Union of Concerned ScientistsVehicles – Union of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Fri, 13 Oct 2017 19:24:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Vehicles – Union of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org 32 32 Setting the Record Straight on EVs and Biofuels http://blog.ucsusa.org/jeremy-martin/setting-the-record-straight-on-evs-and-biofuels http://blog.ucsusa.org/jeremy-martin/setting-the-record-straight-on-evs-and-biofuels#comments Wed, 11 Oct 2017 14:33:51 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=54250
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.

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Why Are So Many Car Companies Making Big EV Announcements? http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/why-are-so-many-car-companies-making-big-ev-announcements http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/why-are-so-many-car-companies-making-big-ev-announcements#comments Thu, 05 Oct 2017 16:14:21 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=54179

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.

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Is Your Representative Setting Us Up for Another Dieselgate? http://blog.ucsusa.org/jonna-hamilton/is-your-representative-setting-us-up-for-another-dieselgate http://blog.ucsusa.org/jonna-hamilton/is-your-representative-setting-us-up-for-another-dieselgate#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 12:58:20 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=54166

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.

 

 

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Why Going 100% Electric in California Isn’t as Crazy as it Might Seem http://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/why-going-100-electric-in-california-isnt-as-crazy-as-it-might-seem http://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/why-going-100-electric-in-california-isnt-as-crazy-as-it-might-seem#comments Tue, 03 Oct 2017 16:52:47 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=54128
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 emissions 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 that 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, someone 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.

 

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How Freight Impacts Communities Across California http://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/how-freight-impacts-communities-across-california http://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/how-freight-impacts-communities-across-california#comments Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:51:25 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53769
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 of 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.

Cities with the most air pollution 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
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Tax Credits and Rebates for Electric Cars Benefit US Drivers and Automakers http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/ev-incentives http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/ev-incentives#respond Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:24:52 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53772
General Motors

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.

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What the Northeast Could Build With a Transportation Cap and Invest Program http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/what-the-northeast-could-build-with-a-transportation-cap-and-invest-program http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/what-the-northeast-could-build-with-a-transportation-cap-and-invest-program#respond Fri, 15 Sep 2017 21:40:37 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53729

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.

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Truck and Bus Legislation to Watch in California http://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/truck-and-bus-legislation-to-watch-in-california http://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/truck-and-bus-legislation-to-watch-in-california#respond Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:13:55 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53684
Photo: Jeff Turner. CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

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 Assemblymember 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
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Self-Driving Vehicle Policy: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly http://blog.ucsusa.org/josh-goldman/the-good-bad-and-ugly-self-driving-vehicle-policy http://blog.ucsusa.org/josh-goldman/the-good-bad-and-ugly-self-driving-vehicle-policy#comments Thu, 14 Sep 2017 17:46:37 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53654
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.

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The Northeast Should Limit Pollution from Transportation http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/the-northeast-should-limit-pollution-from-transportation http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/the-northeast-should-limit-pollution-from-transportation#comments Tue, 12 Sep 2017 14:13:16 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53613

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. Proceeds 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.

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