacting limits on gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, but the trend is clear: if you want to be part of the future in the biggest automotive markets you need to have a transition plan from petroleum to electric vehicles.

Even beyond these limits on internal combustion engines altogether, many jurisdictions are strengthening the emissions standards for vehicles, meaning auto companies need to produce cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks. Electric vehicles can of course be a part of automakers’ efforts to comply with air pollution and global warming regulations.

Cleaner vehicles, fuels needed to reduce emissions

Transportation has recently eclipsed electricity generation as the largest source of global warming emissions in the US.  Governments around the world are concerned not only with the carbon emissions from petroleum-powered vehicles, but also with the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which has heightened awareness of the air pollution from vehicle tailpipes. Electric vehicles, when paired with cleaner electricity, are an excellent solution to reduce pollution and global warming emissions from transportation.

In our most recent analysis, the average electric vehicle in the US only produces global warming emissions equivalent to what a 73 MPG gasoline car would produce. And the trend in the US has been towards cleaner electricity, meaning these electric cars will likely get even cleaner over time. So these plans by General Motors and others to vastly increase their EV offerings could mark a significant transition to much cleaner transportation.

 

 

Excitement tempered by automakers’ work to weaken regulations

Looking only at the headlines about large automakers’ EV plans, it would seem as though they have embraced the need for cleaner vehicles and fuels wholeheartedly. However, this is not the case.

The automakers’ lobbying groups, led by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, convinced the US EPA to re-review its recently finalized 2022-2025 global warming emission standards for cars and light trucks. Even as their trade groups work to weaken the fuel economy and global warming pollution standards, individual manufacturers have recently announced moves to increase their number of EV models, including General Motors, Ford, and BMW.  But as they tout their plans for cleaner cars (and get good press), they are actively opposing US efficiency standards already in place. And they are also opposing international regulations, such as GM’s CEO Mary Barra’s  pointed push back at China’s efforts to require electric vehicles.

The increasing number of electric vehicles being announced by automakers around the world is good news and certainly a step in the right direction. But these intentions aren’t enough. We need the automakers to make sure these vehicles are a success, putting them at the center of their showrooms and marketing efforts as they do with gasoline-powered cars and trucks today. And they certainly need to stop actively opposing the efforts of policymakers and regulators to clean up transportation and reduce emissions.

Is Your Representative Setting Us Up for Another Dieselgate?

Remember dieselgate? The Volkswagen scandal that led to huge emissions of harmful air pollution from their cars, criminal charges, and a $30 billion mea culpa? Well, dieselgate may be small compared to the new emissions scandal that is playing out across the country. This time, however, the emissions cheating would be explicitly allowed by Congress.

As with the VW scandal, it involves so-called emission defeat devices – equipment that shuts off a vehicle’s emissions control system, allowing the car to spew hazardous pollution into the air. These defeat devices are marketed to amateur racers (and sometimes the general public who think it’s fun to “roll coal” and blow black smoke at Priuses). Manufacturers of these defeat devices are pushing Congress to let them off the hook for selling products that are used illegally in our communities, and so far many in Congress are siding against clean air.

What do defeat devices do and who wants them?

All vehicles on public roads must have pollution control systems to remove dangerous air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and smog precursors (carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons) from vehicle exhaust. And this is a really good thing. The EPA estimates that current pollution control systems will prevent up to 2,000 premature deaths, avoid 2,200 hospital admissions, and eliminate 19,000 asthma attacks annually because some of these pollutants cause lung cancer, heart disease, and respiratory harm.

These emission control systems can, however, be turned off by defeat devices which are frequently marketed as “tuners”, “oxygen sensor simulators” or “exhaust gas recirculation delete kits”.

Why would someone want to turn off their vehicle pollution controls? One popular reason is for amateur car racing. We’re not talking NASCAR here, as purpose-built race cars are already exempt from this requirement. Instead these are local races where people “convert” their regular cars into race cars to use at tracks.  And if people want to modify a car that they use just for racing so that it goes a little faster on the track, it’s probably not that big of a deal.

Out of the millions of vehicles on the road, only a tiny fraction of them are modified to be used in racing competitions. However, if people bypass the emission controls on cars they use on our streets on a regular basis, that’s a different story: it imposes unnecessary pollution on the drivers’ neighbors and it’s against the law. So if device manufacturers are knowingly selling defeat devices for off-track use, they should be prosecuted.

How big of a deal could this be?  Big. One settlement that the EPA made with H&S Performance states that they sold over 100,000 devices and that the pollution from those devices would be nearly TWICE the NOx pollution put out by VW diesel cars from 2008 until they were caught in 2015.[i] 

One company, double dieselgate.  It’s staggering.

It turns out that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies who are willing to sell people defeat devices that they can put on their own cars.  We don’t have a complete handle on the number of devices sold, or how much extra pollution they are spewing out into our communities. But based on the emissions from just H&S Performance, it has the potential to be HUGE. And if manufacturers and retailers of these devices are marketing these defeat devices to the general public for use on our roads, the emissions, and therefore health, impacts could be enormous.

So, what does this have to do with Congress?

Manufacturers of defeat devices have a vested interest in making it difficult for regulators to stymie the illegal use of these defeat devices since the more they sell, the bigger their profits. There are bills in the House (H. 350 ) and Senate (S. 203) called the “RPM Act” that would make it very difficult for the EPA to go after manufacturers of these defeat devices who are clearly selling to people who are using these on their everyday vehicles. It is critical that the EPA maintains the ability to stop manufacturers who aren’t playing by the rules.

In a recent hearing about the RPM Act in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Alexandra Teitz, a consultant for the Sierra Club, dubbed this “DIY Dieselgate”, which is incredibly apt.

There are a lot of Senators and Representatives supporting this bill because the trade association for the manufacturers who make these devices (and other aftermarket parts) is putting in a lot of effort on Capitol Hill. The manufacturers see a challenge to their business model and profitability. And they have put a lot of effort into convincing amateur racers, wrongly, that the EPA intends to stop all amateur racing or take their race cars.

The manufacturers are selling this bill as a clarification of existing law, when in actuality it will make it very hard, if not impossible, for the EPA to do their job and ensure that all Americans have access to clean air – and one way they will do it is to prosecute manufacturers who are clearly selling these defeat devices to individuals who are not using them solely for racing. We need to make sure Congress is aware they are voting for legislation that will put the health of their constituents at risk.

Allowing amateur racers to modify a small number of vehicles that are solely used at the track is one thing – but sanctioning mass marketing of emissions defeat devices that are resulting in deadly air pollution in communities across the country is another. Check out the list of cosponsors for the House and Senate bills to see if your representative is on the bill. If so, please call your representative and ask that they withdraw their support for the RPM Act.

[i] The settlement agreement notes 71,669 short tons (or 65,017 metric tons) of NOx emissions over the lifetime of vehicles with H&S Performance defeat devices installed.  An analysis by MIT researchers estimate excess NOX emissions of 36,700 metric tons between 2008 and 2015 from non-compliant 2.0L VW vehicles.

 

 

Why Going 100% Electric in California Isn’t as Crazy as it Might Seem

Electric vehicle charging stations line the perimeter of San Francisco's City Hall. Photo: Bigstock.

California’s top air pollution regulator, Mary Nichols, made headlines last week after making comments to a Bloomberg reporter about the possibility of banning gasoline cars in California.  Shortly after that, California Assembly member Phil Ting announced he would introduce state legislation to do just that. Skeptics may raise their eyebrows, but if California is going to meet its long term climate and air quality goals then nearly all future cars and trucks must be powered by renewable electricity and hydrogen. The good news is the state is already on this path.

Our health and our climate depends on vehicle electrification

It’s no secret that widespread vehicle electrification is needed to meet California’s climate and air quality goals. In 1990, the first Zero Emission Vehicle program was adopted – an acknowledgment that vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions were necessary to ensure healthy air in a state with a growing population and a whole lot of cars.

Climate change has only added to the importance of vehicle electrification, which takes advantage of the efficiency of electric motors and the ability to power vehicles with renewable electricity or hydrogen (fuel cell vehicles have an electric motor and zero tailpipe emission similar to battery electric cars).

The state’s recent assessment of vehicle technologies needed to meet our climate and air quality goals shows the importance of widespread vehicle electrification suggesting all sales of new cars should be electric by 2050 (including plug-in hybrids or PHEVs).  A national assessment, Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States, and a California assessment, also point out a large-scale transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is needed to achieve the level of emission reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Figure 1: From a presentation by staff to the Air Resources Board in March 2017 showing that by 2050 the majority of cars on the road – and all of new car sales – are powered by electric motors.

Banning gasoline and diesel gains popularity  

In the wake of VW’s Dieselgate and with the impacts of climate change becoming more and more apparent –  banning the sale of internal combustion vehicles is becoming a popular policy choice around the world, with France, Britain, India and China all making big splashes with recent commitments to eliminate them at some point in the future.

With these strong commitments gathering steam, some one might ask if California is somehow losing its leadership on EVs.  California isn’t losing its leadership, it’s starting to share it with many more parts of the globe.  This is great news, as increased global demand for EVs will help drive down technology costs for everyone and help automakers recoup their investments in EV technology faster.

But is going to 100% electric vehicles practical? It might be hard to imagine a time when every car at your local dealership will be electric. But there are reasons to be bullish on the future of EVs. Battery prices are dropping with estimates that EVs could have comparable costs to gasoline vehicles sometime in the 2020s. And recent announcements by major manufacturers like Ford, GM, Volvo, VW and others about expanding electric vehicle line-ups over the next 5 years indicates the industry is betting on growth opportunities.

Figure 2: As recently noted in a blog by my colleague David Reichmuth,  battery costs are declining and approaching the point where EVs achieve cost parity ($125-150 per kWh).

California is taking the right steps to making electric cars an option for more and more drivers

In addition, California is implementing policies to support the deployment of EVs.  There’s a long list, but some of the most critical are direct consumer rebates, incentives targeting low- and moderate-income households, utility investments to support the deployment of EV charging infrastructure, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and the Zero Emission Vehicle program, which requires automakers to bring EVs to market. Meanwhile, California’s relatively clean electricity grid means that driving an EV results in global warming emissions equivalent to a 95 mile-per-gallon gasoline car. As California increases its reliance on electricity from renewable sources, emissions will continue to decline.

Long-term goals must be matched with near-term action

Adopting a ban on gasoline and diesel cars would certainly send a strong long-term signal that powering electric vehicles with clean energy is our ultimate destination. It could focus policy makers’ and regulators’ efforts on supporting the transition and give automakers, charging companies, utilities, and entrepreneurs a vision and long-term target for the future to guide their investments.

However, it’s the near-term efforts to make EVs more accessible to all Californians that will accelerate the transition. That means expanding current programs targeted toward individuals and businesses who buy or use new and used cars and increasing access to charging. And it also means supporting electrification for those who rely on other modes of transportation too (see my colleague Jimmy’s blog on electric buses).

A future without internal combustion engine cars is consistent with a future of clean air and minimizing climate impacts. Ultimately, for a transition to a clean, electric transportation system to succeed, the system needs to be better than the one we have today. And it’s the policies we implement today that will drive the investments needed to reach a tipping point, a point where choosing the EV is a no brainer for whomever is shopping for a car.

 

How Freight Impacts Communities Across California

Photo: Luis Castilla

Today, UCS and the California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC) released a video highlighting the impacts of freight across California. This video – and longer cuts of individual interviews here – touch on the many communities across California affected by freight.

Freight is a big industry in California. Nearly 40 percent of cargo containers entering and leaving the United States pass through California ports. California is also the largest agricultural producing state, supplying nearly one fifth the country’s dairy, one third of the country’s vegetables, and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts.

Truck traffic on I-5 heading north towards the Central Valley near Castaic, CA.

Farm in Shafter, CA.

This means California is home to many ports, rail yards, warehouses, distribution centers, farms, and dairies – all of which are serviced by many trucks. Despite the latest (2010) engine standards and significant financial investments by the state and local air districts, air quality in California remains among the worst in the United States, due in large part to truck emissions.

The most polluted cities in the United States. Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air 2016.

Communities impacted by freight are often burdened by other sources of pollution

In the Central Valley, a trash incinerator is opposed by community groups yet classified by the state as a source of renewable energy. Biomass power plants emit significant amounts of particulate matter. Oil drilling operations contribute to both air pollution and unknown water contamination.

Dairies in the Valley contribute not only to methane emissions, but also to other health hazards including particulate matter (from reactions of ammonia in excrement with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from cars and trucks), smog/ozone (from reactions of NOx with volatile organic compounds produced by decomposing animal feed), and contamination of aquifers. Just like real estate prices drove dairies from the Inland Empire to the Central Valley, warehouses and distribution centers are following suit despite being 150 miles from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Silage (animal feed) pile near Shafter, CA.

Two views of a large Ross Distribution Center in Shafter, CA (measures over 1 mile around the building and 2 miles around the entire lot).

In the Los Angeles region, not only are roadways and the two ports major concerns for communities, but so are oil refineries and over 1,000 active oil drilling sites.

Most of these urban oil sites are within a few football fields of homes, schools, churches, and hospitals. Despite all of the “green” accolades bestowed on California, it is the 3rd largest oil producer in the United States after Texas and North Dakota.

Pumpjacks in California can be found next to farms, hospitals, and even In-N-Out.

So what’s the solution?

For trucks, we need stronger engine standards for combustion vehicles, commitments to and incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and roll-out of battery charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations with electricity and hydrogen from renewable energy.

Just last week, the California legislature passed bills (1) to get zero-emission trucks integrated to fleets owned by the state and (2) allocating $895 million from cap and trade revenue for cleaner heavy-duty vehicles. The California Cleaner Freight Coalition is working on a range of solutions from the state to local level and UCS is proud to be a member of this coalition. Watch and share the video!

Photo: Luis Castilla Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photos: Jimmy O'Dea Photos: Jimmy O'Dea

Pages