UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

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

Tax Credits and Rebates for Electric Cars Benefit US Drivers and Automakers

Leadership on vehicle electrification is critical to tackling climate change, protecting consumers from volatile oil prices, maintaining the competitiveness of US automakers, and creating 21st century manufacturing jobs. However, electric vehicles (EVs) currently cost more to manufacture than comparably sized gasoline-powered vehicles, which can mean higher prices and slower adoption.  One important policy solution to help accelerate the rate of EV sales is to offer purchase incentives to potential EV buyers, as discussed in a new policy brief “Accelerating U.S. Leadership in Electric Vehicles” that I co-authored with my UCS colleague Josh Goldman.

Incentives, such as tax credits and rebates, encourage EV sales while automakers scale up manufacturing and technology improves. Much of the additional cost of making an EV is due to the battery, and this scale up of EV manufacturing, along with improved and novel battery technology, will reduce the cost of manufacturing EV batteries and make EVs more cost competitive.

Modern EVs have only been offered for seven years, yet during that time we have seen impressive reductions in the cost to produce automotive battery packs. Initially, costs of EV battery packs were estimated to cost over $750/kWh of storage capacity. Now battery costs have fallen to around $200/kWh, with further reductions predicted by industry analysts. Once battery costs reach the range of $125-$150/kWh, the costs of EVs are projected to reach parity with conventional vehicles.

As battery costs continue to decline the cost difference between EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles will fall, although the exact date at which EVs achieve cost parity ($125-150 per kWh) depends on the rate of EV sales and other factors. References for data sources available online.

It may make sense to reduce broadly-available incentives after EVs become more price competitive, but removing them too soon would stall U.S. leadership in a critical technology.

The US federal income tax credit, in particular, is a vital investment in the transition to electric vehicles. The credit provides a credit of up to $7,500 per EV, based on the size of the battery. Most battery-electric and long-range plug in hybrids qualify for the full credit value. However, this credit begins to phase out for a manufacturer once they sell 200,000 electric vehicles in the US.

Market leaders General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla are already over 100,000 cumulative EV sales as of mid-2017. General Motors and Tesla will likely hit the phase out first, probably before the end of 2018, especially if their new more affordable long-range EVs (Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3) sell well. Therefore, this phase out has the perverse effect of penalizing some of the leaders in EVs and notably EVs that are coming off assembly lines in the US (including all Tesla, General Motors, and Nissan EVs sold in the US), while other manufacturers like Honda would have incentives available for years to come.

The federal EV income tax credit phases out for a manufacturer’s EV models once they exceed 200,000 sales. General Motors and Tesla are on pace to hit the sales cap within 18 months, and Nissan is not far behind.

State incentives are also important to accelerate the switch from gasoline to electricity for our driving. The largest program, California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, has helped over 200,000 buyers make the change to electric drive. And other states have also stepped up to support the transition to cleaner cars. For example, Josh Goldman blogged recently about Oregon’s newly enacted EV rebate program.

Increasingly, we are seeing studies that predict sales of EVs will overtake gasoline cars in the next 10-20 years. However, it is still important to support the nascent EV industry, both to increase the number of EVs on the road now and to support the US automakers that are leading this vital transition.

Purchase incentives for plug-in EVs have been a critical policy tool, accelerating the manufacture and adoption of EVs and making them accessible to car buyers. These investments in EV technologies are helping automakers transition to new technologies and enabling Americans to drive cleaner and cheaper.

In particular, the federal EV tax credit is essential. Not only is it important for US drivers, but it also for US manufacturers. With a number of countries announcing bold EV efforts (such as France, China, and India), letting the tax credit expire for leading US EV manufacturers could be a costly mistake.

Now is not the time to end a policy that works. Instead, the federal government should extend the credit to ensure continued progress, build upon success, and keep the United States in the lead with 21st century automotive technology.

What the Northeast Could Build With a Transportation Cap and Invest Program

While the Northeast region struggles to make significant progress in reducing pollution from transportation, our neighbors and allies in California and Canada are investing billions of dollars in clean mobility solutions thanks to their successful implementation of a cap and invest program covering transportation emissions.

Today California finalized its plan to invest over $2 billion over the next year on initiatives designed to reduce our use of oil and pollution from transportation. These investments will make it easier for California residents to purchase an electric vehicle, or to save money by trading in an old gas guzzling car for an efficient conventional vehicle or hybrid. They will improve public transportation services, both in California’s big cities and its small towns and rural counties. They will provide more affordable housing in communities near public transportation. And they will create jobs, reduce emissions, and save consumers money.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in Ontario and Quebec are projected to spend $2.1 and $1.9 billion respectively on clean transportation programs by 2020.

These jurisdictions are making investments on a far greater scale than anything currently happening in any state in the Northeast. They are able to do so because unlike the Northeast, California, Ontario, and Quebec have enacted a comprehensive climate policy that establishes enforceable limits on pollution from transportation, holds polluters accountable for their emissions, and provides a dedicated funding source for clean transportation investments.

This policy, known as “cap and trade” but which could be more accurately called “cap and invest”, is run through the increasingly misnamed “Western” Climate Initiative (or WCI), an international carbon market that now limits emissions in a region covering over 60 million people in the United States and Canada.

Cap and invest is not new to the Northeast. Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI), the Northeast established the first market-based limit on pollution from power plants, and used the funds generated by the program to invest in efficiency and clean energy. Thanks in part to this policy, Northeast states have dramatically reduced pollution from electricity. Unfortunately, the Northeast states have yet to take the next logical step and enact a similar policy to limit emissions from transportation, which is now the largest source of pollution in the region.

As a result, Northeast states are missing out on an opportunity to make investments that will reduce pollution, save consumers money, increase economic growth, create jobs, improve public health, and reduce our use of oil. If the Northeast had a program similar to WCI covering transportation pollution, it could raise up to $4.7 billion every year for clean transportation initiatives in the Northeast.

Here are some of the things that we build in the Northeast with a cap and invest program:

Better transit

Unlike diesel and natural gas vehicles, electric trucks and buses, like the BYD articulated bus pictured here, produce no hazardous exhaust emissions.

At a time when we need to be making transformative investments in public transportation, the transportation agencies tasked with maintaining and expanding our public transportation systems are broken. While public transit use is near an all-time high, a variety of factors including inflation and increasing fuel efficiency are reducing real gas tax revenues. Limited transportation funding has led to several well publicized transit failures in New York City, Boston, New Jersey, and other cities in the Northeast.

State Revenues at $14.75 per ton  (million$) Transit (48%) Sustanable Communities (26%) Clean Vehicles (26%) Connecticut 246.33 118.24 64.04 64.04 Delaware 67.85 32.57 17.64 17.64 D.C. 17.70 8.50 4.60 4.60 Maine 143.08 68.68 37.20 37.20 Maryland 452.83 217.36 117.73 117.73 Massachusetts 469.05 225.14 121.95 121.95 New Hampshire 109.15 52.39 28.38 28.38 New Jersey 954.33 458.08 248.12 248.12 New York 1181.48 567.11 307.18 307.18 Pennsylvania 983.83 472.24 255.79 255.79 Rhode Island 66.38 31.86 17.26 17.26 Vermont 53.10 25.49 13.81 13.81 Total 4745.08 2277.64 1233.72 1233.72

Almost half of the transportation funding from California’s program will go towards improving public transportation services in the state. The long list of programs and projects that will be funded (at least in part) from California’s climate program includes transit expansions in every major metro region, high speed rail, bus service improvements in dozens of small towns and rural counties, replacement of diesel buses with electric buses, and programs to provide low or reduced fares for low income residents and college students.

Clean vehicles

Both California and (most) Northeast states offer rebates to make electric vehicles more affordable for drivers but California’s programs are larger, more comprehensive, and more specifically target moderate and low-income drivers. For example, low-income drivers who trade in a gas guzzler for an electric vehicle can qualify for a rebate of up to $14,000 through the state’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program.

California is also expanding their efforts to provide vehicle financing assistance to help residents who lack the credit to purchase or lease clean vehicles. These investments have helped California achieve electric vehicle sales numbers six times higher than the Northeast.

California also provides a rebate of up to $110,000 for businesses that replace diesel buses and trucks with zero-emission vehicles, which can have a dramatic impact on air quality in low-income communities. Finally, California is using funds from their climate program to build electric car-sharing networks in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Sustainable communities

People want to live in communities with access to multiple transportation choices, if they can afford it. But rising demand and limited supply for transportation-accessible housing is contributing to a housing affordability crisis that is impacting every major metropolitan area in the Northeast. Five of the eight metro areas with the highest monthly rent in the United States are located in the Northeast; the other three are in California.

High housing costs have enormous implications for racial and economic equity. The cost of housing also has a significant impact on climate emissions. As families find themselves unable to afford communities with strong transportation choices they are forced to relocate to communities with cheaper rent but higher fuel consumption.

California has spent over $700 million to date from their climate program on affordable housing and sustainable community programs. The largest of these programs is the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program (AHSC), which provides grants for affordable housing and bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects that reduce global warming emissions. In the most recent year in which data is available, AHSC-funded projects created 2427 affordable housing units near transit that will reduce emissions by over 800,000 metric tons.

Pollution from transportation is the largest source of emissions in the Northeast region, responsible for over 40 percent of our total emissions. Solving this problem is going to require bold new policies to transition our transportation system away from gas guzzling automobiles towards electric vehicles, transit, and sustainable communities. Cap and invest is a policy model that has been proven to be effective, in the Northeast under RGGI, and as a strategy to reduce transportation emissions in California, Ontario and Quebec. We encourage the Northeast states to consider adopting this model as a key component of our strategy to promote clean transportation in the region.

Truck and Bus Legislation to Watch in California

Today’s the last day of the California legislative session. It gets hectic in Sacramento this time of year, but here are two bills I’m paying attention to that could help reduce air pollution and global warming emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.

As a reminder, heavy-duty vehicles make up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but disproportionately contribute to global warming emissions and air pollution, contributing 20 percent of global warming emissions from the transportation sector, for example. And as we work to improve public health, we must also remember that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution through proximity to roadways, ports, warehouses, and other sources of emissions.

Cleaning up state-owned trucks and buses

That’s what Assembly Bill 739 by Assembly member Ed Chau would do. This bill sets a target for zero-emission trucks and buses purchased by the state: 15 percent of purchases made in 2026-2030 and 30 percent of purchases made in 2031 and later. This is an achievable target with eight years’ worth of technology development and agency planning to enable its implementation.

The target would apply to vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings (the maximum weight at which a fully loaded vehicle is rated to operate) above 19,000 lbs. For a sense of scale, think transit buses, large U-Haul-type trucks, garbage trucks, etc. The bill only applies to state-owned vehicles, which includes everything from buses at the Cal State universities to work trucks operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation and Caltrans. The purchase goals do not apply to vehicles with special performance requirements necessary for public safety, such as fire trucks operated by the Office of Emergency Services.

This bill walks the talk. There’s been a lot of planning and workshops on how to get zero-emission trucks and buses on the road in California, from the Sustainable Freight Action Plan to standards for trucks, buses, and airport shuttles. This bill holds the state fleet to a similar standard.

It is important to note that the 15 percent and 30 percent targets in this bill apply only to purchases, not the overall composition of the state’s fleet. Suppose a given type of vehicle typically lasts 14 years. This means roughly 7 percent of those vehicles are turned over each year. A 15 percent purchase target in this case corresponds to 1 percent of the total fleet (15 percent of 7 percent).

There are many zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles already commercially available today and more on the way. Cummins recently unveiled an electric truck and Tesla will reveal its electric truck with a 200-300 mile range at the end of next month. Many other major companies have also signaled their interest in zero-emission trucks, including Daimler, Peterbilt, and Toyota.

Large scale funding for clean vehicles

That’s what recent amendments to Assembly Bill 134 (the budget bill) would do. The legislation proposes $895 million in funding for clean vehicles using revenue from the state’s cap and trade program. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is compared to previous years ($680 million for the last four years combined). But it’s not compared to the level of action needed for the state to meet its air quality and climate goals.

Oversubscribed incentive funding programs that offset the upfront purchase cost of electric trucks, buses, and cars for businesses and consumers receive much-needed funding in this bill, including $180 million for the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). This program provides rebates for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, with zero-emission trucks and buses receiving larger incentives than combustion technologies. The $35 million in HVIP designated for zero-emission transit buses alone could allow half of the roughly 700 buses purchased in California over the next year to be battery electric vehicles.

The budget bill also includes $140 million for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP), which provides consumers with rebates for plug-in hybrid electric, battery electric, and fuel cell electric passenger cars. This program has helped put over 200,000 clean cars on the road in California since 2010. There’s a lot more in the budget bill for clean vehicles ($575 million), but the CVRP and HVIP programs are ones UCS has been especially involved with.

These two bills are very different in scale – AB 739 applying to a fraction of state-owned vehicles and the budget bill providing incentives to businesses and consumers for vehicles across the light-, medium-, and heavy-duty classes. But to reach the end goal of clean air for all Californians and dramatically reduced climate emissions, we need actions that span all scales.

Jeff Turner/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr) A Caltrans diesel dump truck. Photo: California Department of Transportation

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Self-Driving Vehicle Policy

A Waymo self-driving car on the road in Mountain View, CA, making a left turn. CC-BY-2.0 (Wikicommons).

Automakers and their advocates have been busy in the halls of Congress and Department of Transportation. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that will make it easier for self-driving cars to hit the road, the Department of Transportation replaced an Obama-era self-driving vehicle policy with a more industry-friendly approach, and the Senate had a hearing on a bill that would also speed the deployment of self-driving vehicles, including trucks.

The Good News

The bill that passed the House and the bill being considered in the Senate include some positive provisions. For example, each establish an expert committee that will be tasked with identifying how self-driving vehicles could affect: mobility for the disabled and elderly, labor and employment issues, cybersecurity, the protection of consumer privacy, vehicle safety, and emissions and the environment. Establishing a structure for a Department of Transportation-led committee to examine these issues is important for informing future self-driving vehicle policy that can help this technology create positive outcomes and avoid its potential consequences.

Both bills also draw a brighter line between federal and state authority related to vehicle safety. The way this division works for regular cars today is that the federal government regulates the vehicle and states regulate the drivers. But this distinction doesn’t quite work with self-driving vehicles, because who is the driver? The person sitting in the driver’s seat, eating pita chips and watching Netflix while the car drivers itself? Or is it the vehicle itself?

To better clarify the distinction between federal and state authority, both the House and Senate bills give control over the design, construction, and performance of self-driving vehicles and self-driving technology to the federal government. States retain their right to enact laws related to how these vehicles are registered, who can use them, and how they interact with state or local roads and infrastructure. However, states would be preempted from enacting any law that can be read to be an “unreasonable” restriction on the design, construction, or performance of a self-driving vehicle.

Self driving vehicles are set to hit the road sooner than you may think. Companies like Google, Uber, Ford, and Tesla are all rushing to get the best self-driving vehicle on the market. Image via; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg

The last bit of good news is that the bills require automakers to submit detailed cyber-security and safety evaluation reports to the Department of Transportation. The bills also note the need to inform consumers of the capabilities and limitations of self-driving vehicle systems, so that users better know when the system can be engaged or needs to be turned off.  In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board recently found that Tesla’s autopilot lacks the appropriate safeguard to prevent drivers from using it improperly.

The Bad News

It wouldn’t be federal legislation if there wasn’t something bad tucked in, and both the House and Senate self-driving vehicle bills have some potentially dangerous provisions.

Both bills allow self-driving vehicles to be granted exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS). Any vehicle, whether self-driving or not, can be granted an exemption from FMVSS, and the law currently allows up to 2,500 exemptions per manufacturer per year.

Self-driving cars will surely need FMVSS exemptions. They might not have a steering wheel, for example, so they couldn’t possibly comply with the FMVSS for steering wheels and, as a result, couldn’t be tested or sold in the U.S. The whole FMVSS playbook will likely need to be updated by the Department of Transportation to respond to self-driving vehicle technology. But before then, self-driving vehicle makers will look for exemptions to sell their product.

The problem is the number of exemptions that the House and Senate bills are offering self-driving vehicle manufacturers. Both bills would grant a single manufacturer up to 100,000 exemptions from FMVSS after a couple years. (The Senate bill starts with 50,000 in year 1, for example.) This means that an automaker could make a self-driving vehicle and exempt it from any safety regulation that would “prevent the manufacturer from selling a motor vehicle with an overall safety level at least equal to the overall safety level of nonexempt vehicles.” Given that self-driving vehicles will likely have similar, if not better, safety ratings than regular vehicles, I could see this language as having very broad appeal for getting the Department of Transportation to approve exemption requests.

Exempting self-driving cars from FMVSS for testing purposes makes sense, but the quantity of exemptions allowed in the House and Senate bills is excessive. Once self-driving cars are on the road, there’s no putting the self-driving genie back in the bottle. Transportation analysts, academics, the government, and the public need to better understand the safety, congestion, labor, and other impacts that self-driving vehicles will create before automakers get a free pass to each put 100,000 self-driving vehicles on the road.

Limiting the number of FMVSS exemptions closer to the current cap of 2,500 per manufacturer would put the introduction of self-driving vehicles at a pace to better understand how they function in actual driving conditions, not on the test track (or test city). In addition, several groups and two former heads of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have expressed skepticism that the agency even has the resources to process additional FMVSS exemptions or conduct adequate oversight in this area.

The Ugly News

In 2016, the Obama-led Department of Transportation put together a thoughtful, lengthy memo that detailed where the Department was headed on self-driving vehicle regulation. Earlier this week, the Department tossed that out the window and replaced it with a streamlined set of voluntary guidelines that self-driving companies should seek to follow.

Like the Obama-era guidance, nothing in the new federal guidance is mandatory. But unlike the previous guidance, the new guidance isn’t very specific. Consumer advocates like Consumer Watchdog and Consumers Union lambasted this approach as being a handout for industry, and they have a point. The guidance “encourages” the industry to do a lot of things, like collect data on when self-driving vehicles malfunction or crash, or submit a “voluntary” safety self-assessment that isn’t subject to any sort of federal approval.

Overall, the tone and vagueness of the document, combined with the choice to just throw out, and not build upon, the previous self-driving vehicle guidance puts this move by the Department of Transportation squarely in the ugly category.

The Northeast Should Limit Pollution from Transportation

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

Over the past decade, the Northeast region of the United States has helped lead the country—and the world—in supporting and developing clean, renewable sources of electricity. Taken together, the policies of Northeast states, from Maine to Maryland, have generated billions of dollars in investment for solar, wind, and efficiency. One driving force behind this investment is a regional initiative that caps emissions from the electricity sector, charges power plants for the emissions they generate, and invests the funds generated by those fees into efficiency and clean energy programs. This initiative has helped fundamentally change the region’s electricity sector: we have achieved unprecedented penetration of renewables, nearly eliminated the use of coal, and reduced overall electricity use at a time of economic expansion.

The next big step for the states of the Northeast is to bring that same sense of commitment, ingenuity and purpose towards clean transportation.

Regional policies have helped drive down electricity-related emissions, while transportation-related emissions have been mostly stagnant.

Transportation is the largest source of pollution in the Northeast region, comprising more than 40 percent of total regional global warming emissions. In addition to the health impacts associated with rising temperatures, soot and ground-level ozone from the region’s cars and trucks are responsible for more than 50,000 asthma attacks, 1,000 deaths, and other pollution-related illnesses that incur approximately $27 billion in total health costs every year. The health impacts of transportation affect all of us, but especially vulnerable are children, the elderly, and people in low-income communities (who often live in or near freight corridors).

Our transportation system pollutes because it is dirty, wasteful and inefficient. It’s also expensive. 92 percent of all transportation is powered by oil. Every year Northeast drivers send billions of dollars out of state to purchase fuel, enriching oil companies at the expense of our economy. Congestion, a growing problem in every Northeast metro area, is a waste of our time and a source of endless aggravation for Northeast drivers. 4 of the 5 states with the longest commute times are located in the Northeast. At the same time, inadequate access to affordable transportation remains a major barrier to opportunity, particularly for poor and marginalized communities, rural residents, the disabled and the elderly.

We can create a better transportation system

The good news is that we have the tools and the technologies to build a better, cleaner transportation system in the Northeast. 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 the Northeast EVs can get the emissions equivalent of a 100+ mpg vehicle.

New transportation modes such as ride-sharing and automated vehicles, if given the proper incentives, have the potential to challenge the dominance of personally owned, single-occupancy vehicles and open up new possibilities for greater system efficiency. Use of public transportation in the six largest transit systems in the Northeast  has increased over 8% since 2008. 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.  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.

A transportation system that doesn’t contribute to air pollution, doesn’t contribute to climate change, and doesn’t concern itself with the price of oil.

We need new policies to make this happen

This future won’t happen on its own. We need policies to get us there. Just as there was no one, silver-bullet policy that is responsible for the progress that we have made reducing emissions from electricity, reducing pollution in transportation will require a coordinated set of policies and regulations. It will require cooperation between local, state, regional and federal governments, and between government and the private sector. Ultimately, it will require policy leaders to identify new sources of funding for clean transportation priorities.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recommends that Northeast decisionmakers do the following to get the region on the path toward a cleaner transportation system:

  1. Create a regional limit on transportation emissions. The Northeast’s success in reducing electricity-related emissions lies in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); under RGGI, which came into force in 2009, Northeast states established an overall limit on emissions from electricity consumed in these states. The RGGI process brought together key stakeholders in the business community and guided local, state, and regional policymakers’ decisions about clean energy and efficiency investments. Establishing a similar program for the region’s transportation sector would ensure that communities and governments take a comprehensive, coordinated approach to identifying and investing in clean transit solutions.
  2. Enforce this limit through regulations that hold oil companies accountable for their emissions. Under RGGI, the emissions cap is enforced by requiring power plants to purchase allowances for every ton of pollution they emit under the cap. By limiting the number of allowances available, the program guarantees overall emission reductions. Revenue from allowance sales is used to support a range of clean energy and efficiency initiatives that save consumers money and reduce pollution. This “cap-and-invest” strategy has successfully reduced the region’s electricity emissions while cutting costs for consumers.For the transportation sector, a cap-and-invest program could require polluters (in this case, oil companies serving the Northeast) to purchase allowances under a designated cap, and communities could use the funds generated from allowance sales for clean transportation programs. This strategy has been used successfully to reduce transportation-related emissions in California, and in Ontario and Quebec, Canada.
  3. Invest in clean transportation solutions for Northeast residents. There are many valuable projects and programs in the Northeast region that could help reduce consumer costs and expand clean mobility choices. For example, states could offer subsidies for lower-income residents who want to purchase an electric vehicle; several states outside the region offer such a program, including California, which offers low-income consumers up to $13,500 in rebates when they trade in a vehicle. States could also invest in infrastructure to make electric vehicle charging more convenient for drivers. Increasing our investments in affordable housing and transit can ensure that people who want to live in communities with multiple transportation choices, or who want to live car-free, can do so. And replacing older and less-efficient buses and trucks in with electric models could significantly improve air quality in urban environments.
  4. Engage communities and stakeholders in a broad conversation about clean transportation. We need to be thinking about how to provide clean transportation options to all communities in the region, from our big metro areas, to our medium-sized post-industrial “Gateway Cities,” to suburban and rural areas. It is especially important for states to think carefully about how a new investment in clean transportation solutions can benefit communities that are currently poorly served by our existing transportation system, including many communities of color, rural communities, the disabled, and the elderly. Engaging community groups early in the process can help policymakers understand the real transportation needs of Northeast residents, and shape resulting policies and programs for maximum benefit.

The Northeast has long been a leader in addressing pollution from fossil fuels, and its multistate initiative to reduce electricity sector emissions has set an example for other regions to follow. With the federal government abdicating responsibility for our environment and our climate, state and regional leadership is more important than ever. Working together, we can create a clean transportation system that works for all our residents, and the result will be a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, less spending on fuel, and a safer climate.

Hurricane Season’s Impact at the Pump and Why Fuel Efficiency Matters

Texas Army National Guardsmen assess damage to a gas station in Victoria, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017, caused by Hurricane Harvey. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle.

Gas prices are spiking. This week EIA reported an increase in the average price of gasoline of 28 cents per gallon – with some states seeing more than 40 cent increases. That’s the largest nationwide weekly gas price increase since hurricane Katrina in 2005.

What’s 28 cents worth you ask? More than a $100 million a day it turns out.

That’s bad, but it could be worse. Without vehicle fuel efficiency and emission standards that are currently in place, American drivers would be paying an average of $50 million more per day on fuel costs.

That’s right, vehicle standards that went in to effect in 2011 are already saving Americans $50 million a day. By 2030, these same standards will deliver more the $300 million per day in fuel savings.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update.

Fuel efficiency is insurance against volatile gas prices

Harvey. Irma. Each one of these devastating storms reminds those in their path the importance of having insurance to protect their families and their property. Buying flood insurance if you live in a flood prone area is a prudent economic decision. Same goes for buying other types of insurance like health insurance and car insurance that protect you – and your household budgets – from unforeseen events

Making our cars and trucks more efficient provides insurance against volatile gas prices. More efficient vehicles mean less economic pain when oil prices spike.

But it’s even better than that. Normal insurance only pays off when disaster strikes. More efficient vehicles save on fuel costs no matter what the pump price. The fuel economy and emissions standards currently on the books through 2025 are expected to cut fuel costs by 40 percent when they are fully implemented. That means savings no matter if gas costs $2/gallon or $5/gallon.

The average household in the U.S. has already saved about $250 since 2011 because of more efficient new vehicles. And every state in the nation aims to benefit.  See what the savings in your state are from federal efficiency and emission standards.

By 2030, that total household savings are expected to rise to $2,800. That is if the Trump administration allows the standards to be implemented as currently written.

Ironically, while the country absorbs the largest price spike at the pump in recent years, the EPA held its first public hearing to reconsider federal emissions and efficiency standards for vehicles that are on the books through 2025 – the same standards that are saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump.

This is like calling your insurance agent to reduce your homeowner’s coverage while your house is on fire.

Despite the irony and the fact the agencies have shown the industry can achieve and even exceed the existing standards, Administrator Pruitt’s EPA is moving ahead to potentially weaken the vehicle standards.

My colleagues Dave Cooke and Richard Ezike testified at the hearing on Wednesday. They weren’t the only ones making the case for why it makes sense to make our cars and trucks less polluting and more efficient. Dozens of other supporters called for maintaining strong standards – everyone from concerned moms, to ministers, veterans, and unionized laborers. Concerned voices dominated the more than 100 testimonies.

UCS will continue to use the best available science to defend the standards and ensure consumers have more fuel efficient, lower polluting vehicles in every class to choose from.

If you agree keeping our vehicle efficiency and emissions standards in place makes sense to protect against future gas price spikes, or for all the other health, climate, and economic benefits from reducing our oil use, you can:

3 Reasons Why You Should Care About Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Standards

Merely typing “vehicle efficiency and emissions standards,” feels like I’m prompting you to click off in search of the latest cat meme or 8,000th story on President Trump. But the next battle in the war for better vehicles looms, and you can help defend against automaker efforts to rollback a program they agreed to not so long ago.

Here are the top 3 reasons why you should care about the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Request for Comment on Reconsideration of the Final Determination of the Mid-Term Evaluation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Model Year 2022–2025 Light-Duty Vehicles” (aka federal vehicle efficiency standards) and what you can do about it

Vehicle efficiency standards save money for all Americans, but especially low- to middle-income earners

Researchers at the University of Tennessee analyzed 34 years of consumer spending data and found that not only did households from all income levels save money because of improved vehicle efficiency, but low- to middle-income households saved a greater percentage of household income compared to higher earners. Better fuel efficiency saved an average middle-income family as much as $17,000 over the study period – even after households paid more for new and used cars equipped with fuel-saving technology. Vehicle efficiency standards, the researchers concluded, are therefore a true progressive (as opposed to regressive) policy because they benefit lower earners more than higher earners.

Interested in more of these findings? Check out this UCS fact sheet.

Without fuel efficiency standards, automakers would only make gas guzzlers

Free market advocates argue that fuel efficiency standards aren’t necessary. If there is demand for fuel efficient vehicles, then automakers will create a supply to meet that demand. While that sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn’t happen.

In the absence of federal standards, fuel efficiency largely stagnated (see below) and automakers proved reluctant to offer fuel efficient options outside of small sedans.

In response to the 1973 oil embargo, Congress established fuel economy standards for new passenger cars in 1975, then again in 1978. These standards were intended to roughly double the average fuel economy of the new car fleet to 27.5 mpg by 1985. No fuel efficiency standards passed until 2007, when Congress set a target of least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and required standards to be met at maximum feasible levels through 2030. The standards now at issue cover vehicle model years out to 2025. Source: EPA 2016 Fuel Economy Trends Report. Appendix D: Fuel Economy Data Stratified by Vehicle Type. Available at, https://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/download-co2-and-fuel-economy-trends-report-1975-2016

But Americans largely don’t want small sedans. We want SUVsand fuel efficiency! Fortunately, the vehicle efficiency standards incentivize automakers to make vehicles across all classes – including SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans – more efficient. Because the standards do not require automakers only to make small, ultra-efficient vehicles, they prompt automakers to create innovative technologies that boost the fuel-saving performance of the larger vehicles that Americans tend to prefer.

For example, the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a full-size SUV, gets a combined 29 miles per gallon. That’s what I average in my mid-sized 2012 Subaru Outback Sport. Not too long ago, the 2001 Highlander only got a combined 18 mpg and the 1995 4Runner (the Highlander predecessor) got 13 mpg. And, the standards are incentivizing automakers to develop electric vehicles. There are growing numbers of electric vehicle models and several auto companies are set to release full electric SUVs in the next several years.

By providing automakers with flexible ways to comply with the standards (aka compliance pathways), the federal vehicle efficiency program has been instrumental in giving consumers more fuel efficient choices no matter what sort of vehicle they need.

Vehicle efficiency and emissions standards are the single most important federal climate policy

I’m guessing that you care, at least tangentially, about climate change. You are reading a blog from the Union of Concerned Scientists, after all. So, you should know that the standards are set to achieve the largest reduction in global warming pollution from a single federal policy (other than the Clean Power Plan, which is mired in legal trouble and threat of repeal from the current Administration).

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S., having accounted for 27 percent of emissions in 2015. Cutting emissions from transportation is challenging as our nation continues to rely on personal vehicles and driving has become incentivized by relatively low gas prices and may become further incentivized by the introduction of autonomous driving features. 2016 had the largest increase in national vehicle miles travelled (VMT) since regulators began tracking this data in 1971 and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. More cars were sold in 2016 than ever before, adding to the 263 million registered vehicles on American roads.

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S. Source: EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015. Table ES-6. Available at, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks

That’s why – along with electric vehicles, better biofuels, and better transit options – improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles is so important. When including the emissions reductions from the finalized standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the federal fuel efficiency programs will cut emissions by an estimated 550 million tons in 2030 alone. That would be a reduction of over 3 percent of today’s transportation-related emissions and would achieve more reductions over time as the vehicle fleet turns over and gradually becomes more efficient.

How you can help protect the federal vehicle efficiency and emissions standards

UCS is leading the way on telling the EPA and Department of Transportation that consumers want to stick with the current standards. Not only are the standards cost-effective and feasible to meet, the agencies’ research showed that automakers could even exceed them. Help protect standards that are savings Americans money at the pump and reducing the risks of climate change.

Head on over to the UCS Action Center for a couple easy actions you can take, including

 

Warehouses As an Environmental Justice Issue

Photo: Atomic Hot Links/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

When we think of locally undesirable land uses, we often think of large power plants, puffing single plumes of pollution. But many plumes of pollution from trucks traveling to and from warehouses can have equally large impacts on health. 40% of US imports enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Trucks travel frequently to deliver the goods to warehouses, and further move the goods from those facilities to more customers. In the era of e-commerce, high demand for express deliveries further contributes to the massive expansion of the warehousing industry.

As an Angeleno commuter, I am deeply impressed that a large number of giant warehousing facilities emerge in the suburbs along the Interstate 10 when I drive to work. But what do these facilities bring to our communities besides consumer goods?

The significant expansion of the warehousing industry

Figure 1 Percentage changes compared to the Year 2003 in the number of establishments in selected industry sectors (Data sources: County Business Pattern 2003-2015)

Over the last decade or so, the warehousing industry has expanded substantially, especially compared to the other industry sectors. In the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, the number of warehouses and storage facilities increased by 21% between 2003 and 2015 (see Figure 1). However, during the same period, the construction sector got a 9% increase, wholesale and retail generally remained the same, and the manufacturing sector experienced a 23% plunge. While these traditional sectors in the economy stagnate, the warehousing industry becomes a star that is experiencing continued prosperity in the recent decade.

Figure 2 Number of establishments in warehousing and storage industry in the largest eight metropolitan areas in the U.S. (Data sources: County Business Pattern 2003-2015)

Expansion of the logistics industry isn’t limited to Los Angeles. Among the largest eight metropolitan areas in the US, the number of warehousing establishments increased by at least 20% in six of them: Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Miami (see Figure 2). The growth rate in Houston reached as high as 40%. The spatial expansion of warehouses is especially dramatic in metropolitan areas with abundant cheap suburban land. Warehousing developers favor this type of land as it offers many conveniences for warehousing development: low rent, large parcels, weak regulations, and good regional connections.

What impacts can warehouses have on communities?

The increased number of warehousing facilities not only consume large tracts of land, but also bring about substantial environmental externalities. Freight trucks generate air pollutants, noise, pavement damage, and traffic safety threats while moving into and out of warehouses.

According to studies in public health and traffic engineering, a truck creates significantly higher environmental impacts than a passenger vehicle. The exposure of local residents, especially children and elderly people, to truck related emissions like NOX and particulate matter would cause health outcomes including asthma and respiratory allergies.

A street view in the City of Carson where trucks (right) occupy all road lanes next to a residential neighborhood (left) (Photo: Quan Yuan)

Roads filled with semi-trucks are a familiar sight in areas and neighborhoods with warehouses. It suggests the great impacts that frequent truck movement could have on the local communities. More and more residents are becoming aware of these externalities associated with warehousing activities. Some of them have organized to fight against the siting of new warehousing projects. For instance, the World Logistics Center, a major warehousing project under review in the City of Moreno Valley, is opposed by local resident groups, environmental advocates, and public agencies including the South Coast Air Quality Management District. This huge project, with floor space totaling around 40 million square feet, rouses concerns about the environmental risks associated with substantial truck movement.

Do some neighborhoods receive more warehousing facilities than others?

Figure 3 Spatial distribution of warehouses and two selected types of neighborhoods in the Los Angeles region (Date sources: Costar, Inc.; American Community Survey 2010)

Given that warehousing facilities are regarded as locally undesirable, an important question arises: are they disproportionately distributed? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. My recent analysis of warehousing location in Los Angeles revealed that low-income and medium-income minority neighborhoods contain a vast majority of warehouses and distribution centers (see Figure 3). Apart from traditional industrial clusters in the East LA and Gateway cities, suburban neighborhoods in the Inland Empire are rising hotspots for warehousing development. Econometric model results confirm the spatial patterns that minority neighborhoods receive significantly more warehouses than white neighborhoods, after controlling for household income, land rent and many other variables. The empirical evidence implies a classic environmental justice problem.

But why? Warehousing developers search for locations with low land rent, low-wage labor pool, weak political power, and favorable public policies. Economic, sociopolitical and institutional factors are equally important in the dynamics. When local authorities are indifferent about warehousing development, minority residents may not be able to resist this spatial inequity, or unequal spatial distribution of warehouses.

This environmental justice problem is drawing the attention of the public, academia, and policy makers. Land use regulations, environmental standards, vehicle fleet upgrades, and techniques (such as using plants as buffers) are all potential options for alleviating the problem. As warehouse development continues to increase, let’s take seriously this environmental justice issue, and come up with feasible solutions that stop burdening our minority communities with air pollution.

Quan Yuan is a Ph.D. candidate in Planning and Policy Development at Sol Price School of Public Policy, the University of Southern California. His research interests mainly lie in urban transportation planning, freight, parking, and environmental sustainability.

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