UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

Washington State Tackles Transportation Emissions

Photo: Alaska Airlines

The climate crisis demands an immediate response on multiple fronts, and while in Washington DC the Trump administration is attempting to reverse the progress of the last administration, in Washington state legislators are tackling the challenge head on.

The largest source of pollution in Washington state is transportation, which is another way to say burning petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel. Tackling emissions from transportation requires policies that focus on vehicles and transportation fuels. Broad economy-wide measures like carbon pricing or cap and trade are important and should be pursued but will have limited direct impact on transportation in the near term. Fortunately, a clean fuel program, which targets transportation fuel directly, has proven quite effective. Legislators in Washington are considering enacting such a standard, which would be a major step forward in cutting oil use and emissions from transportation.

Clean fuels policies cut oil use and emissions

California, Oregon and British Columbia each have a clean fuel standard in place. These are technology neutral performance standards that require average transportation fuels to get cleaner over time. They don’t mandate the use of any specific clean fuel but instead provide support for all clean fuels based on a scientific assessment of the benefits they provide compared to burning gasoline and diesel fuel.

The measure of a clean fuel adds up the global warming pollution associated with the full lifecycle of the fuel, from fuel production to combustion. This approach is flexible, and allows for the goals to be met in several ways: by blending cleaner biofuels into the gasoline and diesel used by the existing fleet of cars and trucks,  substituting fossil fuels with drop-in renewable fuels (such as renewable diesel, renewable natural gas, or renewable jet fuel), or by using more clean fuels like electricity and hydrogen. The lifecycle assessment for each fuel recognizes that producing transportation fuels can also be very polluting, so emissions from using fuels is combined with emissions from oil fields, tar sands, oil refineries, not to mention the production of crops for biofuels or power for electricity generation. See our fact sheet and analysis on clean fuel availability for more details.

Experience shows clean fuels policies work

California’s clean fuel policy, called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, was enacted nearly a decade ago, and with a track record of success it was recently extended to reduce the carbon intensity of the state’s fuel supply by 20 percent by 2030. The policy has significantly increased use of clean alternative fuels in the state and has encouraged producers of clean fuels to reduce emissions associated with their production.

For example, the policy does not just simply encourage the use of alternative such as biodiesel and natural gas; it encourages fuel producers to use the lowest carbon sources of these alternative fuels, which means biodiesel, made from used cooking oil or biomethane captured from wastes. Clean fuels policy also provides a substantial support for electrification of vehicles. By switching from diesel to electricity, transit agencies can generate credits worth more than $10,000 per year for each bus, and clean fuel credits can be used to fund rebate programs for electric vehicles. A program under development in California is expected to provide rebates worth up to $2,000 per EV.

The cost of climate inaction is high and rising

The oil industry and other critics of clean fuel policies claim they will increase the cost of gasoline or diesel. But by focusing attention on the small cost of making smart investments to move steadily away from petroleum-based fuels, they distract from the real risks to consumers and the public. Cleaner transportation choices like electricity not only are produced in state but have lower and more stable prices than oil.  The real risk to consumers comes from the inherent instability of global oil markets and the Trump administration’s efforts, aided by the oil industry, to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards. And the cost of inaction in the face of the climate crisis is much higher still. Beware of the oil industry’s self-serving claims to be protecting the pocketbooks of drivers when they are really protecting their own monopoly on the transportation fuel marketplace at the expense of future generations.

Washington lawmakers should join their neighbors on the west coast by enacting a clean fuels program of their own.  The cost of inaction is just too high to neglect the largest source of pollution in the state, and the benefits of accelerating the transition to electricity and other clean fuels is too great to ignore.  Together with other policies to promote renewable energy and more efficient buildings, a clean fuels policy is a critical tool for Washington to address the climate crisis.

EPA Report Shows Vehicles Are Most Efficient Ever But is Trying to Roll Back That Progress

Today, EPA published the latest in a series of annual reports looking at the fuel economy and emissions of passenger cars and trucks. The news is both good and completely unsurprising: vehicles are more efficient than ever before, and manufacturers continue to comply with the strong standards driving that improvement.

Incredibly, the fact that consumers continue save bucketloads of cash ($78 billion and counting) as a result of these standards is not slowing down this administration from rolling them back. Manufacturers have plenty of technology left on the shelf…and if the administration gets its way, that’s where it’ll stay.

MPG at highest ever (again)

I’ve read countless articles about the death of sedans and the rise of crossovers, but no matter what type of vehicle it may be that customers are buying today, they’re getting choices that are (or nearly are) more efficient than ever before. Improved efficiency in each class of vehicle over the past few years has continued to push the fuel economy of all new vehicles sold to a new record high of 24.9 mpg for the 2017 model year, up 0.2 mpg from the previous year, even as cars give way to more pick-ups and SUVs.

The only major improvements in fuel economy and emissions have occurred under strong standards—CAFE standards were held flat for nearly 20 years before the first improved standards for light trucks went into effect in 2005, to be followed with standards for all passenger vehicles beginning in 2011 (CAFE) and 2012 (global warming emissions). And now EPA wants to put the freeze on that progress once again.

Manufacturers are complying with strong standards

This record level of fuel economy is no accident—driving that improvement for consumers are strong standards set in 2010 and affirmed in 2016. And, despite their statements to the contrary, we continue to see automakers complying with these emissions standards.

Manufacturers are reducing emissions in response to strong standards and have accrued a massive bank of credits (249 million metric tons!) that will help them meet even stronger standards in the future.

Automakers will be entering the 2018 model year with more than 249 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 credits, thanks to doing better than required in previous years. While they’ve had to use some of these credits again this year, the industry used less than last year (18 MMT worth vs 30 MMT). That’s because automakers improved their fleets in 2017 at a rate greater than required, which helps illustrate the year-to-year variance in model updates and the way in which banked credits are planned as apart of an overall compliance strategy.

To put that 249 MMT of banked credits in context, manufacturers could actually do absolutely nothing to improve the efficiency of their vehicles until 2020 and still continue to comply with the standards.

Plenty of technology to choose from for future improvements

In order to achieve record high levels of fuel economy, manufacturers have been deploying a wide array of different technologies, as highlighted in the latest report (see figure). The figure below shows the percent of a manufacturer’s vehicles that employ a particular type of efficiency technology–note in particular the wide variance and numerous values well short of the majority of a manufacturer’s sales.

The latest data from EPA on some of the most common efficiency technologies shows that manufacturers have only just begun to deploy some of the most obvious ways to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicles, often focusing on just one or two technologies. That leaves plenty of room for further improvement, to meet even stronger standards.

There are two clear facts that jump out from this figure: 1) most manufacturers have invested in just a handful of technologies to-date to improve their fleet, and 2) that means a lot of unfulfilled potential yet to tap. For example, while Hyundai has focused on deploying direct injection across its fleet, it has barely invested in increasing the efficiency of its transmissions or even much deployment of smaller, turbocharged engines. Increasing investment in these technologies would provide ample room for further future improvement.

While most companies have at least begun to invest in improving their fleet, one company has essentially rested on its laurels: Toyota. As we pointed out in our 2018 Automaker Rankings, Toyota stopped investing in its trucks and SUVs for a number of years, largely relying on its Prius family of hybrids to comply with efficiency requirements—and that’s borne out in the data provided by EPA. As a result, Toyota is the only major manufacturer to actually see its fuel economy get worse over the past 5 years.

The data shows we can, and should, keep moving forward

This latest EPA report shows clearly: 1) the standards are driving improvements as intended, saving consumers money and reducing emissions; and 2) there is ample technology available to continue to improve, with manufacturers well positioned to meet stronger standards primarily by continuing to invest in reducing emissions from conventional vehicles.

Unfortunately, Andrew Wheeler’s EPA would rather ignore its own ample evidence for the benefits of setting strong standards and the ability for manufacturers to meet the challenge in order to roll back this successful program for the administration’s own ideological aims. After calling off negotiations with California, with scant evidence these negotiations truly started in the first place, it’s clear that this administration is aiming to stop this successful program no matter what, essentially halting progress at 2020 levels.

Rolling back the standards will throw the whole industry in limbo, stifling investment in many of the most obvious off-the-shelf opportunities and putting the brakes on investment in the next generation of technology. The people who will pay the most for this administration’s failure to follow the data are those who can least afford it: American workers and lower- and middle-class families who spend a disproportionate share of their income at the pump.

EPA’s own analysis shows that a rollback is the wrong way to go—but there’s little to suggest that this administration is interested in anything but driving this successful program off a cliff.


6 Clean Energy Milestones to Watch For

Photo: RichmondBUILD Academy

Clean energy superstars have been on a tear in recent years, and those superstars—solar, wind, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and others—have had me watching for signposts on our journey to a clean energy future.

My focus on clean energy milestones has been turbocharged by the latest figures for how we make electricity in this country, and the news that we passed yet another notable milestone in 2018: solar panels and wind turbines provide fully 10% of our power mix last year (five times what those two technologies were contributing just a decade before).

So what clean energy milestones can we hope to hit next in this country? Here are 6 I’m watching for.

1. Wind hits 100,000 megawatts

Wind’s progress in recent years has been a marvel to behold. From less than 1% of our electricity mix just over a decade ago, this technology has grown to be a serious player.

The milestone math: The recently released year-end figures from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) showed that by the end of 2018 we hit 96,488 megawatts (MW) of wind power, across 41 states. The US industry has installed 7,000-9,000 MW each of the last few years, and as of December, says AWEA, had 16,521 MW under construction. New wind farms tend to go online late in each year (with 50-80% of additions in Q4).

So we look set to hit 100,000 MW—100 gigawatts (GW)—of wind power in just a few months. That’ll be enough capacity to meet the equivalent of 30 million US households’ electricity needs.

2. Solar hits 2 million (rooftops)

The rooftop market is an important piece of the overall solar photvoltaic (PV) picture, and, in many parts of the country, the most visible evidence of the clean energy revolution (when we remember to look up).

This is another milestone that would have been hard to grasp just a few short years ago, when solar would barely show in calculations of our electricity mix. And we hit the 1 millionth PV system less than three years ago.

The milestone math: In 2017, says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we gained 300,000 distributed (small-scale) systems, putting the US total at close to 1.6 million systems. Preliminary results for last year suggest residential solar grew about by about the same amount in 2018 as in 2017.

All that adds up to the 2-millionth solar rooftop being in our very near future, if we haven’t already covered it in solar panels.

As a bonus (Milestone 2b, maybe), I’ve also got my eye on solar’s own 100,000 MW level. We’re at around 64,000 MW now, and projected to gain 12,000-15,000 MW a year over the next several years. So we’d be looking at hitting that numerically interesting threshold sometime in the year 2021.

3. Renewable energy hits 20% of US electricity

Exciting though solar and wind and their 10% mark are, they’re just pieces of the renewable energy story. Hydropower has been a piece of the mix for more than a century, and  biomass and geothermal are also in there.

The milestone math: With hydro at 6-7% and solar and wind at 10% and growing, we’re getting close. If solar and wind continue their brisk pace, we could be looking to hit the 20%-renewables mark as early as next year.

4. Offshore wind hits 1,000 megawatts

After all those high-flying numbers above, a 1,000 MW target may not seem like much. And Europe’s offshore wind industry (with a 25-year head start) is at more than 18,000 MW.

But getting to 1,000 MW in this country with offshore wind will be a neat, tangible milestone in our journey from a little to a lot—from the one five-turbine/30-MW offshore wind project in existence in the US at this point, to a future where turbines off our coasts are contributing seriously to cleaning up our power sector and growing our clean energy economy.

The milestone math: Yeah, we’re at 30 MW now, but there are thousands of megawatts of projects under development. Some combination of the Vineyard Wind project (800 MW, off Massachusetts), Revolution Wind (700 MW, between Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island), South Fork (130 MW) off Long Island, or projects off New Jersey, Maryland, or even Virginia (12 MW) would do the trick. And the next megawatts should be springing from the water in the next couple of years.

Credit: J. Rogers

5. LED A-type bulbs hit 1 billion

If we’re talking about clean energy milestones, it’s good to include energy efficiency—the energy we’re not having to use because we’re doing more with less. It isn’t always the easiest thing to quantify, but there are options (check out ACEEE, for example).

For these purposes, I’ve picked a prominent, palpable proxy for our progress (and a personal favorite): light bulbs. Specifically, the uptake in LED bulbs that are “A-type”—the shape we all knew and loved back in the old, inefficient days (before curly-cue compact fluorescents).

The milestone math: While white LEDs have been broadly available for only a few years, they’re rapidly gaining market share. The latest Sustainable Energy in America Factbook from BNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy shows that the number of A-type LEDs in use in the US grew from essentially nothing in 2010 to 200 million in 2015 and 436 million in 2016. So that billion-bulb milestone has got to be right around the corner, if we haven’t already hit it.

BloombergNEF/Business Council for Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Energy in America Factbook 2019

6. Electric vehicles hit 2 million

When we’re talking clean energy and momentum, America’s roadways are another place where there’s progress to celebrate. The move to electric vehicles has been another story, one good for our move away from dirty fossil fuels (and a whole lot of fun for EV drivers).

The milestone math: EV sales have been taking off, and there are now 1 million battery-electric and plug-in hybrids in the US. At current rates, says my colleague David Reichmuth, we’re likely to double that tally within 2.5 years, meaning we’d hit the 2 million mark in 2021.

And more!

These 6 milestones are just a taste of the different indications that our clean energy momentum is real, serous, and growing—and just a glimpse of some of the technologies in play. And, of course, the US is just a slice of the clean energy momentum story throughout the world.

But those are some milestones we’ll watch out for, and report back to you on.

In the meantime, I’m plenty happy to add to this watchlist. If you’ve got clean energy milestones you’re looking to see in the near future, feel free to add them below.

Because every one of these is testament to the now-ness of clean energy, and worth a little celebration—even as we zip on by them to the next ones on our lists.

Public Domain

Self-Driving Cars and Land Use: An Interview with Becky Steckler and Nico Larco

Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr

Take a look outside. If you’re in a city, you might notice a lot of space has been devoted to roads and parking lots. Will automated vehicles (AVs) change how we use roads? Will we no longer need parking lots if we’re being shuttled around by cars that are constantly being used? Will the expected convenience of AVs create demand for even more roads? What can cities do to ensure AVs improve the livability of their communities?

To answer these questions, I sat down with land use and planning experts Becky Steckler and Prof. Nico Larco of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon. Becky and Nico study the effects AVs could have on cities’ development, sustainability, equity, and budgets. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

Ok, let’s start with the big one – in the United States, transportation planning has largely focused on personal vehicles and roads. How could autonomous vehicles change that equation for better or worse?

Nico Larco: On the one hand, roads are going to be exactly like they are today. On the other hand, they’re going to be used quite differently.

People talk about a complete reshaping of our infrastructure, but the truth is that when you talk to any of the tech companies or vehicle manufacturers who are developing these cars, all of them are designing AVs to operate on roads that look like the roads that we’ve got today.  There is not the funding or political will for large scale changes to our infrastructure.

That said, how the space is used might change a good amount.  We often say that AVs already exist in our cities, it just so happens that there are drivers in them. What we mean by that is that Uber and Lyft today are exactly the model of how we will use AVs – we call it up, it shows up, we get in, it takes us somewhere and then it goes and does something else.

If you start thinking about using AVs that way, then the pick-up and drop-off along streets becomes a huge new part of how streets function. It takes up space and it takes up time to load and unload passengers.  This is already changing the way streets are used.

Becky Steckler: As a parent, I’m excited about the possibility that these vehicles might do a better job of noticing when my kids are biking on the road or trying to cross the street. The potential for safe streets is pretty exciting.

So, if we’re doing more drop-offs and pickups with AVs, do you see a re-purposing of space currently allocated for parking?

Nico: With all these changes, parking seems like a really inefficient use of space. As you’re reducing parking along the street itself, that opens space up to be used for something else, like new bike lanes or e-scooter lanes. You can try expanded sidewalks or parklets, or you could potentially think about more lanes for vehicular traffic.

If cars that would otherwise be parked begin hitting the road, would we actually need more road space to accommodate AVs?

Nico: It’s likely that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft will become cheaper and easier to use with AVs, and throughout history, anytime we’ve had transportation get cheaper and easier, we tend to consume more of it. That means there’s a possibility that we will have more induced trips, more congestion, and more vehicle miles traveled. So, streets might actually become more congested.

What should cities be doing now to prevent the busy, congested road scenario?

Nico: We talk to cities a lot about making sure they get their priorities right today, and that their community goals are front and center in this whole transition. If these goals aren’t clearly laid out when AVs arrive in our cities in huge numbers, there’s just going to be a push for more asphalt to handle more car trips.

Becky: We need to ask, “What kind of communities do we really want?” Do we want places where it’s pleasant to walk and bike, and where we run into our neighbors and talk to them? AVs could provide an opportunity, if we take advantage of it, to re-develop our cities into these really wonderful places and fill in space that’s currently a parking lot with housing or places of employment that bring us closer together. This could be a great opportunity for many cities across the country.

Could you talk a little more about the form these re-developments could take?

Becky: In many locations, what we need is housing that is easily accessible to transit, or is close to downtown, close to jobs, close to schools. But there are other possibilities too. It might be greenspace, like putting in a park or even just planting more trees that make a street more pleasant to walk around. Cities are going to have to think about what is needed in different neighborhoods.

Nico: In terms of parking lots, it won’t be the same everywhere. Downtown areas in some cities have minimal or no parking requirements or very small parking requirements – they’re not going to see a lot of changes. The buildings are already taking up most of the land.

Then you have other cities that have a tremendous amount of parking downtown, like parts of Cleveland, Houston, and Phoenix. These large expanses of parking can be re-developed. In suburban areas there will be even greater re-development opportunities at large big-box type stores or office parks, where parking takes up a lot of space that can be used for something else.

Parking has been detrimental to many cities in the United States. It spreads things out, doesn’t let things be close enough that you can walk to them, and you wouldn’t want to walk to them because it’s such an aggressive auto-dominated environment. Repurpose that parking, and cities can become much more livable.

What are your thoughts on how AVs will influence other forms of transportation like walking and biking? Will changes in road design encourage more of us to use these modes, or will cities be designed for higher-speed, efficient movement of robot cars that scare bikes and pedestrians away?

Nico: AVs, in some ways, are presenting a fantastic opportunity by asking, “What do you want to do with a new transportation system?” We could enact policies that encourage walking and biking, or we could continue prioritizing vehicles.

Unfortunately, if you look at mistakes we’ve made in the past, you find we have pursued development patterns that have led to environmental degradation, social isolation, and climate change.

If we think of AVs as a step beyond what we already see happening with TNCs, we can look at the effects of TNCs to understand what the effects of AVs might be. And the data so far is not great.

Bruce Schaller did a great analysis earlier this year looking at a few metro areas in the US, and he found that Uber and Lyft-type services are cannibalizing transit, biking and walking. So, we’re getting more car travel, and we’re taking away from the modes that we really want to grow. But whether this trend continues is completely a policy question.

What if we did things like congestion pricing, or an empty-seat tax? Then, all of a sudden, we would be putting the cost of these externalities into the cost of the trip, which might actually lead us to make healthier and cleaner decisions.

Becky: Many cities realize that if they are going to achieve their goals, especially reduced greenhouse gas emissions, then they have to replace those vehicle trips with other types of trips. Improving biking and walking infrastructure is an important step in reducing these emissions.

Any time I start a trip, I take out my map app, and I have all these different options. Should I take transit? Should I take a bike? Should I take a scooter? Should I use Uber or Lyft? And I can see how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost, and what route it’s going to send me on.

As many cities prepare for AVs, especially cities concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, they’re really thinking about how we move people to the lowest carbon mode. How do we prioritize our bike and pedestrian infrastructure? How do we make sure smarter choices are more comfortable and convenient?

I’m excited by the opportunities. If you’re building origins and destinations closer to each other because you’re not building the parking that pushes it farther away, it really increases the opportunity for people to walk and bike. There’s kind of a magic quarter mile to- and from- transit where people are more likely to walk to it, if they feel safe and comfortable doing so. It seems like so many more cities around the country are really focusing on walking and biking, and with more space in our cities opening up to put our homes and destinations closer together, we could see many more people turning to those modes.

I like the framing you mentioned earlier of cities having these goals in place before the technology surprises them and they just rush to accommodate more vehicles. Could you say more about planning for AVs?

Becky: If we could’ve envisioned what the car would’ve done to our communities, back when it was introduced by Henry Ford, I’d like to think that we would’ve done things differently. But today we have the tools to envision what the future could look like. I think everybody is afraid of the possibility of unleashing AVs and having tons of empty vehicles roaming around without passengers or delivering a single cupcake – which sometimes happens with Uber Eats. It’s important that we figure these things out now.

Nico: My advice to cities is, “Make sure you get your priorities right.” Based on climate and equity goals, cities should know the kinds of modes to prioritize: walking, then biking, then transit, then freight, then single occupancy vehicles. Then figure out what the levers are in this new mobility landscape to support the modes that are the most important.

For the most part, we already know what works. AVs are not going to change some of the basic smart-growth and pedestrian-oriented design principles we should be implementing, but they can help provide the space needed to implement some of these principles.

Dense, walkable, mixed-use development – those are the key pieces. I’m living in the Netherlands right now while on sabbatical. Just traveling through Europe, over and over I’m reminded that density is the number one key, and that’s always been the biggest uphill battle in the US.

This idea is almost irrelevant to AVs, aside from the potential for getting more of that parking land back, which might facilitate more density. Communities that are interested in equity issues, economic vitality, and climate goals are going to be pushing towards modes of transportation that are not the single occupancy automobile.

Where’s the urban planning community on this? Are there still schools of thought that just want to get as many cars through a stop light as possible?

Becky: It really depends on where you live. Professional planners are supporting their elected officials, and they need to respond to the pressures and concerns that those elected officials have. The response to emerging technologies will look very different in Seattle, where they are heavily investing in transit instead of parking (and it’s one of the few places in the country where transit use is actually increasing) than in Dallas, where they have much more sprawl and it’s going to be tougher to walk around, especially in the summertime when it’s so incredibly hot.

The professional planner’s role is to provide the different options and be able to illustrate the benefits and challenges of different types of policy approaches. If you want to have healthier people, then you have to build places where it’s easy and comfortable for people to walk and bike.

For the industry, and especially for traffic engineers, the priority for the last 50 years has been to move vehicles, but I think that’s really starting to change.

There’s obviously going to be a transition to this new technology. What’s that transition going to look like?

Nico: The deployment is going to be geographically differentiated. The first wave will be cities that have large streets, gridded or straightforward street patterns, and that don’t get too much snow. As the technology gets more sophisticated, we’ll begin seeing it in more complicated situations.

Boston’s probably going to get AVs later than Miami, just due to the layout of the streets. Europe is probably going to be later than that with the smaller width of their streets.

The strange part is, when deployment happens, it’ll be stepped, not gradual. If deployment occurs through fleets, then what’s going to happen is one day, Waymo is going to point to your city and say “Okay, here are your 5,000 AVs. Ready, GO.”

Just in the last year, Waymo has ordered 82,000 vans. They ordered 20,000 in January 2018 and another 62,000 in June 2018. So, they’re not going to be deploying just one or two vehicles at a time.

So, the deployment is going to be geographically differentiated but also really stepped. You might go from nothing, to a hundred, or even a thousand AVs. So, cities could see the impacts of AVs, potentially, in short order.

Becky: It’s been interesting to watch how e-scooters have been introduced, where they were just dumped on cities without any kind of warning. In the lead up to AVs, cities are going to be thinking about these vehicles ahead of time. Some might even put a cap on the number they allow.

Who makes the decisions when it comes to reallocating road space and determining the use of the public right of way?

Becky: It’s usually the cities. It really depends on what jurisdiction you’re in. In most places, it is going to be cities that control road space, i.e., sidewalk to sidewalk, as well as the zoning. There are cases with county or state lands that have specific rules or regulations on them too, so it really depends on where you are across the country. But in most locations, when it comes to land use, it’s the cities that are in charge.

Nico: It’s a huge thing for cities to realize: that they own the operating environment for all these new technologies. They have a tremendous amount of power and say in what happens to road space. They need to take control and not just let these changes happen to them, but shape changes that are coming.

What should cities keep in mind as they’re making these decisions?

Nico: AVs are not just a transportation issue, e-commerce is not just a retail issue, these are everything issues. We need to get outside of just thinking about these issues in narrow disciplines because they are going to have far reaching impacts.

There are big revolutions heading our direction, if we want to have equitable, environmentally friendly, economically sustainable outcomes, then we need to build political support. We need to make sure we’re talking to people outside of just the transportation sector.

Everyone needs to think, “How will AVs effect the specific area that I work on?” If you’re interested in anything that has to do with cities, it will be impacted by these vehicles.


Becky Steckler, AICP is the Program Director for the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon. She has over 20 years of project management experience, with a focus on land use, transportation, economic development, and strategic planning projects. As the Urbanism Next Program Director, Ms. Steckler manages and conducts technical research on the secondary impacts of emerging technologies (autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, and e-commerce) on land use, urban design, transportation, and real estate and the implications of these changes on equity, the economy, the environment, and governance. She is a member of the Oregon Legislative Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles that will make recommendations to the Oregon Legislature on enabling legislation for autonomous vehicles.

Nico Larco, AIA is the Director of the Urbanism Next Center and a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Oregon. The Urbanism Next Center is focused on how technological advances such as new mobility, autonomous vehicles, e-commerce and the sharing economy are changing city form and development.  Prof. Larco assists cities and projects with future-proofing, has run workshops and charrettes nationally and internationally on this topic, and is currently coordinating work in this area with various municipal and state agencies around the globe.  He is also a Principal of Larco/Knudson, an urban design consulting firm.

The Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon is leading conversations nationally and globally around the effects automated vehicles could have on cities. Approaching the issue from an interdisciplinary perspective, Urbanism Next engages architects, city and transportation planners, developers, elected officials, and technology providers around the changing landscape of how people and goods move. The center is hosting its 2nd annual conference around these issues from May 7-9th in Portland, Oregon. More information can be found at https://www.urbanismnext.com/.

Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr Photo: Mark Hogan Photo: Adam Coppola

EPA Head Lies about Fuel Economy Fines in Push for Weaker Car Standards

Fiat Chrysler spinning itself in circles as it chooses to pay fines and buy credits from competitors instead of investing in efficiency for the long-term. Photo courtesy of FCA

In an interview with Bloomberg Media on February 4th, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that manufacturers have paid $77 million in fines for not complying “with the current Obama numbers,” going on to say that “it’s incorrect to say that the automobile manufacturer can comply with the Obama numbers. We want a more realistic number.”

In waging this war on “the Obama numbers”, Andrew Wheeler is waging a war on facts in order to increase pollution from passenger cars and trucks and force consumers to pay more at the pump, lining the pockets of the oil industry with whom he has met repeatedly in his short tenure at EPA.

Fiat-Chrysler is paying a fine…for repeating history

One part of the story is correct: Fiat Chrysler is paying $77 million in fines as a result of the inefficiency of its 2016 model year fleet. However, this fine is not because they aren’t in compliance the critical and important standards set under Obama (in fact, they are). Instead, Fiat Chrysler is paying a fine for violating a Congressional law meant to prevent the very actions which set in motion the bailout of Chrysler!

In the 2000s, Chrysler and other domestic manufacturers had invested heavily in SUV and light truck production in the United States, essentially ignoring investment in passenger cars. When oil prices rose, they were completely unprepared for the market shift away from these big gas guzzlers and towards the more efficient passenger cars made by their competitors. The result of this negligence were massive layoffs of domestic workers.

In 2005, General Motors announced the closure of 12 manufacturing plants, resulting in the loss of 30,000 jobs across North America. In 2006, Ford announced eliminations of up to 30,000 jobs and 14 factories. In 2007. Chrysler announced cuts to 13,000 jobs in North America and at least partial closures of 4 plants. This massive economic catastrophe was the result of a business strategy that ignored the possibility of a changing market and the inherent fluctuations resulting from a volatile oil market, putting short-term profits over smarter, longer-term investments.

Congress says enough is enough

The long-reaching impact of these lay-offs is apparent in Michigan today, even as many of these jobs have returned. And in 2007, Congress sought to put an end to the detrimental behavior that cost the public so much.

In the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), Congress set a mandatory limit for a manufacturer’s domestically produced passenger car fleet—no longer would a manufacturer be allowed to ignore investment in a robust portfolio of efficient vehicles produced in North America. In order to make sure the bailouts, layoffs, and economic turmoil brought about by shortsighted investment strategies, the law requires that every manufacturer’s domestically produced passenger car fleet achieves an average fuel economy no more than 8 percent worse than the average car sold in the United States. .

Fiat-Chrysler tells the American people: We don’t care

In 2007, Congress tried to prevent future crises by passing EISA. And in 2008, the American taxpayer bailed out Chrysler and General Motors, assuming that these companies had learned their lesson. But just seven years later, Fiat Chrysler flaunted the requirements set out by Congress to avoid another bail-out and protect American jobs.

In 2015, Fiat Chrysler knew that it was going to fall well short of the requirements on North American production of efficient passenger cars. Yet in 2016, the company doubled down on its strategy, not only refusing to improve the efficiency of its domestic fleet but scrapping production of its  most efficient vehicles entirely. This was a conscious and deliberate choice to ignore Congress and the goodwill of the American people in bailing out the failing company by repeating history. The penalty for doing so was a $77 million price-tag they were willing to pay.

Fiat-Chrysler is being fined because they are falling short of their competitors and focusing on short-term gains in place of long-term investment, exactly the behavior the law they broke was meant to combat.

EPA wants you to believe that manufacturers can’t meet standards…and so does Fiat Chrysler

Andrew Wheeler’s EPA is in the process of undoing the regulations that have continued to make vehicles of every size and type more efficient. He’s already claimed ridiculous things about the impacts of these rules, but now he’s adding a new weapon in his quest to harm American consumers: lying about whether manufacturers are in compliance with these standards.

In fact, the document published by NHTSA disclosing these fines shows quite clearly that manufacturers continue to comply with the CAFE program. Even his own EPA shows that manufacturers continue to comply with the program, in part by using credits earned for exceeding expectations in the early years to buy more time to comply with the harder future standards, for which they’ve prepared a number of widespread developments, whether that’s mild hybridization of some of the largest vehicles on the road, deployment of dozens of new electric vehicles, or just the “holy grail” of internal combustion engines.

Fiat Chrysler has been quite clear about how it feels about regulations—it would rather pay the U.S. government fines than provide customers with efficient options. And it has lobbied Andrew Wheeler for a dramatically weaker program in order to continue doing so. But one company’s strategic indifference to fuel economy improvements are not justification to rollback a program that is cutting global warming emissions, reducing our use of fossil fuel, and saving consumers billions at the pump.

Self-Driving Cars Need to be Steered in a Climate-Smart Direction

Electric AVs being tested by Cruise Automation frequently pass by my home in San Francisco. Photo: Don Anair

The roving autonomous vehicles on the streets of San Francisco are one of the frequent reminders on my daily commute that our transportation system is changing. But will self-driving cars be good or bad for climate change?

Imaginations can run wild with “heaven or hell” scenarios of automated cars.  Imagine zooming around uncongested roads and highways while passengers attend to their social media, relax with friends, or take in a movie in a clean, electric vehicle.  Or, in the darker vision, zombie cars with no passengers are clogging roads and spewing pollution, urban sprawl is given a new life, and marginalized communities continue to lack good transportation options. As this technology comes to market, it will be up to decision makers to set us on the right course with smart policies.

Some researchers have been putting pen to paper to better understand the potential climate risks of self-driving cars (or autonomous or automated vehicles (AVs) as they are otherwise called) as well as their potential climate benefits. This research is providing important insights into the potential for building a modern transportation system that is less polluting, less congested, more equitable and more efficient than what we have today. It also highlights the significant risks of inaction and the difficulty of achieving the best outcomes.

3 Revolutions and a Multi-Modal Future: Autonomous, Electric, and Sharing Rides

Let’s start with the positive vision first. Self-driving car technologies are paired with electric vehicles, which we’ve shown have lower carbon emissions no matter where you live in the U.S.  In addition, AVs usher in a new wave of transportation services—think Uber and Lyft 2.0—where rides are more convenient than individual vehicle ownership and are cost-competitive.  This leads to a reduction in personal car ownership, since not owning a car is now a more viable, cheaper option for households.  Reduced car-ownership alone doesn’t solve the problem, but when paired with increased access to mobility options like shared bikes, scooters, and efficient mass transit, individuals now choose from a variety of options for each trip, rather than always defaulting to the car formerly parked in their driveway. Sharing or pooling of rides is seamless and offers a lower-cost option, access to faster moving car-pool lanes and lower tolls, while reducing the number of cars on the road.  This ideal future of clean, equitable, and accessible mobility is one of autonomous, electric, and pooled car trips combined with urban design and infrastructure that supports walking, scooters, bikes, and mass transit, and pricing signals that steer choices towards the cleanest, most efficient modes of travel.

Figure 1 Adapted from “Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation“, 2017.

What happens to climate emissions in this future? Researchers at University of California Davis and Institute for Transportation & Development Policy examined a future scenario where AVs are incorporated into a highly shared, multimodal, and electric urban transportation system.  They found, globally, urban transportation pollution could be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 and massive increases in congestion could be avoided, with vehicle miles traveled actually declining by 25 percent instead of increasing by 50 percent in the business as usual case (see figure).

This scenario of a future transportation system meets the travel demands of a growing population while driving down climate emissions.  And it requires coordinated policies to work, including compact development as well as policies that make the lowest emission and most efficient modes of transport the most attractive.  But what if that’s not what happens? What if we don’t make the decisions necessary to support the future described above, and instead take a hands-off approach to AV deployment?

The nightmare AV future: More vehicle miles, more congestion, more pollution, less equity

As wonderful as the vision of “three revolutions” is, it would be foolish to think that this vision of the future is likely—or even possible—without a lot of work. Here are a few ways that things could go wrong.

AVs could dramatically increase driving

If AVs primarily enable increased single occupancy vehicle trips, we are in trouble. One widely-cited study looked at a wide range of impacts AVs could have on energy consumption, travel and carbon emissions.  And there are many factors (see figure). Everything from the energy savings of robot eco-driving to energy and travel increases from newly empowered individuals who previously did not have the ability to drive their own vehicle. There are several potential impacts on both sides of the ledger, but the biggest potential increase in energy use (and by association, emissions) comes from a behavioral response to AVs.  If driving can now be productive time, longer commutes, for example, may not be the burden they once were.  This is one way in which AVs could reduce the time-cost of driving (see “travel cost reduction” results in the figure) and increase overall vehicle travel – as much as 60% according to the study.  Recent modeling of possible AV deployment in the Washington, D.C. metro region showed similar results, estimating that vehicle miles traveled could increase 46-66% with the introduction of self-driving cars.

So will people really drive that much more? Some researchers did an experiment to see what would happen to a household’s vehicle travel if they had access to a vehicle and a driver for a week – mimicking life with a self-driving car. Not surprisingly, most households used the vehicle more often (83% average increase in miles traveled), and even sent the car and driver out on errands (21% of the increase was zero-occupancy).  While there were only 13 participants in the study, which limits the generalization of the findings, the experiment does illustrate the potential behavioral shifts when a vehicle that can drive itself is introduced into a household. Why not send the car to pick-up your dry cleaning or take that trip to Aunt Esmerelda’s you’ve been putting off?

AVs could increase congestion and undermine transit, instead of complementing it

Pooling rides is essential to making AVs deliver on their potential to be clean, equitable and efficient.  Pooling rides for people with similar origins and destinations can deliver more passenger trips from fewer vehicle trips, which is key to making efficient use of vehicles (reducing pollution per trip) and roads (reducing congestion per trip).  But while pooled AVs could help increase the average occupancy of cars, they could also undermine our most important current source of pooling, mass transit.  A car with 2-3 people sharing a ride is an improvement over each person driving alone, but it is a lot more vehicles, pollution and congestion than 30 people in a bus, or several hundred in a subway or train.

Based on the current evidence, especially in larger cities where mass transit is especially important, ride-haling is pulling more people from modes like transit, walking and biking than it is pooling passengers who would otherwise drive alone. This mode shift, along with additional trips that that wouldn’t have been made in the absence of ride-hailing options, is leading to increases in congestion and increased vehicle miles traveled.  (See research by Clewlow & Mishra, Schaller, and University of Kentucky) Moreover, reduced ridership on mass transit hurts the economics of these critical systems as they lose fare revenue.  Adding AVs to ride-hailing fleets could drive down ride costs and exacerbate the changes in vehicle travel and transit impacts we are already seeing.

Roads snarled in congestion are not a good outcome for anyone, including companies that want to use these roads to sell people rides, pooled or otherwise.  So, new rules and incentives will be needed to efficiently manage transportation networks as private companies operate what are in effect private transit systems with occupancy sometimes higher than today’s cars but most often lower than today’s mass transit. Policy-makers will need to prioritize the movement of people over vehicles with policies that favor higher occupancy trips and modes. These could  take the form of preferential pricing, access to restricted lanes and ensuring that the financial model of mass-transit adapts along the way

If we don’t succeed in ensuring rides are largely pooled in both cars and in mass transit modes like rail and subway, not only will congestion get worse, but we will fail to reduce climate emissions to safe levels as electrifying our transportation system is simply not enough.   In the UC Davis/ITDP study, a “2 Revolution” scenario with AVs and widespread electrification but WITHOUT significant pooling of trips resulted in emissions reductions globally in 2050 by only 45% – far less than needed to stabilize our climate.

AVs could exacerbate or perpetuate inequities in our current transportation system

A new report by The Greenlining Institute outlines strategies to ensure AVs benefit all communities.

Our current car-ownership-based transportation system does not serve all communities in an equitable way.  Lower income households spend a larger share of their income on transportation than wealthier households. Those who cannot afford a car, or are too old or young to drive, or have physical handicaps to driving, have to rely on a transit system that often doesn’t meet their needs.

AVs could improve mobility for communities historically underserved by our current transportation system – if the technology enables greater access to affordable, accessible and reliable transportation.  If, however, AV technology is primarily relegated to private car ownership and leads to increased congestion or undermines public transit, as described above, the current inequities will be exacerbated.

A new report by the Greenlining Institute describes in more details the health, economic and mobility risks of AVs for marginalized groups like people of color, the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities, and offers a list of recommendations to policymakers for ensuring the rollout of AVs leads to greater mobility options for all. UCS will also be releasing a report soon with results from an analysis of the Washington DC metro area and how the rollout of AVs in that region could impact transportation equity.  This research is important for informing the policies necessary to maximize the benefits of self-driving technology.

Now’s the time to get on the right path

Research is providing some helpful insights on understanding the potential role of AVs in a transportation system that cuts climate emissions and improves mobility.  It also offers a cautionary tale of the potential for AVs to dramatically increase emissions and exacerbate congestion if decision makers are not proactive and thoughtful about putting in place the policies that will lead us to the best outcomes.

We are starting to see some positive action on this front.  In California, legislation (SB1014)signed into law last year requires state agencies to develop standards to ensure ride-hailing companies are moving towards greater shared, zero-emission trips. Since AVs are likely to be rolled out in ride-hailing services, these rules will affect AV deployment.  But that’s only a drop in the bucket. Developing effective public policy to ensure AVs deliver climate and transportation system benefits requires shared goals, effective interagency coordination, and development and implementation of effective policy at different levels of government.  In California, UCS is sponsoring legislation with CALSTART (SB59 authored by Senator Ben Allen) that would get the ball rolling at the state level and ensure proactive policies can be deployed as AV technology is hitting the street.

Smart policies are critical for ensuring self-driving car technology ushers in a new era of clean, affordable, and efficient transportation rather than the zombie car apocalypse.  AVs may be able to drive themselves, but it is up to us to steer them in the right direction.

Photo: Don Anair

¿Quién respira el aire más contaminado por emisiones de vehículos en California?

Es bien sabido que los residentes de muchas ciudades grandes y los que viven cerca de autopistas principales respiran aire contaminado.  ¿Quién no ha visto un bus o camión botando humo negro en el medio del tráfico urbano o en una carretera, o no ha olido aire sucio al caminar por las calles de una ciudad?

Coches, camiones y autobuses emiten partículas finas que son lo suficientemente pequeñas como para penetrar profundamente en los pulmones e incluso  en el torrente sanguíneo. Estas partículas pueden causar enfermedades cardiovasculares, ataques cardíacos, y el cáncer de pulmón, entre otras enfermedades. Se ha estimado que la contaminación del aire por partículas finas es responsable de la gran mayoría de las 3 a 4 millones de muertes anuales atribuídas a la contaminación del aire en todo el mundo.

Lo que mucha gente no sabe, o quizás sepa pero sin evidencia concreta, es que existe una gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos de muchos lugares de EE.UU.. Vivimos en una sociedade desigual donde la contaminación del aire es una de las desigualdades menos visibles, pero que impacta tremendamente  la salud humana.

Ahora tenemos evidencia cuantitativa de esta triste realidad para  California.  La contaminación del aire por partículas finas en California es un problema particularmente grave, ya que este estado cuenta con siete de las diez  ciudades más contaminadas del EE.UU.

Los latinos, afroamericanos y asiáticos en California respiran un aire más contaminado por vehículos que los californianos blancos

De acuerdo com  un nuevo análisis de Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), que utilizó un nuevo modelo desarrollado en la Universidad de Washington y datos de la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos, los californianos afroamericanos, latinos y asiáticos están expuestos a una contaminación de material particulado fino (PM2.5), que es 43, 39 y 21 por ciento, respectivamente, más alta que aquella a la que están expuestos los californianos blancos.

La investigación analizó las emisiones vehiculares de los tubos de escape y el reabastecimiento de combustible y estimó la exposición a la contaminación a nivel de zona censal. “Los residentes en las comunidades más afectadas han sabido por generaciones que había una cantidad desproporcionada de contaminación del aire en sus vecindarios”, dijo David Reichmuth, ingeniero sénior de UCS y autor del nuevo estudio. “Este modelo nos permite cuantificar la magnitud de la desigualdad en todo el estado. California ha logrado grandes avances en las últimas décadas para reducir la contaminación de los vehículos, pero estos datos muestran que los afroamericanos, latinos y asiáticos en California aún respiran mayores cantidades de contaminación”.

En promedio en todo el estado, la investigación encontró que la contaminación del aire es más baja donde el porcentaje de californianos blancos es más alto.

Las comunidades con un alto porcentaje de población blanca están menos expuestas a la contaminación del aire.

Hogares de bajos ingresos o que no poseen coche también son más afectados

Otro resultado del análisis demuestra que los hogares de más bajos ingresos (que ganan menos de $20.000 por año) en el estado viven donde la contaminación por PM2.5 es 10 por ciento más alta que el promedio estatal, mientras que los hogares con ingresos más altos (que ganan más de $200.000 por año) viven donde la contaminación por PM2.5 se ubica 13 por ciento por debajo del promedio estatal.

Los californianos que viven en hogares sin un vehículo personal también están expuestos a niveles más altos de contaminación vehicular que otros hogares—un 19 por ciento más de PM2.5 que el promedio estatal—debido a que estos hogares  tienden a estar en áreas urbanas rodeadas por tráfico vehicular.

“Las personas que a propósito o debido a circunstancias financieras no son dueños de un automóvil y no contribuyen directamente a la contaminación del aire proveniente de automóviles y camiones aún viven con más de ese tipo de contaminación. Los líderes locales y los defensores del aire limpio deben notar la ironía”, dijo Reichmuth.

Hay también una gran disparidad dentro del estado de California

La gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos fue similar a las disparidades encontradas entre las áreas geográficas y los niveles de ingresos en California. Los residentes de Los Ángeles están expuestos a un 60 por ciento más de contaminación vehicular que el promedio estatal y un 250 por ciento más que los residentes del área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Sin embargo, en ciertas zonas  de la Bahía de San Francisco el aire es igual de sucio al promedio de contaminación de Los Ángeles.

La gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos fue similar a las disparidades encontradas entre las áreas geográficas y los niveles de ingresos en California. Los residentes de Los Ángeles están expuestos a un 60 por ciento más de contaminación vehicular que el promedio estatal y un 250 por ciento más que los residentes del área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Sin embargo, en ciertas zonas  de la Bahía de San Francisco el aire es igual de sucio al promedio de contaminación de Los Ángeles.

Haga clic en el map para explorar el mapa interactivo. 

¿Qué es el  PM2.5 y por qué es un problema tan grave para la salud?

Parte de la contaminación de estas partículas finas proviene de fuentes tales como el polvo de carreteras y construcciones, y de incendios. Otra parte se forma directamente durante la combustión en plantas de energía, y durante la combustión de gasolina o diesel en vehículos.

Sin embargo, gran parte de PM2.5 se forma indirectamente a través de las reacciones de los gases contaminantes en la atmósfera. La mayoría de estes contaminantes, que incluyen amonio, óxidos de nitrógeno, óxidos de azufre y compuestos orgánicos volátilese, son emitidos en los tubos de escape de los vehículos, aunque los compuestos orgánicos volátiles también provienen de la evaporación de la gasolina durante el reabastecimiento, de las fugas en los tanques y de las mangueras de combustible de los vehículos.

El PM2.5 proveniente del transporte por carreteras puede exacerbar las afecciones pulmonares y cardíacas, causar ataques de asma y provocar un aumento en las hospitalizaciones.  La exposición crónica de niños a PM2.5 también se ha vinculado con el crecimiento lento de la función pulmonar, el desarrollo de asma y otras enfermedades.

La exposición a PM2.5 conduce a aproximadamente 3.100 muertes prematuras por año en California debido a enfermedades cardiovasculares, ataques cardíacos, el cáncer de pulmón y otras enfermedades. En comparación, en el año 2017, se reportaron 1.829 homicidios en el estado, o aproximadamente un 40 por ciento menos que las muertes estimadas debido a la contaminación por PM2.5 proveniente de automóviles y camiones. La cantidad de muertes relacionadas con la contaminación es sólo ligeramente inferior a las 3.600 muertes causadas por accidentes de tránsito que se reportan en todo el estado durante el 2016.

Teniendo en cuenta el aumento proyectado en la tasa de mortalidad, esta contaminación tiene un costo anual de $29 mil millones, según la estimación de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos sobre el costo de los riesgos para la vida humana.

¿Qué podemos hacer para reducir la contaminación y la desigualdad?

Existen muchas oportunidades para reducir esta importante fuente de emisiones asociadas  no solamente a la contaminación del aire, pero al calentamiento global.

La electrificación de coches, buses y camiones podría reducir considerablemente las emisiones. Los vehículos con batería eléctrica y los vehículos de celdas de combustible, en particular, no producen emisiones de escape (sin embargo, hay cantidades menores de PM5 por el desgaste de los neumáticos y de los frenos) y evitan por completo la necesidad de reabastecimiento de gasolina y sus emisiones asociadas. California tiene estándares de contenido renovable tanto para el  hidrógeno  para el transporte como para la electricidad, estándares que limitarán las emisiones adicionales (Wisland 2018; Senado del Estado de California 2006).

Los vehículos convencionales más eficientes y que producen menos emisiones también son importantes para reducir la contaminación del aire. Los vehículos de gasolina con mayor economía de combustible necesitan menos reabastecimiento. Además, las tecnologías de ahorro de combustible, como los sistemas de arranque y parada que reducen las emisiones cuando los vehículos están encendidos pero inactivos, también pueden contribuir a reducir los gases emitidos por el tubo de escape.

Disminuir las millas conducidas, especialmente en áreas de mayor población, también es una estrategia potencial para reducir la contaminación del aire. Las decisiones sobre el uso del suelo son importantes para reducir la necesidad de conducir vehículos, y las políticas que fomentan el uso del transporte público, caminar o andar en bicicleta en lugar del uso privado de vehículos de pasajeros podrían reducir la generación de PM2.5

Si bien que los californianos pueden marcar la diferencia al elegir vehículos más limpios, gran parte de la contaminación proviene de fuentes que están fuera del control individual. El análisis de UCS señala que es clave expandir las políticas estatales y locales actuales dirigidas a reducir la contaminación vehicular en comunidades sobrecargadas para disminuir la grave desigualdad entre los grupos raciales y las personas de diversos niveles de ingresos en todo el estado.

Las acciones existentes ejemplifican los pasos que el estado ha tomado para reducir la contaminación del aire provocada por los vehículos:

Los formuladores de políticas también han tomado acciones específicas dirigidas a reducir las cargas en las comunidades más afectadas, por ejemplo, estableciendo requisitos para que el gobierno invierta un porcentaje mínimo de los ingresos generados por el programa limitación y comercio de las emisiones (‘cap-and-trade program’) en las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación.

Este análisis de UCS proporciona evidencia de la necesidad y la importancia de estes tipos de programas, y puede ayudar a informar y configurar acciones futuras dirigidas a reducir la exposición a la contaminación, así como las desigualdades ambientales en California.

“Tenemos la ventaja en este estado de que ya contamos con reglas y políticas innovadoras que nos han convertido en líderes en la electrificación del transporte y la reducción de emisiones”, dijo Reichmuth. “Pero tenemos que hacer más para asegurarnos de que todos los californianos respiren aire puro. Con una crisis de vivienda sin cesar en este estado y un desarrollo más denso cerca de los corredores de alto tráfico, debemos priorizar los programas de vehículos limpios que beneficien a las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación del aire”.





Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

Air Pollution from Vehicles in California: People of Color Bear the Biggest Burden

Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

Cars, trucks, and buses are a significant source of air pollution in California. But how much pollution is attributable to these vehicles and who is exposed to this pollution? To help answer these questions, I’ve used a computer model to estimate the amount of fine particulate matter air pollution (known as PM2.5) created by using on-road vehicles (cars, trucks, and buses). The findings are troubling, both because they show that people of color are exposed to higher levels of harmful air pollution and because this result is likely not to be a surprise to many Californians (full report available in English and Spanish). The study supports the claims many have been making for decades – that on average, African American, Latino, and Asian Californians are exposed to more PM2.5 pollution from cars, trucks, and buses than white Californians. In fact, these groups are exposed to PM2.5 pollution 43, 39, and 21 percent higher, respectively, than white Californians.

What is PM2.5 and why is it important?

Petroleum-powered cars, trucks, and buses produce emissions that lead to harmful air pollution.

Exposure to PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is linked to increased illness and death, primarily from heart and lung diseases. These particles are small —20 times smaller than the diameter of fine human hair— so they can penetrate deeply into the lungs, and the smallest particles can even enter into the bloodstream. While PM2.5 is not the only air pollutant that adversely affects health, it is estimated to be responsible for approximately 95 percent of the global public health impacts from air pollution. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 causes increased death rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, and has been linked to other adverse impacts such as lung cancer. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 in children has also been linked to slowed lung-function growth, development of asthma, and other negative health impacts.

On-road vehicles like cars, trucks, and buses are a significant source of harmful emissions in California. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel has multiple negative effects: it produces climate-changing emissions such as carbon dioxide and pollution that reduces air quality. PM2.5 pollution is of particular concern in California, as the state has seven of the 10 most polluted US cities in terms of PM2.5 pollution.

Greater PM2.5 pollution for Latinos and African Americans, low-income households

We estimated exposure to particulate matter air pollution using a recently developed model from the University of Washington and data from the US Census Bureau. This model lets us calculate how vehicle tailpipe and refueling emissions ultimately lead to ground-level pollution exposure so we can understand how exposure to PM2.5 varies among groups and locations.

The results are clear: PM2.5 pollution burden from cars, trucks, and buses is inequitable when looking at the exposure experienced by racial groups in California. Latinos are, on average, exposed to 15 percent higher PM2.5 concentrations than the average Californian, and African Americans in California experience concentrations 18 percent higher than average. White Californians have average exposure that is 17 percent lower than the average for the state. This means that, on average, African American and Latino Californians are exposed to PM2.5 pollution that is 43 and 39 percent higher, respectively, than white Californians.

African American and Latino Californians are exposed to higher than average levels of particulate matter pollution from cars, trucks, and buses

Unequal pollution burdens can also be seen at the community level. In census tracts with average annual PM2.5 concentrations less than half the state average, whites make up 48 percent of the population, while only constituting 38 percent of the state’s total population. In contrast, the most polluted census tracts have a higher proportion of people of color. More than 60 percent of people in these highest burden areas are Latino, compared with a state population that is just 39 percent Latino. The inequities and disparities are clear.

Communities with higher percentages of white population have less exposure to particulate matter from cars, trucks, and buses.

Our research also links inequitable disparities in household income to pollution exposure, with less affluent households having higher exposure to PM2.5 pollution from on-road transportation. On average, households with the lowest incomes (less than $20,000 per year) are exposed to more than 25 percent more particulate matter air pollution than the highest-income households (greater than $200,000 per year).

PM2.5 exposure from cars and trucks varies greatly within California

Click to view interactive map.

Los Angeles County has the highest average PM2.5 pollution exposure from cars and trucks in the state: on average, 60 percent higher than the mean value for the state. One quarter of the population in Los Angeles County experiences pollution levels that are more than double the state average. And because Los Angeles County is the most populous in the state, this higher level of pollution affects millions of people. Only six counties have an average exposure from on-road transportation that is greater than the state average, but four of them (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego) are in the top five most populous counties in California, with a combined population of almost 19 million people.

Other areas, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, have zones of higher pollution but have much lower average exposure to vehicle-related particulate pollution compared with the state average. The worst regions of the Bay Area (such as downtown Oakland and San Jose) have annual average PM2.5 concentrations equal to the average across Los Angeles County.

Opportunities to reduce harmful impacts of vehicle use

Particulate matter air pollution from on-road transportation places significant health burdens on Californians, and those burdens are inequitably distributed. However, there are opportunities to greatly reduce the exposure to PM2.5 by reducing tailpipe and refueling emissions, making much of this burden avoidable.

Electrification of vehicles, both passenger and freight, could greatly reduce emissions. Battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in particular have no tailpipe emissions (however, there are minor amounts of PM2.5 emissions from tire and brake wear that all vehicles produce) and completely avoid the need for, and emissions associated with, gasoline refueling. Electricity generation and hydrogen production can produce emissions; however, California has renewable content standards for both hydrogen for transportation and electricity that will limit additional emissions.

While Californians can make a difference by buying cleaner vehicles, much of the pollution comes from sources outside an individual’s direct control, like heavy-duty trucks and buses. The state needs to continue to move forward on regulations, incentives, and other policies to reduce vehicle emissions. Equity and meaningful involvement of disadvantaged communities should be key considerations in designing policies and strategies to reduce pollution from vehicles. The state will need to continue to make progress on reducing emissions and should prioritize actions that reduce the inequitably distributed burden of air pollution in California. Programs like the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (incentives to help retire older, polluting cars) and low-income clean vehicle rebates are examples of ways the state can help, but clearly more can and should be done to address the problem of harmful air pollution in California.

Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Will the Real State of the Union Please Stand Up? 7 Things President Trump Won’t Say

A great public servant and one of my mentors, William Ruckelshaus, always emphasized to me that the State of the Union was a time to put big ideas on the table, to talk about the truly great challenges facing the country, and to provide leadership for what we as a nation needed to do to live up to the ideals of our democracy. New education initiatives, cleaning up pollution, providing health care—these are some of the big ideas that previous presidents have talked about on this national stage.

Call me crazy but I don’t think that is what we will hear from President Trump.

Instead we’re likely to hear misdirection and falsehoods. According to the Washington Post, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims during his first two years in office. Even if by some miracle he sticks to actual facts during his State of the Union address, it’s a safe bet that he won’t address many of the most crucial challenges facing America. Instead he’s likely to tout the strong economy, while ignoring rising inequality and continuing losses for everyone but the wealthy. He’ll rail about border security, while dismissing the real security threats highlighted by his intelligence agencies. And he will talk about jobs, while ignoring worker safety and threats to public health.

What should be in the speech are some of the truly great challenges we need to tackle as a nation. We need a real change in direction and focus from this administration, and so I will be watching the speech live, tweeting the #RealSOTU, and calling for this nation to face up to the truth.

Here are seven BIG things that President Trump won’t say in his 2019 State of the Union speech.

Rolling back regulations hurts people

President Trump and his appointed agency heads have cut down landmark public protections that we all depend on for our health and safety, and sidelining science has consistently been one of their go-to strategies to accomplish it.

Rolling back regulations that reduce air pollution, water pollution, toxic contamination, worker protections, and more might give windfall profits to some companies. But those profits come at public expense. And who’s bearing the brunt of those impacts and costs? Poorer communities and communities of color.

That all needs to stop, right now.

And right now, with a new Congress in place there is a renewed opportunity to call on our elected officials to represent their constituents and to hold the Trump administration accountable. The administration should be doing its job of serving the public, not special interests.

We need policies that treat our people equitably, that require those who pollute to clean up their mess regardless of what neighborhood they are located in. And we need our government to hold polluters to account. Mr. President, do you want to make real change?  Then work for the people who need the government’s help. That isn’t the oil and gas or chemical industry.

We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change

We have about a decade left to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and avoid truly catastrophic climate change impacts, including unprecedented and life-threatening heat waves, the loss of millions of coastal homes to rising seas, and a growing number of extreme and damaging weather events.

The IPCC’s recent special report and the Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment (NCA4) both tell us that climate change is already affecting all of us, and that right now we are speeding down one of the most costly and damaging paths possible.

Whether it’s national security, natural disasters, the military, the economy, immigration, or any other number of issues, there’s one thing Trump will surely fail to recognize in his speech: Climate change affects all of them.

Consider, for example, the 2018 report on the vulnerability of military installations to climate-related impacts, which showed that about 10 percent of sites are being affected by extreme temperatures, and some six percent are affected by flooding due to storm surge and by wildfire. Or the 2019 worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community, which identifies climate change as a national security risk.  Or how the NCA4 finds that existing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure are already being impacted by heavy rainfall, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, heat waves, and other weather and climate events.

The last two years of natural disasters and extreme weather brought huge costs to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are also part and parcel of a warming climate, and our economy—indeed our very future—depends on the country getting deadly serious about the climate crisis right now.

Coal is dying and renewables are booming. Not fast enough.

Our electricity system is moving away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Today coal produces only a quarter of our nation’s electricity, down from 50 percent a short dozen years ago. That’s an encouraging trend, but we still need faster progress and more ambitious policies to achieve the emissions cuts needed to meet the climate crisis head on.

The Trump administration is instead doing everything it can think of to try and prop up the failing coal industry. It’s not working, and coal is still on it way out, but President Trump is still wasting precious time that would be much better spent on ramping up clean energy across the country.

In his speech, Trump will also likely ignore the remarkable economic benefits of renewable energy, especially that the US clean energy industry means jobs, with already more than 100,000 working in the wind sector, 250,000 working in solar, and more than 2 million making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. And the nascent US offshore wind sector offers the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs up and down our coasts.

The administration is moving full speed backwards on transportation emissions

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the US, making it more important than ever to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and reduce the amount of planet-warming emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere. (Plus I like saving money—and driving a cleaner, more fuel-efficient car helps consumers do that as well.)

The president and his administration, however, are still moving ahead with their plans to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards for cars and trucks and halt progress on reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

My colleagues cranked the numbers on what this rollback would mean and it is truly staggering, especially when it’s taken together with the administration’s threat to void state regulations on vehicle emissions. As senior UCS vehicles analyst Dave Cooke points out, rolling back these standards will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online. These inefficient cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010. And it will cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back.

It’s a safe bet that the president won’t mention any of this. And, for good measure, he will also likely fail to mention his desire to get rid of the electric vehicle tax credit, which makes it easier and more affordable to buy a cleaner car.

Fossil fuel companies are responsible, but still getting special treatment

Trump definitely won’t bring up the fact that fossil fuel companies have known for at least 50 years that their products—oil, gas, and coal—cause global warming. Or that companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron have spent decades and millions of dollars intentionally manufacturing doubt about climate science and lobbying to block sensible climate policy—and are still playing dirty even today as the costs of climate change grow.

Just this past fall, BP poured $13 million into a campaign opposing a carbon pricing measure in Washington state—while simultaneously publicly claiming to support a carbon tax. Other major fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, still fund industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to do their dirty work lobbying for anti-climate policies.

Meanwhile regular people living through the disruptive impacts of climate change are currently paying for it with their tax dollars. All while fossil fuel companies continue to cash in, plan for and envision minimal disruption to their business models, and avoid paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.

The administration is betraying farmers, workers, and children

Regulatory rollbacks and putting profits over the interests of the public don’t just affect pollution and the environment. They also impact the food we eat and the people who bring it to us, from farm to fork.

In his speech, Trump won’t mention that he and his Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have repeatedly favored ideology and the agribusiness industry while disregarding science—but that’s exactly what UCS has found. This not only restricts the products and practices that would make us healthier but also ignores the very people who feed us. Small farmers, workers, and children all lose when the administration betrays their interests for the profits of big agribusiness companies, from chemical giant Dow to multinational poultry and pork conglomerates.

Rolling back school lunch rules for the nation’s children or threatening to deny food assistance to immigrant families and low-wage workers is not worthy of this nation. Undermining the USDA’s research agencies, catering to the chemical industry, and waging a disastrous trade war threatens the future for farmers, consumers, and communities.

What the country needs is a food policy that supports public health, ensures that everyone gets the nutrition they need, and reduces the impact of agriculture on the environment and the planet.

Investing massive amounts of money in nuclear weapons is just wrong

Spending over a trillion dollars to re-build the entire nuclear arsenal while walking away from highly successful nuclear arms agreements with Russia is, well, a really bad idea. So is saying that one’s nuclear button is bigger. But the president probably won’t admit that, or indicate that doing so would take the country backwards and greatly increase the chance of nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons still pose an existential threat to our nation and the world. We should be doing all we can to reduce that threat, not just “win” another arms race. Instead the administration just announced that it plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty—an agreement negotiated by President Ronald Reagan which eliminated a whole class of lethal weaponry and made the world a much safer place.

Bellicose rhetoric and building newer, more enhanced nuclear weapons won’t lessen the danger either. We need to be leading the world to reduce the nuclear arsenals, not increasing the odds of nuclear war.

Share the #RealSOTU

It can be hard to listen to the president when we’ve learned to expect an avoidance of essential truths like these.

But I’ll be watching his speech nonetheless, live-tweeting using the #RealSOTU hashtag, and highlighting some of the crucial facts that the president will not.

I hope you can join me.

Will Washington Step Up on Climate in 2019?

Photos left to right: Washington Department of Commerce, iStockphoto/m-imagephotography

While the majority of Washingtonians are worried about climate change and support taking steps to reduce heat-trapping emissions,  it’s no secret that the state has struggled to adopt many big-ticket policies on this issue. (Voters rejected initiatives in 2016 and 2018 to place fees on the state’s biggest emitters of global warming emissions; the Legislature has failed to pass previous proposals from Gov. Inslee to put a price on emissions, and a court also struck down an Inslee administration regulation tackling emissions.) However, I’m not one to linger on past failure, and fortunately this year has brought new opportunities that give me hope Washington lawmakers will seize the moment and take much-needed steps to curtail the state’s global warming emissions.

Washington needs to move quicker on climate

Two recent reports paint a clear picture of why Washington so urgently needs to change course on climate change. In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the UN body responsible for assessing science related to climate change—released a special report outlining the impacts of a global average temperature increase of 1.5°C versus 2°C (above pre-industrial levels), and pathways to limit temperature increases to that level. The report’s findings highlight that the next decade is critical for making dramatic cuts in heat-trapping emissions and that emissions around the world will need to reach net-zero by mid-century to keep global average temperatures from crossing dangerous thresholds.

More recently, Washington’s Department of Ecology released the latest inventory of climate change emissions in the state through 2015. The report shows that emissions climbed more than 6% between 2012 and 2015, with increases from transportation and electricity generation. While some factors are outside of policymakers’ control (e.g., 2015 was a drought year with lower than typical electrical generation from hydroelectric dams), the numbers do not paint a picture of a state heading quickly in the right direction. Hopefully the juxtaposition of these findings further motivates lawmakers to take serious action in 2019.

Creating a market for cleaner transportation fuels

Emissions from transportation represent the largest portion of global warming emissions in Washington (42.5%). There are many strategies needed to significantly cut these emissions and one of the biggest is cleaning up Washington’s fuel supply. UCS is strongly supporting House Bill 1110, which would create a clean fuel standard. The standard would require petroleum refineries and fuel importers to reduce the average carbon intensity of the fuels they sell in Washington by 10 percent by 2028 (compared to 2017).

Refineries and fuel importers could meet the standard by blending low-carbon biofuels into the gasoline or diesel they sell and by purchasing credits generated by providers of lower-carbon fuels, including electricity, renewable diesel, and renewable natural gas.

The standard would create a dependable market for cleaner fuels, facilitating steady investment into research, development, and deployment of low-carbon fuels that are necessary to fully decarbonize the transportation sector in coming decades. Similar programs exist in California and Oregon and a recent expert analysis showed enough clean fuels would be available by 2028 to meet the proposal in House Bill 1110. I am personally excited that a clean fuels program would support investments to speed the transition to electric vehicles, which is playing a growing role in cleaning up our transportation fuel system.

Phasing out fossil fuels from electricity generation

While Washington produces a lot of electricity cleanly from hydropower, the state also uses electricity from coal and natural gas. In 2015 these fossil fuels supplied about 30% of Washington’s electricity, representing about a fifth of the state’s total global warming emissions. Senate Bill 5116 and House Bill 1211 would ban electricity produced from coal by 2025 and require that all electricity sold in the state be generated from renewable and carbon-free sources by 2045. Fortunately, the cost of renewable energy has dramatically declined in the past decade. In fact, clean energy like solar and wind power is now cheaper than natural gas, coal, or nuclear power.

Supplying all of Washington’s electricity from renewable and zero-carbon sources is a bold goal, but achieving it is within reach. Key strategies for eliminating fossil fuels include more efficient use of electricity, greater use of energy storage technologies, access to a wider and more diverse supply of renewable technologies, increased flexibility of electricity users to shift demand, and better coordination of renewable resources among Western states.

Momentum is building among states, cities, and utilities to commit to 100% clean electricity. In September, California adopted a law committing to 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. Then, in December, Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electric utilities, announced it would supply all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. Washington already has a leg-up toward reaching this goal thanks to its abundant supply of carbon-free hydropower. Now is the time for the state to stake its future to an electricity supply free of fossil fuels.

More opportunities on electric vehicles, efficient buildings, and “super” pollutants

Washington legislators have introduced many additional bills that would address different pieces of the state’s climate change puzzle. A few that I am most closely following relate to:

  • Electric vehicles: SB 5336 would further promote electric vehicles (EVs) by requiring automakers to offer an increasing share of EVs for sale, authorizing electric utilities to build EV charging infrastructure, and renewing an expired EV sales tax credit.
  • Energy efficiency of buildings: SB 5293 and HB 1257 would help create more energy efficient buildings by setting new standards for large, commercial buildings and allowing local governments to adopt better codes for new residential construction, among other provisions.
  • “Super” pollutants: HB 1112 would cut emissions of a highly-potent category of heat-trapping gases used in refrigeration, known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

There is no shortage of opportunities for Washington to act on climate change in 2019. Lawmakers have stepped up to the plate by offering many important proposals. The question is whether they succeed in passing these bills to notch some important victories for our climate—Washington, I’m rooting for you!

Photos left to right: Washington Department of Commerce, iStockphoto/m-imagephotography

Dear Automakers – Consumers Want Cleaner Cars this Year and Every Year!

Photo: Conny Sandland/Flickr

Whether your gifts come during Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Día de Los Reyes, everyone knows it’s holiday wish-list time. The automakers know this too – you can’t turn on the tv without seeing lots of shiny new cars festooned with giant red bows. Due to the strong national fuel efficiency/emissions standards for cars and trucks we helped enact several years ago – the cars in holiday showrooms are some of the cleanest, most efficient models ever produced. The existing standards save consumers millions at the pump, cut global warming pollution by 470 million metric tons – the equivalent of shutting down 136 typical coal plants for an entire year, and would reduce oil use by over 2.4 million barrels a day by 2030.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration at the behest of the automakers and the oil industry has proposed rolling back the clean car standards – and even though automakers have been easily meeting strong standards so far, the mpg on the sticker in 2025 could actually be lower than what we enjoy today! But the American people strongly support maintaining the current standards. In fact, Consumers Union polling earlier this year found that an overwhelming majority of American adults (85%—with Republicans at 88%) agree that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types.

UCS asked our supporters across the country to weigh in – so in addition to their letters to Santa, many American drivers also wrote letters to their automakers this year. Here are just a few highlights:

From GM owner, Robert –

I am a long time GMC driver, fuel efficient cars (and in my case, trucks) benefit consumers like me who save money at the pump. Even more important, these standards are helping to cut climate pollution and push innovation forward. I want to know that you are doing your part to make sure that the next car or truck I buy is more fuel efficient than the one I am driving now. Also, as a consumer of one of your most profitable products (pickups), I can assure you I am willing to bear my fair share of the legitimate costs to minimize negative environmental impacts.   You do your part in the political arena to prove your commitment to safeguarding our environment, and I’ll do mine in the marketplace.

From Ford owners, Dee and Peter –   

My husband and I own and drive a 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid — only the third US-made car we’ve bought in our 30 years of marriage. We chose this car instead of a foreign hybrid because we were thrilled to see a US automaker heading in the right direction in making a fuel-efficient and eco-friendly vehicle — and we voted with our dollars to support you in that effort. It’s a great car and I’d like to see you increase your hybrid and electric vehicle offerings. I’m not alone in that! However, I was disturbed to learn that you are working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards. Don’t be foolish!! Fuel efficient cars save money on gas — but even more importantly, strict standards help to cut climate pollution, create jobs, and push innovation forward. Be a leader! In 2012, you agreed to and promised to uphold strong fuel-efficiency standards and I respected and supported your company for that stance. Don’t abandon your principles and align yourself with President Trump, whose aim of relaxing the standards is retrogressive and short-sighted. As a consumer, I urge you to stay true to your word, be a leader in designing cars for the future, and resist any effort to weaken these standards.

From Toyota owner, Carol –

I am a long time Toyota owner — in fact, every car I have ever owned has been a Toyota, including my current Camry hybrid, and I have been planning to buy one for my daughter later this summer. Part of my loyalty to Toyota has been because I think of you as a relatively ethical company. So, I have been deeply disturbed to see you working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards. Global warming has already proceeded to the point that it will have very negative impacts on my daughter and people of her generation around the world. How can you renege on standards and make this problem worse?!? Fuel efficiency standards are helping to cut climate pollution, create jobs, and push innovation forward. I want to know that you are doing your part to uphold them. As a longtime loyal customer, I urge you to stay true to your word and not support any effort to weaken these standards.

From Ford investor, GM AND Toyota owner, Joy –

I am a long time Toyota owner (one of my vehicles is a Prius), a new Chevrolet Bolt owner, a long-time investor in Ford, and a more recent investor in General Motors. I appreciate the investments these companies have made in more fuel-efficient, hybrid, and electric vehicles, and I have rewarded them with my patronage when I could find a vehicle that suited my needs. As a consumer and a citizen concerned about and acting on what climate science is telling us, I am quite disturbed to learn that many automakers are working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards.   I want to know that all U. S. automakers are doing their part to make sure that the next car I buy is more fuel efficient than the one I am driving now.   That goal is what has driven 2 of my last 3 vehicle purchases. In 2012 I wanted a vehicle that could beat the 30 mpg I was getting with my Camry; the Prius was the closet I could come on my budget. In 2016, if any company had offered an electric or hybrid pickup truck when I needed to replace my old one, I would not have bought the gas-hog Toyota Tacoma that I did. I had not bought a GM vehicle since 1990 because I long ago lost faith in its products, but I reversed myself in 2017 because it offered the best EV I could find for the range and money. Not only do I not believe I am all that unique among auto buyers, I believe my purchase considerations are the future. U. S. car makers need to get the message. Our country and indeed our world need the automobile industry to employ its creativity, ingenuity, and manufacturing prowess to lead us all toward a clean, emission-free transportation future. By standing with President Trump during his announcement to reopen the review process of the standards, your company is clearly leading the push to weaken them and is thereby endorsing a horrible course of action. As a consumer and past (and maybe future customer depending on what you do going forward), I urge you to stay true to your word and not support any effort to weaken these standards. And for heaven’s sake do not join the ranks of the fossil fuel industry and cover up or lie about the true risks posed by our warming climate.

These letters, just a few among over 23,000 sent to automakers over the course of a year, are a powerful testament to the deep-seated concern many have about having clean car choices in the marketplace. A car purchase is one of the most important choices a consumer can make in terms of their personal carbon footprint.

The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the federal fuel efficiency standards is still working its way through an agency rulemaking process, so the automakers have a chance to give consumers what they’re wishing for this season – they can stop the proposed rollback and ensure that the standards remain strong and continue to drive innovation. They’ve been shown the ghosts of actions past, present, and future, and they still have a chance to turn things around this holiday season, but only if they deliver the cleaner cars they promised.

Photo: Conny Sandland/Flickr

A Big Win on Climate Change and Clean Transportation

Photo by Cris Ovalle on Unsplash

If you would like to be inspired by an example of states working together on an ambitious plan to address climate change, read on—the following is a big deal!

Today, the governors of nine states (MA, VA, MD, CT, RI, VT, NJ, PA, DE) and the District of Columbia announced that their states will establish a regional “cap and invest” program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and invest in clean transportation solutions. To pass muster, the announcement states that the program must cause substantial carbon emission reductions, ensure equity in its benefits and burdens, foster economic growth and job creation, enhance resilience in the transportation system, and allow states to pursue other, complementary policies. The states are to design the program in one year, at which point these states will make final decisions on participation and seek legislative or regulatory approvals.

This announcement borrows a page from a highly successful playbook. About ten years ago, the governors of many of these same states called for, and ultimately put in place, a cap and invest program that has driven down emissions from the electric sector, and generated billions of economic benefits for the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. This same model can work transportation.

What is ‘Cap and Invest,’ and why do we need it?

As readers of my Boston Globe op-ed and various UCS blogs know, the transportation sector is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States and the northeast/mid-Atlantic region. While there are a number of policies in place to lower transportation emissions (fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, incentives and mandates for electric cars, and investments in public transit), transportation sector emissions are expected to stay flat, and may even rise.

Why? Among other things, we are missing two key pieces: 1) a legally binding mechanism to force overall emissions down; and 2) a revenue source to fund the transition to cleaner transportation.

The regional cap and invest program announced today can put these vital pieces in place. It would establish a legally binding mechanism to drive down emissions by setting an overall, regional cap on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks, and buses that will decline over time. To ensure that the cap is not exceeded, companies that bring transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel) into the region would have to acquire “allowances” that would be tied to the greenhouse gas emissions from combusting their fuel. The total allowances sold each year would not exceed the applicable cap, ensuring that the region’s emission reduction goals would be met.

The program also provides a much-needed revenue source for clean transportation. The allowances that companies would have to obtain would be sold at public auction, and states can use the revenues to invest in cleaner transportation, including electric cars, buses, and trucks, better public transportation, and affordable housing near jobs. We estimate that at modest allowance prices that would cost the average driver $6 per month, the program could bring approximately $3.5 billion into the region for clean transportation investments.

That’s an investment that will pay off in spades. For example, when we replace older dirty transit and school buses with ones that run on clean electricity, we can dramatically improve air quality for our kids and protect vulnerable populations that live in polluted areas.

Why is this a big deal?

Three reasons:

  1. It shows again that states are leading, even while the federal government has abdicated its duty to protect current and future generations from climate change, as demonstrated most recently—and shamelessly—by its hawking of fossil fuels at last week’s international climate conference. This bold regional plan announced by these ten states and the District of Columbia will help reassure an anxious world that the United States has not abandoned the fight and demonstrate that the Trump administration does not speak for the country on climate change.
  2. The scale of this plan is stunning. Over 50 million people live in these participating states, comprising over 15% of the US population and close to 20% of the US economy. If these states were a single country, they would be just beyond Germany as the fifth largest economy in the world.
  3. This is a bi-partisan success. The governors of 3 of the nine states (MA, MD and VT) are republicans, and the cap and invest approach is an idea pioneered by President George H.W. Bush to fight acid rain. In our current polarized political landscape, bipartisan collaboration, especially on climate change, is extremely rare. This initiative sets an excellent example.
What’s next?

This announcement is a first step. In the coming year, the states will need to hash out a number of important details, such as the initial level of the emissions cap, the pace of decline of the cap, which entities in the stream of commerce will be responsible for purchasing allowances, how revenues will be allocated back to participating states, and the principles for making equitable investments. This will take some time, but the states can take advantage of the fact that California and Quebec already have a working cap and invest program for transportation, and the RGGI program for electricity can also provide useful guidance on how to structure the program.

As the details are being hammered out, diverse stakeholder and public engagement will also be critical, and should include, among others, business, equity, health, justice, labor, and transit advocates. Making sure that these groups are empowered during the process will make for a cap and invest plan that benefits everyone.

UCS has played a major role in advancing this initiative to this stage. We have made the case for it to policymakers and anyone else who would listen, issued fresh technical analysis, built coalitions, and mobilized our members and supporters. We will continue to engage in both technical design and public outreach and education.

But for now, we applaud the governors and officials who have put their states behind a sensible, cost-effective, and much-needed policy to tackle the challenge of building a clean, equitable, modern transportation system for all.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Hangs in the Balance

Photo: Oregon Convention Center/Flickr

I’m back from my hiatus as a full-time dad and am reengaged in the biggest. transportation. policy debates. in Washington, D.C.! Super exciting, I know.

Today, I’m reporting on the legislative tug-of-war over the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. Fossil fuel interests on one end, literally everyone else on the other. This fight arose when the suits over at Exxon, Shell, and Koch Industries became worried about the potential of electric vehicles (EVs) to mess with their 90 percent share of transportation fuel in the U.S. And you know what? They should be worried. The EV market is small but growing fast, and there have been tons of production milestones and new model releases over the past quarter.

So, the suits gather around and hatch a plan. The first step is easy. Poke a bunch of holes in the earth until a black goo comes out, refine it, and sell a LOT of it – like millions and millions of barrels – every day. Second, pay geeks-for-hire to produce analysis that skews data to reach misleading results about any policy or technology that may affect sales. Then, aggressively fund advocacy groups with innocuous names like Americans for Prosperity and American Commitment to push the bogus analysis along with talking points on the importance of maintaining a free-market for transportation fuels. (This step both distances yourself from the court of public opinion and masks any mention of maintaining the oil-powered status quo). The final piece of the puzzle is to spend an egregious amount of money on a politician – preferably a Senator – in hopes they will turn your holiday policy wish list into, oh I don’t know, maybe a bill called the Fairness for Every Driver Act, which would eliminate the EV tax credit and slap EV owners with a user fee. Thanks Senator Barrasso (R-Wyo)!

Fortunately for everyone on the side of science, groups like UCS and our allies recognize the need for clean electricity to replace oil as the dominant transportation fuel. Armed with peer-reviewed studies, widespread public support, and a couple well-written blog posts, advocates are pushing to improve the tax credit so that it can advance the EV market even further.  There are a few ideas about how to best do this, including the Electric CARS Act, which would extend the tax credit for 10 years and has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Merkley (D-OR), Heinrich (D-NM), and Cortez Masto (D-NV), and in the House by Reps. Welch (D-VT) and Rosen (D-NV).

Congress has a couple weeks before they adjourn and toss any un-passed bills in the trash just like my kid’s 5-week old finger paintings. Whether the EV tax credit will be improved, eliminated, or untouched is unclear. What is clear is that you can get involved in this policy debate by taking 2 minutes to place a phone call to your Senator and House Representative in support of the EV tax credit.

Call 833-216-1727 (or 833-513-5863 if you live in California or Nevada) to support the EV tax credit

Politicians take constituent calls seriously, and they can move the needle on how hard your elected officials will fight for clean air, combating climate change and supporting the American EV industry. You can remind whoever answers the phone about the science behind the benefits of electrifying transportation. For example; an EV produces the emissions equivalent of a gasoline car that gets 80 MPG; driving on electricity can save you almost $800 per year in fuel costs and more on scheduled maintenance; EVs offer a quieter, safe ride; EVs are great in the snow and inclement weather; and driving an EV means never stopping for gas at that one gross gas station!

Want to stay up-to-date on future EV policy debates? Text “EV” to 662266. You will be opted in for occasional general UCS updates in addition to our messages especially for EV enthusiasts.

Photo: Oregon Convention Center/Flickr

Rural Drivers Can Save the Most From Clean Vehicles

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

This post was written in collaboration with Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura

The transition to clean vehicle technologies such as electric vehicles will benefit consumers everywhere, promising lower operating and maintenance costs, along with less pollution and a cleaner environment.

But the drivers with the greatest economic potential to gain by purchasing an electric vehicle are the residents of small towns and rural counties. Drivers living outside of urban areas often have farther to travel to work, shop, and visit a doctor. They have to repair their vehicles more frequently, they produce more carbon emissions per capita, and they spend more money on gasoline. As a result, rural drivers have the greatest potential to save money by making the switch to an electric vehicle.

Overall, rural residents have the potential to save up to twice as much as urban residents by making the switch from a conventional sedan to an electric vehicle. In addition, rural residents who drive pickup trucks and SUVs have the potential to dramatically cut their fuel costs and emissions through programs to encourage efficiency and electrification.

Rural drivers’ potential to save money and cut emissions

Using data from the 2017 National Highway Traffic Survey, we created a model that approximates what vehicles are being driven, and for how many miles, in every county in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. This data allows us to approximate the average cost and emission savings from an electric vehicle in each county. We also mapped out some of the differences in vehicle miles traveled that form the basis of these calculations (see below, our full methodology is here).

Annual average fuel savings, miles driven and emissions reduction for a typical driver in 12 states and the District of Columbia

Overall, we find that in our most rural counties, the average driver will save $870 per year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3 metric tons per year by choosing an electric vehicle over a conventional sedan. That is almost twice the average emissions reduction from an EV in our most urban counties.

Bringing clean vehicle technologies to rural areas will not only benefit rural drivers, but it will also improve whole rural economies. Nearly all the money that we spend on gasoline and diesel fuel ultimately leaves our towns and our region, for other parts of the world. As electric vehicles replace the internal combustion engine on our roads, there will be more money in consumers’ pockets – which means more jobs, and more local development for our small towns.

Obstacles to rural electrification

Unfortunately, although rural residents have the greatest potential to save from purchasing an electric vehicle, currently EV sales are concentrated in urban areas and inner suburbs. As of 2017, people in urban areas and inner suburbs report that they are about three times more likely to own a plug-in vehicle compared to people in rural areas.

Rural drivers share many of the same challenges in selecting an electric vehicle as urban and suburban drivers: not many consumers are aware of how easy it is to make the switch to an electric vehicle, and the charging infrastructure is inadequate. These concerns are particularly acute for rural drivers, who on average need to travel greater distances between charging stations and destinations. Rural drivers do have one major advantage over urban drivers: they are much more likely to have access to offstreet parking, which should make installation of a home charging station easier.

In addition, rural drivers may have additional concerns about electric vehicle technology, such as the ability of electric vehicles to provide adequate performance in cold weather climates (hint: EVs are great in cold or inclement weather) or to provide enough range to deal with rural driving distances. Some of these concerns are being addressed through improvements in technology: at 200+ miles, cars like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 can serve the daily driving needs of residents of all areas. But even as the technology improves, cultural assumptions about what kind of vehicle is appropriate in what kind of area may remain.

As more electric vehicle models come to market, and vehicle costs continue to drop, rural drivers will have increasing choices in vehicle types from SUVs to pick-up trucks. But an EV may not work for every rural household today. Fortunately, automakers compelled by vehicle efficiency standards have been bringing more efficiency gasoline and diesel cars and trucks to market. Upgrading to a newer, more fuel efficient vehicle is another strategy available for every household today.

The Northeast needs a rural electrification strategy

Increasing growth of EV sales in rural areas will require states of the Northeast region to take a more proactive approach towards electrification in rural areas. We need a targeted strategy to reduce the barriers to adopt electric vehicles in our outer suburbs and rural areas. Such a strategy should include:

  • Increased incentives for rural & low- and moderate-income drivers. Overcoming the high purchase price of the vehicles is critical to achieving mainstream penetration of electric vehicles. Northeast states should consider adding additional incentives to make electric vehicles affordable for rural drivers. These incentives should include not only additional upfront rebates to reduce the purchase price of the car, but also financing assistance to help people with insufficient credit to purchase a new car. By targeting rural drivers, we can use incentive money most effectively to achieve our goals for emission reduction and cost savings.
  • Vehicle retirement programs to take the most inefficient trucks off the road. Many rural drivers are stuck driving some of the dirtiest, most inefficient vehicles on the road. A 10 year old Ford F-150 gets as little as 14 mpg, for example. A rural driver who trades an old F-150 to a new model can save up to $1,000 per year. Programs such as California’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program have helped retire some of these low-emission vehicles and in the process saved money for drivers of all kinds of vehicles.
  • Build rural charging infrastructure. Addressing rural range anxiety will require increased investment in rural charging stations. Utilities should target rural areas for support, both for public charging and for support in constructing home charging stations.
  • Support grassroots education outreach and marketing efforts. Bulk purchasing programs such as the Drive Green program run by Green Energy Consumers Alliance can reduce costs and help consumers address the complex decisions necessary to purchase an electric vehicle. Utility programs such as Green Mountain Power’s electric vehicle program can negotiate good deals from the auto industry and help their customers make the switch to electric vehicles. These programs should be encouraged to target rural communities and drivers.

As states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic consider new regional strategies to address transportation emissions, it will be critical for states to identify new strategies to help rural residents cut emissions and save money on transportation. One piece of a rural transportation strategy should be to enhance infrastructure that provides an alternative to driving an automobile, through expanded regional public transportation that give them easy access to urban centers, pedestrian and biking infrastructure that create vibrant communities in small towns. We should also consider how to best use innovative new transportation models facilitated by technology, such as vanpools, flexible bus routes, and ride hailing and sharing services to expand clean mobility to rural residents.

At the same time, we know that realistically driving a personal vehicle will remain an important part of the transportation system for rural communities. We need to provide rural residents with the cleanest vehicles that fit their needs. We encourage states to meet the challenges facing rural drivers with bold investments that can save money for consumers and reduce pollution for everybody.

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

Do Shell’s New Climate Commitments Make the Grade?

Shell sign in gas station

Last week Royal Dutch Shell announced that in addition to its long-term plans for decarbonization by 2050, it would set goals and track progress on its carbon footprint on a short-term basis and link executive compensation to progress meeting these goals. Reporting on short term results is key to ensuring accountability for long-term goals, so this is a step in the right direction. However, I have two immediate concerns:

  1. The highly aggregated metric Shell proposes conceals as much as it reveals.
  2. The long-term mitigation strategies Shell describes are disconnected from the major sources of emissions under Shell’s immediate control: oil and gas extraction, oil refining, and methane emissions.

Instead of a single metric, Shell needs to provide a comprehensive progress report that quantifies its performance in reducing current sources of emissions along with scaling-up the long-term innovation needed to realize its deep decarbonization goals. And the company should advocate for improved disclosure standards for all companies that would allow investors, scientists, policy makers, and the public to make meaningful comparisons among oil and gas companies’ emissions reduction goals and results.

Shell’s Carbon Footprint Commitments

In its 2017 Investor Handbook, Shell described its long-term strategy to align its business with the Paris climate accord.

We aim to cut our and our customers’ GHG emissions from energy products that Shell sells – expressed in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule (gCO2e/MJ) consumed – by around half by 2050. As an interim step, by 2035, and predicated on societal progress, we aim for a reduction of around 20% compared with 2017 levels.

The charts below provide an overview of the strategies Shell is pursuing and a general perspective on the magnitude of the potential mitigation opportunity the company attributes to each of these strategies.

Two things strike me about this chart and Shell’s strategies as described in more detail in the Shell Energy Transition Report.

Shell’s unorthodox and highly aggregated emissions metric conceals as much as it reveals

Shell has developed a lifecycle emissions metric to track its progress, which the company calls its net carbon footprint.  This net carbon footprint is presented in units of WTW grams of CO2 equivalent emissions per MJ of energy.  A WTW analysis most often stands for “well to wheels,” and provides a measure of the lifecycle emissions of CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses emitted in the production and use of the fuel required to drive a car a specified distance.  For example, Argonne National Lab’s GREET lifecycle tool finds that a passenger car powered by typical gasoline sold in the United States emits 257 g CO2e/km, of which 20 percent comes from the production of the gasoline, and 80 percent from the tailpipe of the car.

In Shell’s case, however, the WTW metric is an aggregate of “well-to-wheel” and “well-to-wire,” with the latter describing the lifecycle emissions associated with electricity generation.  Shell describes its net carbon footprint methodology as “bespoke and unique,” which sounds very good in a fancy British sort of way.  But uniqueness is not an attractive attribute in a lifecycle analysis methodology.  The whole point of lifecycle analysis is to compare things on an apples-to-apples basis, and with a unique methodology, it’s hard to know exactly what Shell is doing, and even harder to make quantitative comparisons between Shell and other companies.  Shell argues this is a good way to track its progress, but if we can’t compare the company to anyone else, we’ll mostly just have to take Shell’s word for it.

While the details of the net carbon footprint are elusive, the broad strokes of the plan are clear. The first item on Shell’s decarbonization to-do list is reducing emissions from its own facilities and the power they use, which it describes as “Top quartile (Scope 1+2)” on the chart above.  More on that in a moment, but, based on the size of the yellow bar, the company doesn’t seem to have very high hopes for the potential there.  The next strategy is “Natural gas shift,” which means increasing the share of natural gas Shell sells, relative to oil.  Shell plans to increase its investment in new energies, especially renewable power and hydrogen as a transport fuel, as well as biofuels. It also has long term plans to get involved in electric mobility, carbon capture and sequestration and supporting natural sinks like forests.  These latter strategies are relatively small parts of Shell’s energy business today, which mostly revolves around petroleum extraction, refining and natural gas.

In the long run Shell plans to have a portfolio of transportation energy products including petroleum, biofuels, hydrogen and electricity, and a portfolio in the power sector of natural gas and renewable sources.  But today the transportation energy Shell sells is mostly petroleum-based fuels, and the main source of power is natural gas.  Since natural gas is less carbon-intensive to burn than petroleum, increasing the share of gas relative to oil by merging with a natural gas company or selling some oil fields will reduce Shell’s net carbon footprint even if the carbon intensity of petroleum and natural gas are unchanged.  This is what Shell calls its “natural gas shift” strategy on the chart above, and the size of the yellow bar suggests Shell’s net carbon footprint metric puts far more weight on this shift than in emissions reductions in its own supply chain.  However, as I explain below, oil and gas companies have a large opportunity to reduce emissions from their oil and gas operations, and it’s important that they achieve this near-term goal even as they make investments in other sectors to prepare for a post-fossil fuel world.

Shell’s decarbonization strategies have very little to do with Shell’s current emissions

The most striking thing to me about Shell’s decarbonization plan is that it is so utterly disconnected from the huge sources of emissions under Shell’s control.  This part of the company’s decarbonization strategy is represented by the very small bar labeled “Top quartile (Scope 1+2).”  Presumably this means Shell plans to the be in the top quartile in the industry for its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which refers to the methodology for corporate disclosure of global warming pollution under the GHG Protocols. Scope 1 emissions are from sources that are owned or controlled by the company and Scope 2 emissions are those generated by third parties that supply energy to the company.  Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the company, for example the tailpipe or smokestack emissions from using gasoline or natural gas produced by an oil and gas company.  For gasoline, Scope 3 emissions are the tailpipe emissions of a car, and these account for about 80 percent of the full lifecycle emissions, while scope 1 and 2 amount to about 20 percent.

From a big-picture long-term perspective, it makes sense to consider the full lifecycle, and, for oil and gas companies, the largest share of emissions come from their customers’ use of gasoline, diesel, natural gas and other fuels.  But the process of replacing fossil fuels will take time and the oil and gas industry is not exactly leading the charge here—indeed, these companies and their trade groups most often fight policies to transition to cleaner vehicles and fuels.  But even as the transition is underway, oil and gas companies have a lot they can do to cut their scope 1 and 2 emissions, specifically the emissions associated with oil and gas extraction, oil refining, and methane leakage, venting, and flaring.  The avoidable emissions are large, they are under the direct control of oil and gas companies, and the impact is significant on a global scale.

A recent paper in Science calculated the carbon intensity of oil from thousands of oil fields that account for 98 percent of global production.  This was not a well-to-wheels analysis, just looking at the oil wells themselves.  The authors estimated that through wise resource choices and improved gas management practices the oil industry could reduce emissions over the next century by at least 18 Gt and as much as 50 Gt considering other mitigation opportunities such as reduced emissions from oil refining.  For context, this is 2.5 to 6.25 percent of the remaining carbon budget required for a greater than 66 percent chance of keeping global average temperature increases below 2°C.  Not only is Shell putting little emphasis on reducing operational emissions in its energy transition strategy, the company continues to indirectly lobby against sensible climate policies, for example by funding the American Petroleum Institute (API) and other trade associations that fight to roll back methane regulations.  (Read more about fossil fuel industry lobbying in The 2018 Climate Accountability Scorecard.)

Reducing methane emissions and other pollution from the production and refining of oil and gas does not substitute for the need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but it is foolish to ignore this low-hanging fruit within the fossil fuel supply chains.  Moreover, since Shell intends to keep producing oil and gas for decades to come, reducing the carbon intensity of its oil, oil refining and natural gas operations will reduce the company’s climate impact and improve its competitiveness in a carbon-constrained future business environment.

My recommendation to Shell: Advocate for a supply chain emissions report card, not just a GPA

Shell recently promised to start setting specific net carbon footprint targets for shorter-term periods (three to five years) starting in 2020 and tie executive performance to the results.  In addition to benchmarking against an overall target, it’s important for Shell to show what is behind the aggregated value, and to advocate for a report card that allows investors and civil society to make their own assessments.  The report card should include the emissions intensity in appropriate units for each fossil fuel company’s major business segments, facilitating comparison with competitors.  It should also include the share of each of these businesses in emissions, energy production and revenue.  Using these results and weightings, Shell can then compute a net carbon footprint or other aggregated score to use for compensation and other purposes, analogous to a grade point average or GPA.

A GPA provides a high-level overview of a student’s performance, but generally interested parties, whether they be parents or college admissions officers, insist on seeing the whole report card.  The detailed report card will reveal whether the student challenged themselves with hard courses and suggests what subjects they are prepared to tackle in the future.  Is Shell setting itself up to produce low-carbon liquid transport fuels by cutting oil supply chain emissions and ramping up low carbon biofuels, or is it gradually exiting the transport fuel business and focusing on natural gas and renewable power?  Either strategy might be viewed as a success, but each has different implications for investors and the world and will help inform future investment decisions.

Last month Deborah Gordon at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and retired Chevron scientist Stephen Ziman wrote a useful article on petroleum industry climate plans.  They argue that companies need to develop transparent systems based on standardized verifiable climate plans.

Shell can lead the oil and gas industry by developing not just its own bespoke and unique emissions metrics, but working with peer companies, governments and civil society to establish industry-wide verifiable standards for emissions reporting at each link in the supply chains in which it participates.  All oil and gas companies should report the carbon intensity of the oil they produce, emissions from their refining operations, methane losses at each step of the supply chain and also track the emissions associated with using the fuels they sell.  As they expand into other areas like biofuels, hydrogen, carbon capture and sequestration and natural carbon sinks, these will need metrics as well.  Taken together, quantitative, verifiable and comparable emissions metrics for each link in the supply chain can be used to develop a net carbon footprint that provides guidance to the company and insight to investors and other stakeholders.

David Nagy

Massachusetts Needs More Than MOR-EV

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

The good news coming out of Massachusetts electric vehicle policy is that the MOR-EV rebate program, the primary incentive that the Commonwealth offers to support vehicle electrification, will be extended into 2019.

MOR-EV survives thanks to an infusion of new funding committed by the Baker administration, using proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). MOR-EV has never established a permanent source of funding, so it has relied on these occasional bursts of new resources, including the commitment of $12 million by the Baker administration in 2015. With no income, the program drains out of money until it runs out or gets a new burst of funding. With electric vehicle sales on the rise in Massachusetts, the program was on path to expire in early 2019.

The bad news is that with this new batch of funding comes new limitations designed to reduce the speed at which the program drains money. The most unfortunate of these cuts is the reduction in total rebate amount from $2,500 to $1,500 for battery-electric vehicles. In addition, plug in hybrid vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt, will no longer get any rebates at all (although I wonder if the state would consider an exemption for the coming plug in F-150). Tesla fans should take note that the state is also eliminating any rebates for vehicles with a purchase price above $50,000.

Electric vehicles are critical to achieving Massachusetts climate limits

At the same time that the state is cutting back on rebate amounts in MOR-EV, our state agencies and our utilities are conducting modelling that shows that dramatic growth in electric vehicle sales is essential to achieving our climate mandates. Preliminary analysis conducted by the Baker administration shows that by 2030, at least 2 of 3 new vehicle sales must be electric by 2030. National Grid estimates that 100 percent of all new vehicle sales must be electric by 2028. Electric vehicles are currently about 3 percent of new vehicle sales.

I don’t have a strong opinion about whether the cuts being made to MOR-EV represent the most effective use of scarce resources to get the state through the first six months of 2019. But it’s clear from the data that the state needs a more ambitious effort to bring electric vehicles into the mainstream.

We can do better than MOR-EV

The truth is, MOR-EV is a program that already had serious limitations, even before the cutbacks in rebate amounts. Unlike the electric vehicle incentives in Connecticut and Delaware, MOR-EV is not available to consumers at the point of purchase: electric vehicle consumers have to mail in their proof of purchase and wait up to 90 days to receive their $2,500 rebate. Unlike New York and California, Massachusetts does not offer an incentive to electrify heavy-duty vehicles, one of the reasons why metro systems in Los Angeles and New York City have made larger commitments to electric buses than the MBTA. And unlike California, there is no program in Massachusetts specifically targeting low- and moderate-income drivers, although the state did attempt a low and moderate income pilot last year.

MOR-EV remains a good program. It’s goal of encouraging the electric vehicle market, so that economies of scale would improve quality and reduce price, remains well founded. Yes, many of the direct beneficiaries are early adopters, tech enthusiasts and people with high incomes. But those initial investments have put the technology in a position where electric vehicle technology really could transform this whole industry for everybody.

Looking beyond MOR-EV

MOR-EV could be improved in two ways. First, the state should find a dedicated funding stream that renews MOR-EV funds on an annual basis and allows people of all income levels to access electric vehicle technology. Second, MOR-EV should take a more comprehensive approach to addressing the obstacles to electric vehicles facing low- and middle-class consumers. One effective model that can offer some lessons for an expanded EV program is Mass Save, our state’s premier energy efficiency program.

For example, thanks to Mass Save, all Massachusetts residents can enjoy a free Home Energy Assessment. As part of that assessment, a person comes to your house, explains what your options are, explains what incentives and programs are available to support you. Mass Save is a big part of the reason why Massachusetts has been consistently rated the most energy-efficient state in the country, saving consumers hundreds of millions per year on their energy bills.

Mass Save also combines direct rebates with financing assistance, offering zero-interest loans for technologies such as heat pumps, insulated windows, and solar water heaters. Several programs provide greater incentives to low income residents – or give away efficiency technologies for free to low income residents. This is the kind of comprehensive approach we need for vehicles: a program that will address multiple obstacles to vehicle electrification and help the consumer through the process of understanding this technology and making a purchase.

We need dedicated funding to make this happen

The problem of course is that you can’t do all of this fancy stuff without putting real resources into the effort. Mass Save has a budget that is relatively insulated from the political process, fed by dedicated revenue streams that have been identified and flow into the program on a consistent basis. If we want a program that can deliver like Mass Save we need to give it the resources that we provide to Mass Save.

It’s great that we have the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative around. But we can’t fund our entire approach to climate and energy policy on the back of a $5.35 price on carbon that only applies to electricity (now 11% of statewide emissions). And it makes little sense, when we are trying to get people to switch from an oil-consuming car to an electric car, to hold the electric sector accountable for their emissions but allow the oil industry to pollute for free.

We need to bring new resources into the system. Creating a program similar to RGGI covering transportation fuels is one obvious approach to creating the kind of dedicated revenue stream that can produce a robust electrification agenda. We encourage Massachusetts officials to explore this and additional strategies to bring electric vehicles to mainstream consumers throughout the state.

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash