UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

Automakers propose loopholes, not rollbacks of cleaner car standards—both are terrible

Since word first leaked that the Administration was planning to freeze fuel economy and global warming emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks, automakers and their trade associations have been adamant about “not wanting a rollback.”  Now that the public comment period on the agencies’ proposed freeze has closed, we have an opportunity to see just exactly what it is that the manufacturers want instead of a rollback—the answer is, in some cases, actually even worse:

  • Honda proposes keeping the curves the same but asks for a number of changes that would erode the benefits of the standards we have today. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~20-40%
  • The Association of Global Automakers not only asks for all those same flexibilities, but they have also requested further revisions downward “to account for today’s market realities.” Lost Emissions Benefits: ~50-70+%
  • General Motors has proposed scrapping the greenhouse gas emissions program entirely, replacing it with a weak National Zero Emissions Vehicle (NZEV) program that will not drive electric vehicle (EV) adoption beyond the status quo, and their proposal does little to drive down emissions from the 95 percent of the vehicle market that will still be powered by gasoline. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~75-90%
  • The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers asks for every loophole under the sun and then some—so much so that even if the year-over-year improvements remained unchanged from the rules we have today, progress on emissions could actually be even worse than the proposed rollback. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~70-130+%

Even the most aggressive positions by major automakers would represent a step backwards from the standards we have today. Our analysis shows that GM’s so-called “visionary” proposal is anything but, representing only a marginal improvement on the rollback and locking that lack of progress in through 2030. And proposals from its trade group, the Auto Alliance, are actually WORSE than a rollback due to the countless flexibilities requested. The hashed boxes indicate uncertainty around the year-over-year improvement requested by the organization, while the ranges reflect uncertainty about technology adoption. Arrows indicate additional, unquantified changes which would further shift the benefits of the proposal.

“Flexibilities” are at the heart of all automaker comments

While there are rhetorical flourishes from automakers about “meaningful year-over-year improvements” and insistence on being “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” every single automaker indicated that they believe there are changes needed to the standards that are on the books, standards which have successfully driven investment in fuel efficiency across all vehicles classes, saving consumers over $70 billion at the pump.

The standards on the books today have roughly comparable year-over-year requirements for every type of vehicle but are adjusted so that bigger vehicles and light trucks have lower targets.  There are two ways to dampen the progress from these standards:  the first approach is to adjust the year-over-year requirements of the standards, the “curves” underpinning the rules—this is what the administration has done by freezing the standards at 2020 levels; the second approach is much sneakier, which is to ask for “extra credit” for specific applications of technology that give more credit for emissions and fuel reductions than will actually result in the real world—this is the approach favored by automakers (though some have deployed a combination of both strategies).

The agencies have already included some incentives in the current standards, which the industry refers to as “flexibilities” and others may refer to as “loopholes” (for example, EV emissions are currently credited without acknowledging emissions from upstream electricity production).  However, many of these incentives were designed to be temporary to drive early adoption and are now phasing out.  Manufacturers are now requesting that these incentives be extended, in some cases indefinitely, and additionally that these flexibilities be broadened well beyond the original intent of the incentive—while promoting sustainable technologies like EVs in the near-term is important, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of encouraging a less efficient fleet overall.  This can have a profound impact on the overall benefits of the rule—by crediting manufacturers with more reductions than would actually appear in the real world, those benefits are simply “lost.”

Tallying up the impact of automaker proposals

The impact of many of these requested flexibilities are uncertain because they depend upon exactly how many vehicles are sold with a given technology.  Furthermore, not all requests have been explicitly quantified, and in the case of requests for credits for safety technologies, the data is uncertain not just about how many vehicles would adopt this technology, but whether there is even any benefit at all.

However, I’ve put together an assessment of the four most clearly-defined proposals below, assessing their impact relative to the standards that we currently have on the books:

Honda:  Honda has specifically proposed a stringency of “approximately 5 percent per year annual improvement,” making it essentially the same as the rules we have on the books right now.  The catch, however, is that they’ve requested added incentives, asking for EV incentives to be extended and for hybrid incentives to be available for all light trucks, including the hybrid Honda CR-V going on sale in some parts of the globe in 2019.

Global Automakers:  The Association of Global Automakers represents the major Asian manufacturers as well as a handful of small luxury car companies.  Unlike Honda, they have only hinted at what level of stringency they believe would be appropriate, including and citing a study by Novation Analytics claiming that gasoline-powered cars and trucks could only achieve standards of 49 mpg and 35 mpg in 2025, respectively (compared to 55 mpg and 40 mpg according to the current standards).  Additionally, they asked for even more flexibilities than Honda, including giving credits for hybrid cars like the Prius, which has been on sale for two decades.  They have also requested credits for safety technology like adaptive cruise control, despite little evidence suggesting it will result in net emissions reductions—we have not considered the impact of these additional “off-cycle” credit requests.

GM:  In lieu of the program now on the books, General Motors proposed a completely different scheme—gasoline-powered vehicles would be required to improve by about 1 percent per year, but in addition there would be put in place a National Zero Emission Vehicle (NZEV) program to encourage sale of electric vehicles.  The problem, as my colleague has already written, is that the NZEV proposed by GM is quite weak, leading to just 8 percent EV sales by 2030.  On top of this, the proposal on conventional vehicles is flimsy and includes credit giveaways, but it would be in effect for the vast majority of vehicles because conventional vehicles will be 95 percent of vehicles sold 2020-2030, even under GM’s proposal.

Auto Alliance:  The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers ramps nearly every requested loophole to 11.  Not only do they request permanently excluding the impact of the electricity powering EVs, but it requests that the multipliers be more than doubled, from 2 to 4.5 for battery-electric vehicles and from 1.6 to 4.8 for plug-in hybrid vehicles—yes, they are actually requesting more credit for vehicles with worse emissions.  They are also seeking to change the definition of a truck so that all utility vehicles fall under significantly weaker standards, even while acknowledging that consumers are cross-shopping sedans and crossovers.  Importantly, the Alliance does not propose a specific change to the year-over-year stringency of the program, only a general call for “adjustment”—our analysis of flexibilities thus assumes that the standard curves remain in place, clearly a very, very conservative assumption given the rest of the Alliance proposal.

A rollback by another name

The future impacts of these proposals are uncertain—the adverse effects on emissions from giving extra credit for hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles depends on the number of those vehicles sold.  Our modeling spans a number of scenarios of technology penetration, ranging from the agencies’ 2016 analysis and compliance with state ZEV standards to the agencies’ 2018 analysis and its ludicrously high assessment of technology needed to comply with regulations.  No matter how you cut it, it is clear from this analysis just how severely these automaker asks would erode the standards.

The asks from the Alliance in particular are so egregious one wonders whether they were accompanied by maniacal laughter and moustache twirling.  Without even reducing on paper the requirements of the standards on the books today, the Alliance asks are equivalent to a rollback under even the most moderate assumptions, and at the level of technology adoption that they and their members claim is necessary, the giveaways would actually be worse than the administration’s proposal.

An incredibly myopic “vision”

The GM NZEV plan has been heavily covered in the media, with some mistakenly calling it a vision for the future.  But the numbers speak for themselves—the GM proposal disregards significant improvements in the vast majority vehicles through 2030 and provides not much better than status quo adoption of EVs in return.  Additionally, they call for increased credit for hybrid light trucks and reclassification of more of the fleet as light trucks, which would fall under weaker standards.

The result is predictable and amounts to an average improvement of about 1.4 percent per year, well short of the nearly 5 percent improvement on the books right now.  It also serves to undermine state and EPA authority under the Clean Air Act, escalates giveaways for unproven technologies that (coincidentally) GM is planning on selling anyway, and doesn’t even provide a guarantee for the benefits under its piddly NZEV because it has an escape clause which would nullify the proposal and any meager attempt at progress if things get too hard—not unlike the eject button they’re trying to push as a part of this mid-term review.

Is anyone not calling for a rollback?

Maybe the clearest outcome of the mid-term review has been to show the viability of the current standards—as time has gone on, more opportunities to reduce fuel use and emissions have been put to market, and even some of the most obvious, low-cost solutions are still only gradually making their way across the fleet.  We and many others continued to press this point to the agencies in the public comment period, pushing back on the administration’s rollback.

Unfortunately, apart from Tesla (who called for even stronger standards), the closest any automaker got to calling for standards equivalent to what we already have right now is Honda.  While they distanced themselves from some flexibilities requested by their trade group like the Prius loophole, Honda still mirrored a number of the same requests.  That means that while on paper the rules would remain as stringent as they are right now, Honda’s proposal would still cut 20-40 percent of the benefits of the rules on the books today, leading to an increase of 175 to 350 million metric tons over the lifetime of vehicles sold through 2025.

While compared to the rest of the industry that may be about as good as it gets, even Honda’s proposal is a significant step backwards, slowing down near-term progress with a wink and a nod that the industry is committed to a sustainable future.  That, of course, is a tactic we’ve seen before.

Promises today, pollution tomorrow

The history of the auto industry is rife with examples of automakers undermining progress not out of technological infeasibility but out of profit and disregard for public outcomes.  When it came to tailpipe pollution, the Alliance spent years undermining the science. When California pushed for action, the companies pushed back, claiming that voluntary action that would prove woefully inadequate to the problem was the right path. After California’s successful regulatory push to move tailpipe control devices to market led to federal regulations, automakers again stalled, winning a reprieve again on the claims that what is really needed is fleet turnover—a claim which, of course, proved false and led to untold adverse health consequences as a result.

There are positive statements in the positions of Global Automakers and Honda that recognize the need for continued progress, and while the proposals represent a short-term setback, it is possible that this is merely strategic positioning as the companies look to negotiate a truly sustainable path forward.  But when looking at the proposal from General Motors looking to codify the status quo and the harmful, cartoonish nonsense out of the Alliance that would actually make the country worse off than the administration’s proposal, it’s hard not to see these proposals together as just another example of an industry doing what it can to avoid responsibility for its products, consequences be damned.

The Elections, and What They Mean for Climate, Energy, and Science

If you are like me, you arrived a bit blurry-eyed to the office this morning after staying up watching election results last night. You’ve undoubtedly already heard and read commentary on what this election means for the country, but may be wondering what the outcome means for climate, security, energy, and science policy. I sat down with my colleague, Alden Meyer, UCS Director of Strategy and Policy, and put our usual water-cooler deconstruction on paper.

Alden: So the Democrats have taken control of the House, but the Republicans expanded their control of the Senate. What’s your take on the overall meaning of the election results? Did environmental issues have any resonance in this election?

Ken: Rahm Emanuel’s prediction of about a week ago seems to have been true—a blue wave, with an equally-strong red undertow. The blue wave is the new majority in the House and several new governors, many in swing states; the red undertow is the gains Republicans made in the Senate.

That being said, a clear overall message is that voters want to see checks and balances. One-party rule has had a corrosive effect on democracy. Major pieces of legislation (e.g., the $1.7 trillion tax cut and Affordable Care Act repeal proposal) have been crafted in backrooms, with very limited public input and opportunities for the opposing party to offer their ideas, and then enacted with little debate or even knowledge of what our representatives were voting for. That’s a problem. The voters are saying no to this, and as an organization that promotes public decision-making based on science, facts, and the competition of ideas, from my perspective at UCS, this is very positive.

I also must add, though, that the President’s fear-mongering in the final days may have worked to energize his base in some of the states with close Senate and Governors’ races; if so, this is not a healthy sign for our democracy and for government based on reason.

I also think that environmental issues, long considered second tier ones, played a role in this election. In several of the Rust Belt states, for example, water quality in both urban and rural areas was a major issue, and in the state of Nevada, voters championed clean energy ballot initiatives. Perhaps most impressively, voters elected new governors in Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico who acknowledged the need to address climate change and showed interest in making their states clean energy champions.

One major disappointment was the defeat of the carbon fee ballot initiative in Washington state. Unfortunately, the big oil companies, many of whom claim they support carbon pricing as a climate solution, spent about $30 million to defeat this initiative, arguing cynically that the initiative did not go far enough. This hypocrisy needs to be strongly called out.

Alden: Indeed. It’s also notable that climate change was raised as an issue in a number of Senate debates. In 2016, we had to work intensively with the Republican mayor of Miami and others to get a single question asked on climate change in the Republican presidential candidate debate in Florida. This year, questions on climate change—many of them citing the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the devastating impacts of further increases in global temperature—were asked by moderators in at least seven Senate candidate debates (in Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas). The increased prominence of the issue, especially in so many red states, demonstrates that increasing voter awareness and concern about the costly impacts of climate-related extreme weather events is making it more difficult for politicians to say that climate change isn’t a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Ken: Looking out over the next two years, I think the election gives us three important new opportunities. Congressional oversight, or even the threat of it, is a key way to keep the executive branch operating within the bounds of law and reason; it has been sorely lacking in the last two years. UCS will work with new leadership in key House committees to ensure that there is oversight and accountability, particularly in the many instances in which science has been suppressed, maligned, or ignored.

Second, there are opportunities for bi-partisan progress on issues we care about, and we can and will try to cobble together majorities for centrist legislation that can move the country forward.

Third, we can help craft and push in the House more ambitious legislation that can lay the groundwork for a healthy debate in the 2020 election and potentially get enacted thereafter.

Alden: Congressional oversight is really important. We’ve been working closely with quite a few House members who care deeply about facts and evidence over the last two years to shine a spotlight on the Trump administration’s attacks on science-based safeguards across a wide range of federal agencies. While this has helped to raise the visibility of these abuses in the media and has provided grist for activists to use in their interactions with their members of Congress in town hall meetings and other venues, it has not produced a meaningful change in the administration’s behavior.

But with control of the House, these pro-science legislators will have a lot more tools at their disposal to address Trump administration officials’ blatant conflicts of interest, their lack of enforcement of laws and regulations to protect public health and worker safety, or their efforts to undermine the independent science advisory process, restrict the use of scientific research in policymaking, and to sharply cut back the scientific staff capacity of their agencies to carry out their missions. Through a combination of information requests, staff investigations, and hearings, House committees and subcommittees can shine a spotlight on policies and activities they believe are against the public interest or that fail to execute laws according to the intent of Congress.

They can compel testimony and response to follow-up questions from Cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, can request agency Inspector General investigations where appropriate, and can draw on analysis by the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the General Accountability Office. They can also use a combination of expert witnesses and everyday citizens to put a human face on the impacts of executive branch actions, such as the rollback of regulations to protect public health and safety.

Ken: Great point. Our staff has been working with these incoming committee chairs and their staff on their oversight strategies for next year, on issues ranging from scientific integrity in policymaking to ineffective and destabilizing missile defense programs and new nuclear weapons systems, from political interference in climate and energy technology research to harmful changes in federal dietary guidelines for all Americans. Needless to say, it’s a target-rich environment!

Alden: As far as new legislative opportunities, there are a few areas where it may be possible to garner bipartisan support for legislative action in the next Congress: targeted incentives for electric vehicles, energy storage, and other clean energy technologies, or the limited but still useful energy bill introduced by Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Cantwell (D-WA) that would boost energy efficiency in buildings, increase energy system cybersecurity, spur investments in power grid modernization, among other things. House Democrats have made clear that a federal infrastructure bill addressing not just investments in transportation, but in the water, electricity, natural gas distribution system, and other sectors as well, will be among their top priorities; it seems unlikely that Senate Republicans and the White House would be willing to reach an acceptable deal on such a bill, but it’s not out of the question.

There are a much broader set of issues where we expect House Democrats to move positive legislation forward to floor passage, despite low prospects that it would be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump; the goal would be to raise public awareness and support and to help shape the debate going into the 2020 elections. We will be working to promote the scientific integrity legislation that Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced in the House and that has 156 cosponsors, as well as opportunities to support science-based safeguards and public health protections. We will also work with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee, to move forward his bill establishing a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons.

Climate change and energy will also be a priority for several incoming committee chairs, such as Frank Pallone (D-NJ) of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) of the Natural Resources Committee, and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) of the Science Committee. It is also a priority for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who just last week indicated her interest in creating a select committee on climate change, modeled on the one chaired by now-Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) from 2007 to 2010. We are discussing legislative options with these and other House Democrats, as well as with our allies in the environmental, clean energy, labor, and climate justice communities, ranging from comprehensive climate policy to more targeted bills focusing on the electricity or transportation sector, or on ramping up assistance to local communities that are struggling to cope with the mounting impacts of climate change.

But yesterday’s elections also resulted in a number of new governors. What do you see as the opportunities for progress at the state and regional level?

Ken: I’m particularly excited about the new governors in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. UCS and others have been working for years on a project to modernize the electric grid in the heartland of the country to fully unleash the power of clean and cheap wind and solar, and we believe that many of these new governors can help champion this transformation.

UCS is also busy working in the Northeast on a regional plan to reduce transportation emissions. Key governors who are supportive of the idea (Cuomo in New York, Baker in Massachusetts) won their races, and some promising newcomers, such as Governor-elect Mills in Maine and Lamont in Connecticut, can add to the critical mass.

In Illinois, with governor-elect Pritzker in office, we will now have increased opportunities for passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation; while in Michigan, with governor-elect Whitmer in office, we will now have new opportunities to advance modern grid policies that can deliver greater quantities of clean electricity to communities, support electric vehicles, and increase the resilience of the electricity grid to the impacts of climate change. In addition, we have new governors in Kansas, New Mexico, and Nevada, and we will look to help these states become clean energy champions.

I know you warned me last week that the 2020 election kicks off today (ugh!). So I’m curious what you think last night’s results might mean for the 2020 elections.

Alden: I think the new governors who ran on a clean energy platform and won their elections will add a lot to the national conversation over the next two years. Not only will they work to push through strong policies, but they will be strong messengers on how these solutions are good for their states’ economies and job creation, bring strong public health benefits by cutting conventional pollutants, and reduce their energy consumers’ vulnerability to fossil fuel supply disruptions and price shocks. Their advocacy and visibility on clean energy and the need to address the mounting impacts of climate change will help make clear that these are priorities for states in the heartland, not just on the coasts.

Put these new governors together with the active agenda we expect to see in the House on climate and clean energy issues next year, as well as the growing public support for climate action that’s demonstrated in recent opinion polls, and it’s safe to say that these issues will be front and center going into the 2020 elections. Of course, health care, immigration, the economy, national security, and terrorism will continue to be top-tier issues, but it will be more difficult than ever for candidates for federal office to deny the reality of climate change.

And, as long as we’re talking about 2020, can you say a little about the work we’re doing with other groups to lay the groundwork for ambitious climate action in 2021?

Ken: Absolutely. UCS, along with many other partners, such as labor, science groups, environmental advocates and so many others are already focusing our sights on a prize—comprehensive, federal climate change legislation by 2021. We can’t let another opportunity slip, we need to get ready for it, and that means starting now. Among other things, we have to learn a key lesson from the Obama era—relying exclusively on regulations doesn’t work, as a successor administration or a hostile court can undo them. We need to lay the groundwork for a durable solution that is set in law, and that means bringing in Republicans to offer their best ideas and ensuring that they too have skin in this all-important game. This is also true for our work on nuclear weapons and sustainable and healthy farms—we need to set our sights on bi-partisan legislation and get to work on it now.

Alden: As we’ve discussed, there are some opportunities to make progress on our issues at the federal level over the next two years, and even more opportunities at the state and regional level. But let’s be honest, we still face tremendous challenges, central among them a president who has no respect for science, makes up his own facts, and continues to take a wrecking ball to the capability of the EPA and other federal agencies to protect public health and the environment. As you rightly note, solutions to all the issues UCS works on need to be worked out on a bipartisan basis to be durable. The good news is that more and more Republicans privately acknowledge the need for action on climate change and other issues; the bad news is that their willingness to stand up to President Trump remains extremely limited. Creating incentives for them to do so—in coordination with allies in the business, faith, security, and conservation communities—is one of the key challenges we need to meet to be successful.

Ken: It is good to remember that politics in America resemble a pendulum. The pendulum swung far in one direction in 2016. The election of a new majority in the House, new governors in key swing states and many young, diverse and exciting new leaders shows that the pendulum is starting to swing back. Our job, as I see it, is to help push the pendulum back in favor of leaders from both parties that support science-based policies. And to be ready when the pendulum swings back far enough to make progress again.

Washington’s I-1631: A Chance to Choose Hope, Not Fear

It has been a tense and tragic time in the runup to the midterm election next week, and voters nationwide have reasons to feel fear about what may happen next, but we need to remember that there are also opportunities for great hope in the election next Tuesday.

For example, few issues have generated as much excitement for climate action as the Washington State carbon pricing initiative, I-1631.   This initiative, developed after a painstaking and highly inclusive planning process that has  garnered enthusiastic support from a large, diverse coalition of constituencies, would create a groundbreaking carbon fee on polluters that would be reinvested in Washington’s communities, businesses, and clean energy industries.  (UCS describes the initiative and how it would work in detail here.)  At a time when Washington DC is in retrograde motion on climate change, even after a summer when extreme heat, storms, and wildfires made more devastating by climate change have pummeled the nation and the world, the chance for state and regional progress on climate change in this election is not only a reason for hope but a possible harbinger of greater state and regional action to come.

And Washington carbon reductions matter.  Washington is already warming up, and is experiencing impacts associated with climate change including increasingly destructive wildfires, decreased water runoff from snowpack, and rising sea levels, all resulting in devastating impacts to people and property.   While opponents to I-1631, mostly out-of-state oil companies, claim that Washington can’t afford to price and reduce carbon emissions, the fact is that individuals, businesses, and taxpayers are already footing a very large bill for the damage done by global warming pollution and the price tag will continue to grow unless emissions can be dramatically reduced.

Big oil’s campaign of disinformation

The opposition has made I-1631 the most expensive initiative campaign in Washington history.  The six out-of-state oil companies that are financing 99% of the more than $30 million pouring into the state to defeat the measure have also mounted one of the most cynical disinformation campaigns I’ve ever seen, saying the measure unfairly “exempts” polluters!

The oil industry’s desperate tactic of campaigning against “polluters” is absurd on its face and gives an indication–along with their eye-popping electoral investment–of how desperate the industry is to not let this initiative happen.  The No campaign has been characterized by exaggerations and disinformation, including listing Latino business owners as opponents to the measure who actually support it. We’ve seen lies and disinformation from the western states oil industry many times before, as UCS has documented.

One issue that Big Oil is hammering on is the idea that the I-1631 polluter fee will cause gas prices to go way up.  The initiative will definitely cost the oil industry money, but whether drivers feels those increases at the pump is another matter, as California learned in 2015 when it put a carbon price on oil.  Big Oil promised in a huge PR campaign that the carbon price would cause California gasoline prices to spike, but instead prices actually decreased.  This was an important lesson–that because oil is a global commodity, local fees and taxes are limited in terms of influencing what you pay at the pump.  Far more important is what is happening to global supply and demand for oil (and by the way we can’t pump our way out of that situation domestically because the price of oil is set as a global commodity.)  Significant oil price spikes are often the result of events we can’t control, like global conflicts in oil producing regions, supply chain disruptions- sometimes caused by climate change-influenced extreme weather- and refinery shutdowns or accidents.

One way to protect ourselves from oil price increases that we can have some control over is reducing our demand for gasoline, using low-carbon and carbon-free transportation fuels and alternatives that reduce our need for petroleum-derived and other carbon-intensive fuel sources.  The kinds of measures that will help reduce carbon fuel demand are exactly the types of investments that can be funded by the polluter fees under I-1631–yet another reason that oil money is flowing to stop this measure.

Believe scientists, not oil companies

If it passes, Washington will be the second west coast state after California to put a price on carbon. In 2019 Oregon could become the third.  The combined carbon reduction influence of these three economic powerhouse states is enormous.  The three states combined are in the top five largest economies globally, so to claim, as opponents of I-1631 have, that Washington’s contribution to carbon emissions reductions under the initiative wouldn’t make a difference are not looking at the bigger picture.

Scientists have led the way on climate action for decades while the oil industry has stood in their way and drowned out their warnings. More than 200 of Washington’s scientists are asking us to vote yes on 1631. We must accept the facts about climate change and listen to their warnings, not the lies of the fossil fuel companies, or the myths they are promulgating about I-1631.

Scientists understand that Washington’s actions alone won’t prevent global warming but will contribute to both desperately needed emissions reductions in the United States and to momentum to the global movement to dramatically reduce emissions if we are to have a positive future. UCS urges Washington voters not to succumb to the negative and misleading propaganda of the oil industry, but to believe the science, choose hope over fear, and support I-1631.

General Motors’ EV Plan May Sound Good, But it’s Bad News for Cars and Drivers. Here’s Why.

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

General Motors has proposed what it’s calling a “National Zero Emission Vehicle (NZEV) program” that would require automakers to sell a minimum volume of plug-in or fuel cell vehicles in the US. While this may sound like an innovative idea, it could dramatically undercut existing programs in states including California that are showing real leadership in cutting vehicle emissions. The GM proposal calls for a 50-state ZEV sales requirement of “15% credits” by 2025, but that doesn’t mean a 15% sales requirement. In fact, it would be far short of that, at best requiring less than 5 percent ZEV sales in the US by 2025, and potentially much less, while potentially undercutting both state-level electric vehicle requirements and federal greenhouse gas emission standards.

What are the main concerns with GM’s proposal?

#1 – Sales requirements through 2025 would be less than existing state standards

While GM’s proposal would call for less than 5 percent of new vehicle sales in 2025, California electric vehicle sales are already at 6 percent in the first half of 2018. The country as a whole is over 1.5 percent ZEV sales so far this year, over double the sales fraction just three years ago. Current requirements in California and nine other states require about 8 percent ZEV sales by 2025. So, if this proposal was adopted and removed state ZEV targets(as we suspect it would), the requirements in these leading states would be slashed and could be lower than current ZEV sales. This would undercut states’ ability to meet their climate and air quality goals and undermine charging infrastructure investments which are being made alongside current vehicle deployment goals.

#2 – Extra credits would further weaken vehicle sales requirements

GM also requests extra allowances for larger ZEVs, automated-drive ZEVs, and those in ridesharing fleets. While some of these vehicles could help reduce emissions, adding these extra credits would further erode the requirement. With these extra credits, the 2025 requirement would likely fall to 3-4 percent sales and 4-6 percent sales by 2030. And it’s not clear that some of these extra credits would be going to vehicles that are reducing emissions. For example, extra credits for larger vehicles could create the perverse incentive for automakers to make less efficient plug-in hybrids, resulting in more gasoline use. Giving extra credits to automated ZEVs assumes that they would drive more miles per year than other cars and therefore displace more gasoline-powered travel than a non-automated ZEV. However, it may be the case that these automated ZEVs increase the total amount of travel and thus either partially or fully negate the climate benefits of switching from gasoline to electricity or hydrogen.

State leadership on vehicle electrification is the reason there are now over 40 electric vehicle models available in some states, and the US is expected to hit the 1 million EVs sold milestone this month. Undercutting state ZEV targets could slow the needed transition away from petroleum to electric-drive transportation. State-level regulations also allow for coordinated incentives, infrastructure investment, and supportive policies that would unlikely to happen at the national level under the current administration. Also, while billed as a national program, there is no assurance that automakers would make efforts to sell ZEV’s outside the states where they currently offer ZEV models.

#3 – Off-ramp on battery-price and infrastructure provides little certainty past 2025

GM also wants to predicate the regulation on the availability of low-cost batteries and ZEV refueling and recharging infrastructure. While automakers are far from the only group that can help push R&D and infrastructure forward, it would be a dangerous policy choice to have a vehicle standard that could be invalidated by lack of effort or investment from automakers.

A national EV effort should complement efficiency and emissions standards, not undermine them.

Advancing vehicle electrification is important and a national effort that complements state EV deployment efforts and national fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards is a worthwhile discussion. But a national ZEV program as proposed by GM is no replacement for the fuel efficiency and carbon emission standards we have on the books today.

GM’s comments on the standards rollback suggests that this proposed NZEV program would replace the EPA’s current greenhouse gas standards for conventional vehicles. Doing so could result in vastly higher emissions as the vast majority of vehicle sales (over 95% in 2025) over the next decade would still be gasoline powered, and EPA would cede its authority to the Department of Transportation’s fuel economy regulations. And just how low would those future standards be?  GM suggests a status quo rate of improvement of about 1 percent per year, far less than the 5 percent per year they’re required to achieve under current regulations.   As they have for decades, they claim that tough rules are “infeasible” even though there are proven, cost-effective technologies available that will reduce emissions and gasoline costs for millions of Americans, and automakers should be implementing them.

Car companies like GM should be focused on meeting and beating existing standards and reject the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks which would:

  • 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
  • Increase oil use. 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
  • 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
  • Reduce employment, economy-wide, by 60,000 in 2025 and 126,000 in 2035;
  • Reduce gross domestic product by $8 billion in both 2025 and 2035.
What policies would help reduce emissions and petroleum use?

For a start, we can stop the disastrous proposed rollback of current standards for automobiles.

The federal government should also abandon its illegal and unwarranted attack on California’s ability to set needed policies to reduce air pollution and climate changing emissions. And the federal government should be encouraging ZEV sales in all states, by extending vehicle incentives and increasing R&D spending on ZEV technologies. The world is moving to electric cars and away from gasoline and diesel. Good domestic policy choices can make sure that drivers save money on fuel, manufacturing and research jobs stay in the US, and we get on a path to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

 

 

Can Uber and Lyft Be a Climate Solution?

Photo: Mark Warner

Governor Brown signed several pieces of legislation this year on clean energy and transportation and one of those, signed on a boat in San Francisco bay on a windy afternoon, was squarely aimed at ensuring ride-hailing companies contribute to California’s climate efforts.  The California Clean Miles Standard and Incentive Program (SB 1014 authored by Senator Skinner) brings ride-hailing companies into the climate solutions fold by establishing decreasing climate emissions targets (yet to be determined) for companies like Uber and Lyft. This ground-breaking legislation is the first of its kind, and sets an important example for how the increasingly popular transportation option of ride-hailing can help accelerate emission reductions from transportation, rather than exacerbate them.

Why ride-hailing is important for climate change

App-based on-demand ride services (aka ride-hailing) have been a huge boon to mobility for millions of people, providing a convenient option for getting from point A to point B. But these services also have implications for the amount of global warming emissions coming from transportation. And since transportation climate emissions in California are growing and now account for more than 40% of statewide emissions, getting a handle on this source of pollution is critical.

Ride-hailing may help or hinder efforts to reduce emissions for several reasons:

  • Ride-hailing is growing rapidly. Trip miles by Uber and Lyft increased more than 100% in 2016 and greater than 60% in 2017 (CPUC report). As of 2017, Uber was operating in 172 cities and towns in California and Lyft in more than 92. Statewide, ride hailing is only a small percentage of overall miles traveled (California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimated it at 2%) but in some places is a sizable percentage of daily trips.  In San Francisco, for example, SFMTA estimates that 15% of in-town trips, and 20% of total miles traveled during the week, is in ride-hailing vehicles.
  • Ride-hailing is increasing vehicle miles traveled and congestion. While ride-hailing is getting some people to leave their own cars at home, it is also leading to additional car trips that increase vehicle emissions and congestion in some cities. That’s because ride-hailed trips often displace trips that would have been completed by walking, biking, or transit, or add trips that would not have been taken at all. As noted in this white paper on the Future of Mobility by researchers from the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, “in 3 out of 4 studies, more than a third of respondents would have taken public transit, walked, or biked, in place of” ride-hailing. Furthermore, even when they displace personal car trips, ride-hail trips can end up adding more vehicle miles than the car trip they are displacing because “dead-heading” miles—miles traveled without any passengers between drop-offs and pick-ups—can account for an estimated 20% (SFMTA) to 40% (CPUC) of all ride-hailing miles. Several cities are trying to get a better handle on congestion impacts from ride-hailing services from New York to San Francisco and solutions to deal with it.
  • Ride-hailing could usher in a new era of car-pooling. It’s never been easier to share a ride with someone if you live in an area where UberPOOL or LyftLine are available. In California, pooled-rides represent more than 30% of the ride requests by Uber and Lyft passengers (CPUC). Significantly increasing vehicle occupancy by pooling rides is one way to increase passenger miles without increasing vehicle miles or pollution and app-based services are providing the tools to make this work.
  • Ride-hailing could accelerate the electrification of vehicle miles traveled. A typical car travels about 12,000 mile per year. But a driver for Uber or Lyft could easily drive double that or more. As an example, a report on taxis in New York City indicated a typical cab travels 70,000 in one year. So an EV used in a ride-hailing service has the potential to travel a whole lot more miles than a typical EV used by an individual for personal transportation. Replacing gasoline-powered ride-hailing trips with EV ride-hailing trips could slash climate emissions since powering cars with electricity instead of oil reduces emissions, even when accounting for emissions from generating the electricity.
  • Ride-hailing has the potential to support greater use of mass transit or could possibly undermine it. With easily accessible ride-hailing offering an attractive first-mile and last-mile option, commuters may find some forms of mass transit more attractive. A survey carried out by researchers at UC Davis of ride-hailing users found respondents increased their use of heavy-rail (including subways and commuter rail) and walking (see figure). But it’s not all good news. Respondents also reported a decrease in bus and light rail use and on net, the study authors report an overall decrease in transit use by current ride-hailing users. So ride-hailing could help improve mass transit, by making it more accessible, convenient and efficient than it is today, but it could also undermine transit by pulling passengers away.

Source: Disruptive Transportation: The Adoption, Utilization, and Impacts of Ride-Hailing in the United States, October 2017 by Regina R. Clewlow and Gouri Shankar Mishra

Ultimately, ride-hailing services will make the biggest contributions to reducing climate pollution from transportation if they lead to more pooled rides, less overall VMT, more vehicle electrification, greater utilization of mass transit and more biking, walking or scooting. But that outcome is far from guaranteed without clear public policy direction.  And that’s just what SB1014 is designed to provide.

The California Clean Miles Standard and Incentive Program – SB1014
  • Establishes a global warming emissions baseline for ride-hailing companies by January 2020

The new law requires the California Air Resources Board to establish an emissions baseline, on a per-passenger-mile basis, for ride-hailing companies.

Here’s a basic example of how to calculate an emissions per-passenger-mile metric. First, take all the vehicle miles traveled by ride-hailing vehicles – waiting for passengers, between pick-ups and drop-offs, and during the actual trip with a passenger or passengers. Then estimate the emissions for those miles traveled based on the efficiency of the vehicles used.  Finally, divide that by the number of miles each passenger actually travels in the vehicle.

The bill does add one more factor into the mix – did the trip facilitate walking, riding, or other modes of zero emission or active transport? It’s not exactly clear how this will ultimately be wrapped into the calculation.  Here’s one possibility. If a passenger uses Uber Express Pool and walks a few blocks to the pickup location, that might be factored into the overall passenger miles, hence reducing the overall emissions per passenger mile figure.

  • By 2021, sets annual emission reduction and zero emission vehicle targets starting in 2023 to be implemented by the Public Utilities Commission

After setting a baseline, the California Air Resource Board is tasked with establishing annual emission reduction targets to apply to companies starting in 2023. Along with setting overall emission per passenger mile targets, the bill also requires specific targets for increasing passenger miles traveled using zero-emission vehicles. The CPUC will implement the actual standard given their role in regulating ride-hailing companies.

  • By January 2022, and every two years after, requires companies develop emission reduction plans.

Once targets are set, ride-hailing companies will develop plans to demonstrate how they will comply with the standards.

  • Calls for state agencies to consider these goals in their vehicle electrification planning and funding decisions.

Several state agencies, including the California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board, that make decisions about funding for vehicle incentives and charging infrastructure deployment will now consider ride-hailing electrification goals in their decision making.  The bill also calls for the program to support sustainable land-use objectives, clean mobility goals low and moderate-income drivers, while minimizing any negative impacts.

Setting a strong standard will ensure ride-hailing is a climate friend, rather than foe

This bill sets up a structure for ensuring ride-hailing delivers on its potential to help accelerate climate reductions in the transportation sector.  It complements the current efforts of Uber and Lyft to promote electrification on their platforms and reduce climate emissions. It also ensures they are accountable for making steady progress while providing flexibility in how they meet the goals.

SB1014 could have required a more straightforward metric, like emissions per vehicle mile traveled or just an EV deployment requirement, but that would have only encouraged lower emitting vehicles.  Instead, by using an emissions per-passenger-mile metric, the standard can encourage a broader range of positive outcomes including: use of cleaner ride-hailing vehicles, greater vehicle occupancy (i.e., pooling), more efficient operations with less deadheading, and encouraging increased use of active transportation. All of these are ultimately important in moving toward a more sustainable, and low emission transportation future.

What’s next?

The California Air Resources Board is on tap to develop an emissions baseline with finalization by January 2020 so I’d expect a public announcement in the next few months regarding a process.

No one except for Uber and Lyft knows exactly how many miles Uber and Lyft vehicles are driving, the vehicles that are driving them, or how many passengers are in them. All of this information will be critical to developing a baseline to measure future emission reductions against.  Ride-hailing companies will need to be transparent with regulators about the underlying data they are reporting on and be accountable for its accuracy.

Setting the structure and stringency levels of the program will be the next critical challenge.  If both Lyft and Uber stand by their public commitments to more sustainable transportation, then the process for developing emissions targets should prove to be productive.

Photo: Mark Warner

Why We Met with Andrew Wheeler—And What Happened When We Did

On Monday, I met with Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accompanied by Andy Rosenberg, director of our Center for Science and Democracy, and Michelle Robinson, director of our Clean Vehicles Program. We had asked for this meeting in early July, just after Scott Pruitt resigned and Mr. Wheeler was named as his replacement. Though well aware of Mr. Wheeler’s history as a coal industry lobbyist, we hoped that he might not be personally invested in some of Mr. Pruitt’s policies, and were convinced that we should meet with him face to face and try to persuade him to change course.

Since that time, and with a few important exceptions, Mr. Wheeler has mostly dashed these hopes. During his short tenure, the EPA has drafted rules to roll back the three most significant EPA climate change policies (fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light-duty trucks, the clean power plan for CO2 emissions from power plants, and limits on methane leaks from oil and gas operations). And the EPA has repeatedly excluded independent, academic scientists from EPA advisory boards and has sought to limit the scientific information that the EPA can use when adopting new safeguards for public health and the environment.

We were scheduled for a half hour, but Mr. Wheeler graciously extended the time to make sure we could cover the three issues we wanted to raise. At the meeting, Mr. Wheeler, accompanied by Bill Wehrum, the director of Air and Radiation, and several others, was engaged, eager to defend his positions, and respectful of ours.

However, the meeting was utterly disappointing.

We focused part of the discussion on climate change. We handed them excerpts from the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the Climate Science Special Report, prepared by US government scientists. We showed them a chart from the Special Report projecting the misery of lengthy heat waves across the US in just a few decades, and cited UCS’s Underwater Report estimating that hundreds of thousands of homes in the United States that would be flooded twice a month by mid-century. We stated as forcefully as we could that rolling back the modest first steps that the EPA had taken is the precise opposite of what these reports are urgently calling upon all leaders to do.

Mr. Wheeler did not attempt to dispute the science. Rather, he claimed that EPA lacked the legal authority to address it in any substantial way, particularly when it came to power plants. We pushed back hard, citing several Supreme Court opinions holding that the EPA did have such authority and pointing out that the EPA had itself created uncertainty over its authority by asking a court not to rule on a pending case on the Clean Power Plan which would have clarified the legal boundary lines. I felt the way Abraham Lincoln must have when he ruminated “If General McClellan isn’t going to use his army, I’d like to borrow it for a time.”

We also discussed the rollback of the clean car standards, and Mr. Wheeler seemed to have swallowed the argument that cleaner car standards will cause more traffic fatalities. (I know, this is hard to grasp—supposedly people will hold on to their less safe, older cars longer and drive them more because newer, more efficient cars are more expensive). Michelle pointed out that even his own technical staff’s analysis doesn’t support this argument, and let him know that we and others would refute it during the public comment period. We also discussed the proposal to rescind California’s long-standing authority to set its own stricter standards. At this point, Mr. Wheeler expressed a preference for a “50 state” solution in which the federal and state standards were aligned. We reminded him that this is precisely what we have now under the existing standards, and it is his decision to lower the federal standards that is creating a disjunction with California.

The discussion then turned to science, and Andy spoke forcefully about a pattern of removing independent, academic scientists from advisory boards, and limiting the evidence that EPA can consider when making decisions. UCS and the EPA could not even agree on what to call one of the proposals that would disallow the EPA from using studies unless it made public raw data such as private health records. We called that proposal “restricted science.” He called it “transparent science.” Whatever the name, Mr. Wheeler did recognize that his proposal had engendered fierce criticism from many quarters, but he insisted that it was misunderstood.

The meeting was coming to a close. I had been in this office before with other EPA administrators, and had experienced the exhilarating feeling of being close enough to power for my words to make a difference. The stakes for this meeting with Mr. Wheeler were so much higher—we are running out of time on climate change, and the Trump administration is doing such damage, yet I couldn’t break through.

As a last resort, I did all I could do: I implored him to read the reports we provided and summon the courage to put a hold on these reckless rollbacks. I acknowledged that this would be hard. And I said something like this: “it would be harder still to be a person in a unique position of authority and responsibility, who had the chance to steer a safer course, but chose not to do so.”

Automakers Well Positioned to Meet Fuel Economy Standards

I spent my career as an automotive engineer at GM. During my time in the auto industry I played a hands-on role in putting new technologies on the road, and had a front row seat to view how cars and trucks have become more efficient over time. That’s partly due to the hard work of my colleagues who design and manufacture vehicles and their parts—but also due in part to a strong set of federal standards that have helped drive the technology forward.

The efficiency and emissions standards that went into effect in 2012 have been a real success—they’ve saved drivers tens of billions of dollars on fuel and cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, that progress is at risk because the executive branch is trying to roll back these standards.

The Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed flatlining standards in 2020, meaning that cars and trucks wouldn’t need to get cleaner or more efficient. They say automakers can’t meet the challenge of increasing efficiency. They’re wrong—and I know because I’ve spent my career helping to improve their efficiency.

As a mechanical engineer, I designed automatic transmissions and their components.  When I began nearly forty years ago, these were sometimes noisy and rough-shifting—and not particularly fuel-efficient.  But over time, they’ve been transformed into an elegant enabler of vehicle fuel efficiency. These advanced transmissions go hand in hand with improved vehicle aerodynamics, lightweight materials, and fuel economy advancements in the engine and other vehicle components. By combining all these technologies, automakers have achieved vehicle fuel economy undreamt of when I started.

Many features have contributed to the transmission’s transformation, but perhaps the two most important are more speeds and electrification. Due to high mechanical efficiency, transmissions are more efficient than internal combustion engines when it comes to producing the wide range of wheel torque needed in vehicles.  Having a high number of transmission ranges allows the engine to operate at peak efficiency, a key foundation of fuel economy. When I began, most transmissions were 3 or 4 speeds, a far cry from optimum.  After the 70’s oil embargo, fuel economy became more important, leading to the initial CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations. To help meet them, 6-speed transmissions began arriving and included other features such as a torque converter lockup clutch, overdrive, and electronic controls, all contributing to fuel economy gains.

In the late 90’s as fuel prices continued their steady rise and California’s emissions regulations became more stringent, transmission electrification began with the Toyota Prius electric hybrid.  The primary feature of electric hybrids is the addition of motors inside the transmission which connect to various gearing elements.  The motors effectively act to provide more transmission ranges, allowing the engine to run more efficiently, significantly improving fuel economy.  The motors are powered by a battery pack kept charged by the engine and a home charger if a plug-in variety.  In addition, during vehicle braking, the motors become generators, charging the battery as well as improving brake life.  Analogous to mechanical ranges, having more electric speeds improves efficiency by enabling the motors to operate in their efficient zones.  The Prius has just one electric speed, but other manufacturers had designs with more.

When the Prius was introduced, I was at Allison Transmission, then GM’s lead division for transmission electrification.  Allison designs and produces transmissions for all manner of vehicles larger than passenger cars.  Initially, electrification focused on the transit bus market and in 2003 production began on a 2-speed electric hybrid still produced for buses today.  With its success, the architecture was downsized for SUVs and pickup applications. When combined with engine and other vehicle improvements, it provided significant fuel economy gains.  It went into limited production in 2008 just as GM was forced to sell many of their assets including Allison, but unable to escape bankruptcy.

Soon after, I began work on a 4-speed hybrid being developed for even better fuel economy than the 2-speed version to help meet the 2012 revised CAFE standards.  It was intended to complement a new series of 8 speed conventional transmissions concurrently being designed for rear wheel drive vehicles which started production in 2013. But vehicle fuel economy improvements kept coming, everything from vehicle electrification like the Volt to continued conventional powertrain improvements, including a joint venture with Ford on a series of 9-speed front wheel drive and 10-speed rear wheel drive transmissions.  The standards could now be met without the 4-speed hybrid and it was eliminated, one indication the regulations can be met without an abundance of higher initial cost electrification. Further indications came from a detailed analysis by the regulating agencies who concluded the same thing–manufacturers across the industry can meet the standards even with low electric and hybrid penetration.

Since the revised standards, fuel economy innovations have blossomed with a range of offerings on every type of vehicle.  Electric components have become affordable for many and the continued development of fuel cells adds yet another dimension.  Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) which mimic electric hybrids without adding motors are available in some vehicles.  Dual clutch transmissions (DCTs) which combine the higher efficiencies of manual transmissions with the drivability of automatics are also gaining acceptance. Continued improvements to conventional drivetrains keep them viable as well.

The fact is automakers can continue to improve, and they’re putting technology to work to meet today’s federal standards. Vehicle sales have set records and the auto industry is employing workers in record numbers, in part due to these higher fuel economy features.  Automakers are well positioned to meet standards and consumers can take full advantage of the lower fuel costs and reduced emissions that result. We’re moving forward—and it would be a mistake to slam on the brakes now.

 

Greg Kempf recently retired as a mechanical engineer from General Motors after 37 years.  His career was mainly spent designing automatic and electric-hybrid transmissions for which he holds 15 patents.  He’s now an aspiring writer, working on his first novel about climate change. 

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

Clean Transportation Technologies Can Cut Emissions and Save Northeast Over $1 Trillion in Reduced Spending on Oil.

We can cut oil use, reduce climate and air pollution, lower costs for consumers, and strengthen our regional economy by investing in three proven strategies: increasing vehicle efficiency; transitioning to electric cars, buses, and trucks; and shifting to cleaner fuels. According to a new analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) by M.J. Bradley and Associates, the states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region can:

  • Cut climate-damaging carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution from on-road transportation by 37 percent in 2030, relative to 1990 levels, and by 78 percent in 2050.
  • Reduce consumer spending on gasoline and diesel fuel by more than $125 billion by 2030 and more than $1 trillion by 2050.
  • Improve air quality, leading to more than $3 billion in cumulative avoided health impacts by 2030 and more than $30 billion by 2050.
  • Build a stronger and more reliable electric grid through smart charging, which can save ratepayers over $138 billion by 2050 and facilitate the shift to renewable electricity.
  • Save almost $25 billion in environmental damages region-wide by 2030 and almost $195 billion in 2050, by diminishing the risk of property damage from extreme climate events, preserving ecosystems, and avoiding climate-related changes in agricultural productivity, among other benefits.

Together with efforts to provide residents with better alternatives to driving through investments in public transportation, walking and biking infrastructure, and affordable housing near transit, these investments in clean vehicles and fuels can put the region on track to achieve the deep decarbonization of transportation. Furthermore, by directing investments toward the communities that need them the most, the region can make its transportation system more equitable.

Five policies to move the region forward

This analysis comes as states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region consider new approaches to addressing the challenge of transportation pollution. Transportation is the largest source of pollution in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. While the region has made progress in reducing pollution from power plants, pollution from cars, trucks, and buses have actually grown since 1990. The region will not meet our long-term climate goals without significant new policies to address transportation emissions.

Over the past year, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have been exploring new policy approaches to deal with this challenge. Agency officials committed last year to explore market-based policies to reduce transportation emissions. State agencies have conducted analysis, and held listening sessions that have brought hundreds of people together throughout the region to discuss strategies to improve transportation.We have an opportunity right now to move the region forward with a comprehensive strategy to reduce vehicle emissions and clean our transportation system.

We evaluated three proven technology pathways by which the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states can accelerate the deployment of clean vehicles and clean fuels at a scale sufficient to meet their climate targets, calculating the investment needed to take these technologies to scale as well as the resulting financial, environmental, and health benefits. These pathways are: increasing fuel efficiency in conventional vehicles, promoting electric vehicles, and increasing production of clean biofuels.

We find that aggressive investment in clean transportation technologies can help the Northeast achieve deep decarbonization of the transportation sector. We also find that achieving this transformation will require sustained and significant efforts to overcome major obstacles to clean transportation technology, including the high upfront cost of the vehicles, the need for more charging infrastructure, and additional costs for low-carbon biofuels.

We recommend policy leaders in the Northeast take five major steps:

1. Accelerate vehicle emission standards

Vehicle efficiency and emissions standards, including federal CAFE rules as well as the regional Zero-Emission Vehicle program play a critical role in encouraging automaker investments in clean transportation technologies. The Trump administration proposes to freeze federal standards for vehicles and threatens to attack the authority of California and Northeast states to set higher emission standards. We propose instead that the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states join California to fight proposed rollbacks at the federal level and to keep vehicle emissions standards and the ZEV program on track post-2025.

With steady progress on vehicle efficiency, a new passenger car in 2030 can operate on one-third less gasoline than a car sold today. Continuing to strengthen the efficiency of buses and trucks is also important, because, although heavy-duty vehicles make up less than 10 percent of all vehicles on US highways, they constitute more than 25 percent of the nation’s consumption of petroleum-based fuels.

2. Make electric vehicles work for everybody

Electric vehicles (EVs) represent the most promising technology ever developed to help reduce the consumption of petroleum-based fuels. EVs are increasingly available in all vehicle classes and models, from sedans to transit buses and delivery trucks. On today’s grid, electric cars produce less than half the emissions of a conventional vehicle (Reichmuth 2017). They are cheaper to fuel and cheaper to maintain, and their up-front costs continue to decline, though incentives remain important for moderate- and low-income drivers to share in these consumer benefits.

Our analysis finds that the widespread adoption of electric vehicles by 2050—which assumes the electrification of 95 percent of the fleet of transit buses, 90 percent of passenger cars, 70 percent of small trucks, and 30 percent of large trucks—is cost-effective. Achieving these growth rates will require sustained investments to incentivize switching to EVs and build charging infrastructure.

To make this happen, we encourage states to increase incentives for low- and moderate-income residents, to make these vehicles affordable to people of all income levels. We encourage states to achieve the rapid electrification of port fleets and transit buses, particularly in communities with high rates of air pollution caused by diesel fumes.  And we call on states and utilities in the region to build out the charging infrastructure that we will need to support widespread electrification, and to adopt policies that will encourage these vehicles to charge at the most efficient time of day for the grid.

3. Enact a clean fuel standard

Clean transportation must be powered by cleaner fuels, a shift that can be achieved by switching to clean electricity and blending low-carbon biofuels into gasoline and diesel. In our analysis, we found that clean fuels can achieve a 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions per unit of transportation fuel by 2030, and 30 percent by 2050. Setting a steadily declining standard for the average carbon intensity of transportation fuel, including electricity, biofuels, and petroleum-based fuels, would support the transition to both electric vehicles and low-carbon biofuels, while preventing the introduction of high-carbon sources of oil, such as fuel derived from Canadian tar sands.

4. Create a clean transportation investment fund.

Making clean transportation work for all communities and constituencies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will require sustained, creative and strategic investments. A dedicated funding source for clean transportation investments could play a critical role in helping communities develop smart solutions to the challenge of reducing transportation emissions. Building on successful program models such as the Green Communities Act and Cleaner Greener Communities, a clean transportation fund could help engage local government and local coalitions around specific projects to improve transportation in their communities. Funds could also be used to engage key stakeholders, such as large fleet operators, auto dealers, transit agencies, universities and hospitals, and transportation network companies (TNCs).

A clean transportation fund would also provide the state with a way of dedicating revenues to the communities and constituencies that are most in need of investments in clean transportation. That includes environmental justice communities that face disproportionately high rates of asthma and air pollution, skyrocketing housing costs, and underinvestment in public transportation. And it also includes rural communities, who have the highest transportation costs and the greatest potential to save money from the transition to electric vehicles.

This fund could be supported through the same kind of funding mechanisms that are already working to improve efficiency and reduce consumer costs in the electric and gas sectors, such as a systems benefits charge or a cap and invest program covering transportation fuels.

5. Implement a market-based limit on transportation emissions.

Finally, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states should place a declining limit on emissions from transportation fuels and enforce that limit through a market-based policy similar to what the region has achieved in the electric sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI).

RGGI is a policy with a proven track record of reducing emissions while improving our economy and cutting costs for consumers. It works by setting an overall declining limit on emissions from power plants and requiring polluters to purchase allowances made available in regular auctions. By limiting the number of allowances available, the program creates mandatory emission reductions. At the same time, sales of allowances raise money, which can then be invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology. By investing smartly in energy efficiency, RGGI has lowered net costs for consumers.

Our analysis demonstrates that this policy model could achieve this same success in transportation. For example, if the Northeast were to implement a market-based program covering transportation fuels at auction prices equal to those of the Western Climate Initiative, that would raise almost $60 billion to invest in clean transportation solutions by 2030. That alone would be sufficient to cover the entire added cost of electric vehicle technology, and together with additional complementary policies, these clean transportation investments could save consumers over $145 billion by 2030 – with hundreds of billions in additional savings in the following decades.

Public Domain

New California Laws Address Climate Change—Some Bills Fall Short

California State Capitol Photo: Rafał Konieczny CC-BY-SA-4.0 (Wikimedia)

It’s Fall. That means crisp morning air, dwindling sunlight, and a chance to take stock of legislative victories and setbacks in California, as Governor Brown has now signed or vetoed the last of the bills sent to his desk this year.

As always, the progress we make in Sacramento is not only improving Californians’ quality of life, but also keeping momentum going for other states and countries. Many of the gains we make in clean technologies, for example, are reducing costs and proving solutions at scale, charting a course from which others can learn.

Big wins to fight climate change SB 100 bill signing

Governor Brown signed SB 100 into law on September 10, 2018. Adrienne Alvord, UCS Western States Director, is pictured third from left.

The biggest victory this year for UCS—and California’s climate—was unquestionably passage of SB 100 (De León), which accelerated the state’s renewable electricity requirement to 60% by 2030 and set a goal to supply all of California’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.  The world is sure to be watching our state to see how the globe’s fifth largest economy can run entirely on carbon-free electricity while maintaining a safe and reliable power grid. UCS was proud to work with a large coalition of faith, labor, business, climate, and environmental justice leaders to move this bill across the finish line. Now that SB 100 is the law of the land, our state has an opportunity to lead the world by example and help produce the technological innovation needed to operate a truly carbon-free grid.

Another key victory was passage of SB 1014 (Skinner), which will make sure ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft reduce global warming pollution from cars running on their platforms. The law requires that the California Air Resources Board adopt targets for reducing the average emissions associated with every mile a passenger travels on ride-hailing platforms. In practical terms these targets will encourage ride sharing (such as UberPOOL and Lyft Line) and greater use of cleaner vehicles, particularly zero-emission vehicles. Uber and Lyft have become an essential part of our transportation system, but their popularity has also raised concerns about increased congestion and emissions. As such, UCS was thankful to work with Senator Skinner on this first-in-the-nation law to make sure that ride-hailing companies are taking steps to address climate change.

There were many other noteworthy bills addressing climate change passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Brown into law. Key UCS-backed measures signed into law include:

  • AB 2195 (Chau)—Requires tracking of global warming emissions from production and transport of natural gas imported into California.
  • AB 3232 (Friedman)—Requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to assess the potential to reduce emissions from the state’s buildings to 40% below 1990 levels by 2040.
  • SB 700 (Wiener)— Reduces the cost of batteries to backup on-site solar energy systems at homes, businesses, and schools.
  • SB 964 (Allen)—Requires the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to analyze the financial risk of their investments due to climate change.
  • SB 1013 (Lara)—Restricts the use of potent global warming gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
  • SB 1072 (Leyva)—Creates regional climate collaboratives to help disadvantaged communities access state funding to address climate change.
  • SB 1477 (Stern)—Helps develop a market for low-emissions buildings and low-emissions space and water heating equipment.
Additional victories on nuclear weapons and scientific transparency

UCS also worked to advance priorities in the state Capitol beyond solutions to climate change. For example, we advocated for two resolutions – AJR 30 (Aguiar-Curry) and AJR 33 (Limon) – that passed the Legislature in August calling on the U.S. Congress to adopt several common sense reforms to reduce the threat of nuclear war. These resolutions call for the United States to renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first and to take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, among other changes.

We also supported AB 2192 (Stone), a bill to make more state-funded research freely available to the public. Governor Brown also signed this measure into law.

Some bills fall short

SB 64 failed to garner the 41 votes necessary to pass the California State Assembly.

Despite all the progress California made in 2018, numerous important bills failed to pass. A key loss for UCS was SB 64 (Wieckowksi), legislation we co-sponsored with environmental justice and clean energy groups to address air pollution that comes from cycling of natural gas power plants.  This is an important issue to California’s clean energy transition because natural gas power plants are likely to start and stop more frequently as the state uses more electricity from solar plants and wind farms. The bill sought to more clearly report power plant emissions data and study how to phase down use of natural gas power plants. SB 64 received 40 votes in the Assembly (one vote short of passing) before industry opposition whittled support down to 33 votes. The bill faced intense opposition in the final days of the legislative session despite its relatively modest ambition.

The highest profile bill we worked on that failed to pass was AB 813 (Holden), which would have paved the way for California’s largest grid operator, the California Independent System Operator, to expand its operations into other western states. UCS supports regional integration of the electricity grid as an important tool to meeting our clean energy goals, and we supported AB 813 for most of the year as the centerpiece of legislative debate on the issue. However, as the session came to a close, too many questions remained in the final version of the bill for our organization to remain in support and we decided to take a neutral position on the bill during the session’s final days. Going forward, we still see integration of western energy markets as a key solution to creating a reliable, cost-effective grid powered by renewable energy.

There is always next year

In 2019 California will have a new governor with his own new priorities, and a Legislature of mostly returning members who are sure to have many ideas of their own for how to address climate change. Here at UCS we have our own ideas too, and we look forward to continuing our work to make California a “coast of dreams,” striving to push the boundaries of new solutions to climate change and other pressing challenges.

Office of Governor Brown

When Will Autonomous Vehicles be Safe Enough? An interview with Professor Missy Cummings

Photo: Jaguar MENA

Autonomous vehicle (AV) supporters often tout safety as one of the most significant benefits of an AV-dominated transportation future. As explained in our policy brief Maximizing the Benefits of Self-Driving Vehicles:

While self-driving vehicles have the potential to reduce vehicle-related fatalities, this is not a guaranteed outcome. Vehicle computer systems must be made secure from hacking, and rigorous testing and regulatory oversight of vehicle programming are essential to ensure that self-driving vehicles protect both their occupants and those outside the vehicle.

Professor Mary “Missy” Cummings, former fighter pilot and current director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, is an expert on automated systems. Dr. Cummings has researched and written extensively on the interactions between humans and unmanned vehicles, regulation of AVs, and potential risks of driverless cars. I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Cummings and ask her a few questions about current technological limitations to AV safety and how to use regulation to ensure safety for all Americans, whether they are driving, walking, or biking.

Below are some key points from the interview, as well as links to some of Dr. Cummings’ work on the topics mentioned.

Jeremy Martin (JM): Safety is one of the biggest arguments we hear for moving forward with autonomous vehicle development. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tied 94% of crashes to a human choice or error, so safety seems like a good motivating factor. In reality, how far are we really off from having autonomous systems that are safer and better than human drivers? And are there specific software limitations that we need to improve before we remove humans from behind the wheel?

Dr. Mary “Missy” Cummings (MC): I think one of the fallacies in thinking about driverless cars is that, even with all of the decisions that have to be made by humans in designing software code, somehow they are going to be free from human error just because there’s not a human driving. Yes, we would all like to get the human driver out from behind the wheel, but that doesn’t completely remove humans from the equation. I have an eleven-year-old, I would like to see driverless cars in place in five years so she’s not driving. But, as an educator and as a person who works inside these systems, we’re just not there.

We are still very error prone in the development of the software. So, what I’d like to see in terms of safety is for us to develop a series of tests and certifications that make us comfortable that the cars are at least going to be somewhat safer than human drivers. If we could get a reliable 10% improvement over humans, I would be good with that. I think the real issue right now, given the nature of autonomous systems, is that we really do not know how to define safety for these vehicles yet.

JM: So you’re not optimistic about meeting your five-year target?

MC: No, but it’s not a discrete yes or no answer. The reality is that we’re going to see more and more improvement. For example, automatic emergency breaking (AEB) is great, but it’s still actually a very new technology and there are still lots of issues that need to be addressed with it. AEB will get better over time. Lane detection and the car’s ability to see what’s happening and avoid accidents, as well as feature’s like Toyota’s guardian mode, will all get better over time.

When do I think that you will be able to use your cell phone to call a car, have it pick you up, jump in the backseat and have it take you to Vegas? We’re still a good 15-20 years from that.

JM: You mentioned that if AVs performed 10% better than human drivers, that’s a good place to start. Is that setting the bar too low? How do we set that threshold and then how do we raise the bar over time?

MC: I think we need to define that as a group of stakeholders and I actually don’t think we need a static set of standards like we’re used to.

With autonomous vehicles, it’s all software and not hardware, but we don’t certify drivers’ brains cell by cell, what we do is certify you by how you perform in an agreed-upon set of tests. We need to take that metaphor and apply it to driverless cars. We need to figure out how to do outcome-based testing that is flexible enough to adapt to new coding approaches.

So, a vision test, for example, in the early days of driverless cars should be a lot more stringent, because we have seen some deaths and we know that the sensors like lidar and radar have serious limitations. But, as those get addressed, I would be open to having less stringent testing. It’s almost like graduated licensing. I think teenagers should have to go through a lot more testing than me at 50. Over time, you gain trust in a system because you see how it operates. Another issue is that now cars can do over-the-air software updates. So, do cars need to be tested when a new model comes out or when they have a new software upgrade that comes out? I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’ll tell you that nobody does right now.

JM: One safety concern that emerges in discussions around AVs is cybersecurity. What are the cybersecurity threats we should be worried about?

MC: There are two threats to cybersecurity that I’m concerned about, one is active hacking, and that would be how somebody hacks into your system and takes it over or degrades it in some way. The other concern is in the last year, there’s been a lot of research that’s shown how the convolution neural nets that power the vision systems for these cars can be passively hacked. By that I mean, you don’t mess with the car’s system itself, you mess with the environment. You can read more about this but, for example, you can modify a stop sign in a very small way and it can trick an algorithm to see a 45 mile per hour speed limit sign instead of a stop sign. That is a whole new threat to cybersecurity that is emerging in research settings and that, to my knowledge, no one is addressing in the companies. This is why, even though I’m not usually a huge fan of regulations, in this particular case I do think we need stronger regulatory action to make sure that we, both as a society and as an industry, are addressing what we know are going to be problems.

JM: We hear a lot about level 3 and 4 automation, where a human backup driver needs to be alert and ready to take over for the car in certain situations, and after that fatal accident in Arizona we know what the consequences can be if a backup driver gets bored or distracted. What kinds of solutions are there for keeping drivers off their phones in AVs? Or are we just going to be in a lot of trouble until we get to level 5 automation and we no longer need backup drivers?

MC: I wrote a paper on boredom and autonomous systems, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty hopeless. I say that because humans are just wired for activity in the brain. So, if we’re bored or we don’t perceive that there’s enough going on in our world, we will make ourselves busy. That’s why cellphones are so bad in cars, because they provide the stimulation that your brain desires. But even if I were to take the phones away from people, what you’ll see is that humans are terrible at vigilance. It’s almost painful for us to sit and wait for something bad to happen in the absence of any other stimuli. Almost every driver has had a case where they’ve been so wrapped up in their thoughts that they’ve missed an exit, for example. Perception is really linked to what you’re doing inside your head, so just because your eyes are on the road doesn’t mean you’re going to see everything that’s in front of you.

JM: What’s our best solution moving forward when it comes to safety regulations for autonomous vehicles? Is it just a matter of updating the standards that we currently have for human-driven vehicles or do we need a whole new regulatory framework?

What we need is an entirely new regulatory framework where an agency like NHTSA would oversee the proceedings. They would bring together stakeholders like all the manufactures of the cars, the tier one suppliers, people who are doing the coding, as well as a smattering of academics who are in touch with the latest and greatest in related technologies such as machine learning and computer vision. But we don’t just need something new for driverless cars, we also need it for drones, and even medical technology. I wrote a paper about moving forward in society with autonomous systems that have on-board reasoning. How are we going to think about certifying them in general?

The real issue here, not just with driverless cars, is that we have an administration that doesn’t like regulation, so we’re forced to work within the framework that we’ve got. Right now, NHTSA does have the authority to mandate testing and other interventions, but they’re not doing it. They don’t have any people on the staff that would understand how to set this up. There’s just a real lack of qualified artificial intelligence professionals working in and around the government. This is actually why I’m a big fan of public-private partnerships to bring these organizations together – let NHTSA kind of quarterback the situation but let the companies get in there with other experts and start solving some of these problems themselves.

 

Dr. Mary “Missy” Cummings  is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University, and is the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics. Her research interests include human-unmanned vehicle interaction, human-autonomous system collaboration, human-systems engineering, public policy implications of unmanned vehicles, and the ethical and social impact of technology.

Professor Cummings received her B.S. in Mathematics from the US Naval Academy in 1988, her M.S. in Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1994, and her Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2004.  Professor Cummings as a naval officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, she was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots.

Photo: Jaguar MENA

California Ready to Take Action on Clean Transportation after Climate Summit

With last week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco all wrapped up, it’s time to get down to the business of turning words into actions.  And next week, California is poised to do just that.  The California Air Resources Board agenda for next Thursday and Friday is chock-full of transformative policies that, if adopted, will accelerate deployment of electric cars and transit buses, increase electric charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure, bring more low carbon alternatives to diesel and gasoline to the state, and ensure consumers in California and the 12 other states that follow California’s standards continue to have cleaner, more efficient vehicle choices.

Transportation emissions – the pollution from cars, trucks, buses, planes, ships and trains – are proving to be stubborn.  They’ve been increasing and becoming a larger portion of economy-wide emissions. They are now over 40 percent of California’s climate pollution. They are stubborn in part because vehicles stay on the road for a long time.  So even though standards that bring more efficient gasoline vehicles and EVs to market are very effective, they only apply to new vehicles. And new cars aren’t purchased like cell phones. Cars can last 15 years or more which means replacing all the cars on the road today with new ones takes time. Looking beyond passenger vehicles is also essential.  About 70% of transportation emissions in California are from passenger cars and trucks. The rest come from other types of vehicles and the fuels they burn.

California transportation emissions are more than 40% of the state’s total and are on the rise

Source: California’s Emissions Trends Report 2000-2016

There is no silver bullet solution policy on transportation, so a combination of coordinated and complementary policies is our best bet. The issues before the California Air Resources board meeting this month demonstrate this multi-prong approach in action.  Here are three of them:

  1. Extension of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to 2030

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires gasoline and diesel fuel providers to reduce the carbon content of the fuel they sell in California. The current standard requires reducing the carbon intensity by 10 percent by 2020.  The board is set to vote on September 27th to strengthen the standard to require a 20% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030.  What’s the big deal?  This policy isn’t just about blending lower carbon biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel into petroleum-based fuels. It’s also about expanding cleaner fuel choices like electricity and hydrogen that are needed to power zero emission vehicles.

The board isn’t just considering raising the bar on this policy, but considering some important changes designed to accelerate deployment of electric vehicle solutions, including:

Establish a statewide rebate program for electric vehicles funded by the clean fuel credits earned through vehicle charging. This comes at a critical time when some companies like Tesla and GM are starting to hit the cap on the federal EV tax credit.

Support electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling station deployment by providing financial incentives to station developers. This will help accelerate investments and help get California on the path to reach Gov Brown’s goal of 250,000 vehicle chargers and 200 hydrogen stations by 2025.

My colleague Jeremy Martin explains all of this in his recent blog post about how the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is clearing the roadblocks to electric vehicles. But the bottom line is that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard ensures that the fuels powering our transportation system become cleaner over time and, in the process, provides direct incentives for the clean vehicles and fueling infrastructure we need to make it happen.

  1. Requiring electric transit buses

Ever ride on a battery electric transit bus? If you’ve ridden a bus in China, the answer is likely ‘yes’. They’ve deployed more than 400,000 electric buses over the last few years. Modern battery electric and fuel cell powered buses are starting to gain traction in the U.S. and several transit agencies are making moves to deploy the technology. The Innovative Clean Transit regulation being heard by CARB on September 28th is aimed at accelerating that transition and making every bus in California either hydrogen or electricity powered by 2040.  That seems like a long way off, but that means transit agencies need to start buying electric buses now, and before 2030, 100% of their new bus purchases will need to be zero tailpipe emission buses.  This regulation will ensure that transit agencies in California are all moving forward together and transit riders around the state get the benefits of a quieter, cleaner bus ride. And the communities these buses operate get the benefit  of zero-tailpipe emissions . It will also help further advance electric drive in the heavy-duty vehicle sector paving the way for more electric trucks.

My colleague Jimmy O’Dea covers the finer details in his recent blog post and UCS’s recent Got Science Podcast on electric buses.

  1. Defending California clean car standards from Trump administration attacks

California has its own vehicle standards for cars and trucks, which 12 other states and the District of Columbia follow. California has had vehicle emission standards for decades, bringing huge benefits to the state as well as other states that follow the same rules. The rest of the country as a whole has also benefited as clean car technology, driven by California’s leadership, (the catalytic converter comes to mind).  The federal clean car standards are currently very similar to California’s standards and, as a result, California has accepted automaker compliance with federal standards as compliance with their own.

The board is proposing a change to California vehicle standards to further clarify that California will only accept compliance with the federal standards as they are currently written.  This is not a change in policy. California never signed-up to throw its authority to regulate vehicle emission out the window by accepting compliance with federal standards, whatever they may be.  And now that the Trump administration has made their intentions to freeze the standards in place at 2021 levels clear, California is simply clarifying that California standards will indeed be enforced.

Ideally, federal and California standards would remain aligned and continue to push forward on making new cars and trucks cleaner, more efficient and more affordable to drive. But barring an unforeseen change in the Trump administration’s anti-science agenda, that seems unlikely.  Making this regulatory language clarification makes it crystal clear that California intends to exercise its right to protect its residents from car and truck pollution as it always has.

The way forward

As with any change there is resistance. Oil companies have long attacked the low carbon fuel standard and automakers have resisted vehicle standards for decades. Many transit agencies are cautious about making the shift to electric buses.  But make no mistake: these changes are feasible and they are necessary if we are to succeed in preventing the worse consequences of climate change. The proposals before the Air Resources Board are based on extensive analysis and have been thoughtfully developed and deliberated and should be advanced.

There are over 25 million cars on the road in California – the vast majority of which are filled up with gasoline or diesel.  Transitioning to a clean, modern, low-emissions transportation system isn’t going to be easy.  There’s just no “one and done” strategy.  Each of the items before the board next week are substantial on their own and taken together they are a big step forward in reshaping California’s transportation system to deliver the clean air and stable climate California needs, while setting an example the rest of the country and the world can benefit from and follow.

Public domain

Zombie Truck Theater: A House Science Committee Hearing

The issue of glider trucks, new truck bodies with old polluting engines, has come up in Congress yet again.  This time, it moves over to the House Science Committee, a place where Chairman Lamar Smith tends to hang science (and sometimes scientists) out to dry.

If the Science Committee was, well, different, this hearing would be an opportunity to examine the scientific facts underlying the issue of allowing unlimited glider trucks on our nation’s roads, facts which clearly show that these vehicles are dangerous to public health.  Instead, I expect it to focus on the false narrative that political leadership at EPA, glider manufacturer Fitzgerald, and more recently, Steve Milloy, founder of the climate and science-skeptic blog Junk Science, have been putting forward – that glider trucks help small businesses and are no more polluting than new, more expensive, trucks.

The witness list shows that this hearing is just meant to be legislative theater for the Chairman. The Republicans have invited the trade association of the independent truckers (OOIDA, basically the only mainstream industry group that has always supported the glider rule repeal) and Dr. Richard Belzer, an economist for hire, who was hired by Fitzgerald to write a “straw Regulatory Impact Analysis” that was submitted to the agency – he will undoubtedly parrot their talking points in the hearing. The final witness for the majority is Linda Tsang from the Congressional Research Service, which I like to call the library for Congress, is a non-partisan research and analysis service arm for Congress (let’s hear it for librarians!) – this is an interesting pick as she has not written anything publicly available on gliders, so it’s unclear what her specific expertise will be.  The minority (Democrats) were allowed to invite one witness – Dr. Paul Miller, the Deputy Director and Chief Scientist of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), which is a coordinating body for air quality regulators in the northeast.  Note that Paul is the only scientist who was asked to testify at this hearing.

What is this hearing about?

Good question, and it’s one we have been asking ourselves since we first heard about the hearing.  We have a couple of hypotheses:

  1. Chairman Smith has routinely used his position to give a stage to industry interests and fringe perspectives that align with his, and now this administration’s deregulatory agenda. Fitzgerald is just the latest actor to somehow curry favor and use the Committee to relitigate environmental protections.
  2. This hearing is really about undermining the science done at EPA and gives the Republicans a stage to question EPA’s methodical testing of glider trucks (please note, however, that no witnesses from EPA were invited to testify).
  3. All of the above.
Isn’t this a regulatory issue?  Why is Congress getting involved at this point?

Congress has been playing in the glider vehicle space for a little while, but it’s really heated up recently.  One reason for this is a recent letter lead by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL and member of the Science Committee), who reiterated many of the same talking points OOIDA and Fitzgerald have used in pressing for an exemption to environmental protections for these dirty trucks. Another is that Steve Milloy, an industry shill and longtime opponent of regulation, has been combing over emails sent between agency officials and outside parties about EPA’s testing of glider vehicles last fall, attempting to make mountains of molehills in his quest for deregulation.

If you’ve read previous UCS blogs on gliders, you may remember that when then-Administrator Pruitt began the process of repealing the rule that limits glider truck production at the behest of Fitzgerald there was a (now discredited and withdrawn) “study” done by not-scientists at the Tennessee Technical University (TTU) that was bought and paid for by Fitzgerald.  EPA documented the issues with the TTU study and also did their own study of the emissions from in-use glider trucks (glider trucks that have been on the road a while).  EPA doesn’t have tractor trailers just sitting around to test, nor do they have the budget to buy a bunch of them, so when they need tractors to test, they typically borrow them while they put them through their paces.  This time, Volvo helped them procure some gliders to test and there is a mad conspiracy theory out there that Volvo influenced the results because they helped find the trucks for EPA to test.

Several Congressmen have latched onto this story line and sent letters to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) asking them to open an investigation into the procurement of the trucks (the OIG recently said they would start an audit, not a full investigation).  In addition, Chairman Smith has now sent a couple of letters requesting specific correspondence between EPA and Volvo and calling into question the “scientific integrity and validity” of the EPA, despite the fact that a top Trump appointee has already notified Chairman Smith that he doesn’t see any untoward influence in the study and that it was conducted according to standard lab practices. Furthermore, as we have already pointed out, the EPA study merely confirms the obvious: these trucks pollute like crazy.

Attacking an empty chair

Tomorrow, I expect that we will see some reprisal of the Congressional letters to the agency play out.  Unfortunately, each Science Committee member will be the center of their own one-man show, since they are seeking no input from the agency itself.  If the committee were interested in actual oversight and upholding their constitutional role, the hearing would be focused on the merits of the testing and allow the agency an opportunity to detail the methodology and rigor of the testing protocol which shows how deadly glider trucks are. Instead, this will be another showboat for the Science Committee members to delegitimize the critically important and lifesaving science done by career staff at EPA. Unfortunately, conducting “oversight” without the agency present isn’t a new play for the Science Committee.

In his quest to find fire where there is no smoke, Chairman Smith will once again discover that no bogeyman exists. Despite his efforts to reanimate this issue, citizens, scientists, lawmakers, and businesses know zombie trucks should not be operating on our roads and polluting our air. The science is stating the obvious here…if only the Science Committee were interested in listening to it.

Public Domain

California’s Clean Fuel Policies Clear Roadblocks to Electric Vehicles

Photo: wellphoto/iStockphoto

The fight against climate change will be won or lost depending on how successful we are at decarbonizing the transportation sector.  Transportation is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change in the United States, and in California, and while emissions from electricity generation have been falling, emissions from transportation have been rising.  Getting these emissions in check requires steady higher efficiency conventional vehicles, a rapid transition to electric vehicles, and cleaner fuels that reduce the carbon emissions of the fuels used by all our vehicles.

California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) is a critically important policy to make cleaner fuels available to all drivers. But the LCFS is doing more than just offering incentives to fuel producers to blend low carbon biofuels into gasoline and diesel. The policy is also accelerating the availability of electricity as a transportation fuel.  With the California Air Resource Board (CARB) considering a package of amendments in September to strengthen and extend the LCFS, the policy’s ability to support the transition to electric vehicles is finally coming into focus.

More EVs mean more progress cleaning up fuels

The central element of this year’s amendments to the LCFS is a new, ambitious target for the program that will double the required reduction in carbon intensity from 10 percent by 2020 to 20 percent by 2030. This ambitious target is only feasible because electricity is becoming a more common clean fuel in California as more drivers opt to buy electric vehicles.  The chart below comes from a study we recently commissioned that shows the large share of emissions reductions from different types of electric vehicles.  The yellow wedge illustrates the growing importance of passenger vehicles fueled with electricity—battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles—while the hashed yellow shows medium and heavy-duty electric vehicles, like transit buses and delivery vehicles, and the brown shows hydrogen fuel cells.

This chart shows which fuels accounted for emissions reduction in the “Steady Progress” scenario of a study UCS, NextGen and Ceres, commissioned (see full report or 2 page summary for more details)

EVs and LCFS: a mutually beneficial relationship

While more EVs make higher LCFS targets achievable, the LCFS in turn is accelerating the transition to EVs.  Under the LCFS, fuels cleaner than the standard generate credits and more polluting fuels generate deficits.  Major fuel suppliers such as oil refineries comply with the standard by accumulating enough credits from clean fuels to cover the deficits generated by the gasoline and diesel they sell.  They can generate credits by blending low carbon sources of ethanol into gasoline, or biodiesel into diesel fuel, or they can buy credits generated by other transportation fuel producers.  Electricity is one of the cleaner fuels, and since EVs are a lot less polluting than gasoline and diesel, EVs can generate a lot of these credits, which translates into a lot of money.

In 2016 the LCFS generated $92 million that supported transportation electrification in a variety of ways, from funding consumer EV rebates to making electric buses more cost-competitive.  The total value of LCFS EV credits will grow as more EVs hit the road.  As we describe in our recent fact sheet, the cumulative total is expected to add up to $4 billion dollars of support for electrification between 2017 and 2030. 

However, electricity is a different kind of fuel than ethanol or biodiesel.  You can’t blend electricity into gasoline or diesel, and when you charge an EV at home, the bill doesn’t itemize the electricity used to charge your EV versus powering your refrigerator.  Therefore, CARB has developed different rules to handle the credit generation from EVs that are specific to the different circumstances of different types of electric vehicles.  For example, transit agencies using electric buses generate LCFS credits, which is helping transit agencies lead the way on medium- and heavy-duty electrification. LCFS credits make electric transit buses cost-effective. Transit agencies earn about $9,000 per year for each electric bus in their fleets. But while a transit agency can register with CARB to generate credits, it’s not practical for every individual EV owner to do so on their own, so credits for residential charging are managed by CARB and the utilities.  CARB is considering amendments that make important changes in how these residential charging credits are handled.

LCFS credits can make electric cars more affordable via new point-of-purchase rebates

Renewable energy maximizes the benefits of EVs. The emissions associated with driving an electric vehicle depend upon the source of the electricity.  California’s grid is cleaner than average and has been getting cleaner in the last few years, which is why an EV is so much cleaner than a gasoline powered car. But powering an EV with renewable power will reduce emissions further, as will smart-charging, which schedules an EV’s charging to take advantage of low cost and/or low-carbon electricity. In the 2018 Amendments, CARB is proposing changes that allow the use of renewable power from remote sources and establish rules recognizing the benefits of smart charging for EVs.  Together these changes allow more people to use low carbon source for charging and will deliver even greater climate benefits than EVs charged on average electricity.

LCFS will start supporting hydrogen and DC fast charging infrastructure. One of the most surprising changes in the 2018 LCFS amendments is a proposal to grant LCFS credits based on infrastructure capacity in addition to delivered fuel for hydrogen and DC fast charging. This is a significant change, responding to a recent executive order requiring that “all State entities work with the private sector and all appropriate levels of government to spur the construction and installation of 200 hydrogen fueling stations and 250,000 zero-emission vehicle chargers, including 10,000 direct current fast chargers, by 2025.”

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles address some of the limitations of battery electric vehicles, particularly for larger long-range vehicles.  But the longer range and quicker refueling of hydrogen vehicles will be of little value without an adequate network of hydrogen stations. And as long as there are very few hydrogen vehicles on the road, hydrogen stations will have very few customers, making a difficult business case for companies that have the expertise to build and operate such stations. To address this challenge CARB is proposing a program to run from 2019 to 2025 that would allow hydrogen stations to claim LCFS credits based on a hydrogen station’s fueling capacity for their first 15 years of operation.  This should substantially improve the economics of building and operating a hydrogen fueling station and help meet the goal getting 200 hydrogen fueling stations up and running by 2025. The program is capped at 2.5% percent of overall LCFS demand for clean fuel credits, to ensure it does not substantially erode demand for other clean fuels and will be reviewed at the end of 2025.

Similar treatment is being extended to DC fast charging stations.  While most battery electric vehicles are charged at home, some people can’t do this, for example if they live in an apartment building or a house without a designated parking space where they can install a charger.  DC fast charging makes it possible to quickly recharge an EV, which will help people without home charging and help all EV drivers on longer trips, making EVs an attractive choice for even more people. Like hydrogen fueling stations, the utilization of DC fast charging infrastructure will be limited in early years because EVs are still a small share of cars on the road. Like the hydrogen provision, CARB is proposing a program that would allow DC fast charging equipment operators to claim LCFS credits based on infrastructure for the first five years of their operation. The program is capped at 2.5% of overall LCFS demand for clean fuel credits, and total infrastructure-based credits received by DC fast charging equipment would be limited to the installation cost of the station, less any grants received. This program should substantially improve the economics of building DC fast charging equipment and support the goal of having 10,000 DC fast chargers deployed by 2025.

The LCFS amendments modernize and improve the program. A lot has changed since the LCFS was first adopted in 2010. UCS has been actively involved in the rulemaking process throughout the program’s history and has worked with CARB and other stakeholders on the amendments. We are confident the proposed amendments will strengthen the program, building on what worked, addressing challenges that have arisen, and adding new provisions to meet new challenges. We urge CARB to finalize these amendments when it meets in September.  California needs not just cleaner vehicles, but also cleaner fuels. The LCFS achieves this goal.

wellphoto/iStockphoto

California Gets one Step Closer to Zero-Emission Transit Buses

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently released a draft standard for transitioning the state’s transit buses to zero-emission battery or fuel cell technologies by 2040. This is great news for bus riders, bus drivers, local air quality, and tackling global warming emissions from the transportation sector.

The proposal is the result of more than three years of stakeholder engagement and public comment. In the process, CARB has generated a wealth of knowledge, including a sophisticated total cost of ownership analysis, a charging cost calculator, and a thorough understanding of the on-the-ground challenges to deploying a new technology on a large scale.

As a key step in the official regulatory process, the standard will be discussed and public comment heard at the September 27-28 CARB Board Meeting. A final vote will occur at a subsequent Board Meeting (date to be determined).

What’s being proposed?

Click to enlarge.

For large transit agencies (100 or more buses), 25 percent of bus purchases must be battery or fuel cell electric vehicles beginning in 2023. This increases to 50 percent in 2026 and 100 percent in 2029.

For small agencies, the proposed purchase standard doesn’t begin until 2026 (at 25 percent) and increases to 100 percent in 2029. Thirty of the state’s 214 transit agencies fall into the definition of a “large” agency and represent 75 percent of buses in the state.

When CARB began hosting workshops in 2015, the purchase standard was scheduled to take effect in 2018. So, the current proposal represents a five-year delay from CARB’s original plan.

To encourage early adoption, the 2023 purchase standard will be waived if 1,000 zero-emission buses have been purchased across the state by the end of 2020. If an additional 150 zero-emission buses are purchased by the end of 2021, the purchase standard will remain waived until 2025.

With more than 130 zero-emission transit buses already operating in California, several hundred more on order, and significant amounts of incentive funding allocated for buses, transit agencies are already on track to exceed the early-adoption thresholds.

Finally, the standard also requires agencies to develop and submit plans to CARB for how they will reach a 100 percent zero-emission fleet by 2040. These plans will be critical to transit agencies’ successful incorporation of zero-emission vehicles in their fleets.

Which buses are included in the standard?

“Buses” in the context of this standard include standard 30 to 40-foot buses, shuttle buses, articulated buses, coach buses, and double-decker buses operated by transit agencies. There are 14,600 transit buses falling under this definition in California. For reference, the city of Shenzhen in China (population of 12 million people compared to California’s 40 million people) already has 16,000 electric buses on the road.

The chart below shows a breakdown of California’s transit bus population by type (not shown are double-decker buses, of which there were only six in the most recent survey).

The standard’s percentages apply to purchases, not the total makeup of a fleet

Given transit buses are typically on the road for 14 years, this corresponds to a fleet turnover rate of roughly 7 percent each year. So, a 25 percent purchase standard in 2023 works out to roughly 2 percent of total buses on the road across all agencies.

Looking at bus purchases statewide over the last five years, the 25 percent purchase standard in 2023 corresponds to about 150 zero-emission buses. The 50 percent purchase standard in 2026 corresponds to about 550 zero-emission buses.*

Individual transit agencies don’t necessarily turnover 7 percent of their fleet every year; instead making larger purchases every few years as shown in these two charts. Transit agencies’ different purchasing schedules points to the need for individual rollout plans in addition to purchase standards.

For a large agency like San Diego MTS, the 25 percent purchase standard corresponds to about 12 buses based on MTS’ purchase history. For a small agency like Sonoma County Transit, a 25 percent purchase standard corresponds to about 2 buses.

The chart below shows bus population by age in California (zero years old corresponds to 2016). More than half the buses on the road are from 2009 or earlier, which has significant implications for air quality as these vehicles were not subject to the latest engine standards. A combustion bus from before 2010 can have up to 30 times higher NOx tailpipe emissions compared to its newer combustion counterpart.

Three ways CARB can improve the proposed standard

Click to enlarge.

1. The standard should clearly state that all buses must be zero-emission by 2040. Since CARB began workshops in May 2015, the goal of this standard has been achieving a full transition to zero-emission buses by 2040, yet the actual language of the standard doesn’t explicitly say this. In fact, it could be several years past 2040 when the full transition is achieved based on how the standard is currently written.

The rule’s proposed standard of 100 percent zero-emission buses purchases beginning in 2029 would guarantee a transition by the end of 2040 only for buses on the road for 12 years. But many buses in California are on the road for 14 years or longer and there is up to a two-year lag between when a bus is purchased and when it hits the road, so a 2029 purchase standard would likely not achieve the goal of all zero-emission buses by 2040. Anything past 2040 ignores the state of technology and how quickly other jurisdictions are making this transition, namely in China.

2. The standard should apply to shuttle, articulated, coach, and double-decker buses sooner. Under the proposed rule, these buses are not subject to the purchase standard for eight years despite comprising one-third of transit buses.

Waiting until 2026 would miss an opportunity to reduce emissions from these buses. Several models of these buses are on the road today and becoming increasingly available across manufacturers. We recommend these buses fall under the purchase standard two years after at least two models of a given type of bus have completed testing by the Federal Transit Administration.

If you haven’t been following the electric bus industry, there are currently 14 companies that make over 30 different models of buses ranging from standard transit buses to shuttle buses, coach buses, double-decker buses, and long, articulated buses.

3. Small transit agencies should submit transition plans by 2021 to take advantage of current incentive funding. Under the draft plan transit agencies with less than 100 buses have until 2023 to submit plans for transitioning their fleets to zero-emission buses by 2040. If these transit agencies wait five years to come up with a plan, they could miss taking advantage of the significant amount of incentive funding currently available across the state for the bus itself as well as electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And due to the gaps between agencies’ purchases, a delay in planning could result in a several year delay in deploying zero-emission buses.

Why a standard is needed

In the three years CARB’s standard has been under development, there has been a significant increase in the number of transit agencies deploying zero-emission buses. Twelve agencies (see below) have made voluntarily commitments to 100 percent zero-emission fleets. These agencies represent both small and large fleets and operate 37 percent of the state’s total buses.

Antelope Valley Transportation Agency is working to transition its 85 bus fleet by the end of this year. LA Metro, the second largest bus fleet in the country, has committed to transitioning its fleet by 2030, a full 10 years ahead of what the state standard will achieve.

With leadership shown by these agencies, it’s important to acknowledge that a state-wide standard is critical to realizing the benefits of zero-emission buses across the state. AC Transit, in its plan to rollout 144 electric buses by 2032, directly references CARB’s proposed standard as a motivating factor in creating the agency’s plan.

If you look at the actual language of the proposed standard, you’ll notice it is a revision to an existing standard, first adopted 18 years ago. California’s early demonstration of zero-emission bus technology, such as fuel cell buses operated at Sunline Transit and AC Transit, can be traced to the original standard.

The proposed standard is a reasonable next step. The standard is achievable and without it, zero-emission buses would see a slow deployment. The technology is here, the public health and climate benefits are significant. The thoughtful conversations and detailed analyses have been had. The standard should be approved and California should continue to show we are a state that embraces solutions to air pollution and global warming.

* The purchase estimate in 2023 is based only on standard bus purchases made by large transit agencies. The purchase estimate in 2026 includes purchases made by small agencies and inclusion of shuttle, articulated, coach, and double-decker buses.

CARB’s draft standard also awards credits to agencies with zero-emission buses already on the road that can be used to offset future purchase requirements. Current credits correspond to roughly 150 buses.

Check out our Got Science? podcast for more on transit buses, the people’s electric vehicle:

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Electric Vehicle Sales Are Taking Off in 2018

New models will help continue the growth in EV sales, like the longer-range battery electric Jaguar I-PACE SUV that is scheduled to arrive for sale later this year.

The sales numbers are in for the first half of 2018 and more new car buyers than ever are choosing an electric vehicle (EV). Through June, over 123,000 new EVs were registered in the US, compared to 91,000 in the first half of 2017, an impressive increase of 35 percent. And it’s more than double the sales from just 3 years ago.

What’s driving increasing EV sales?

Much of the increase in sales was due to new models becoming available. First, let’s look at battery electric vehicles (BEVs, all-electric vehicles without a gasoline engine): Tesla led the way with the more affordable Model 3, notching over 22,000 registrations for the first half of the year. That’s more than the battery electric vehicle sales for all traditional automakers, combined.

Unlike the battery electric sales, there is not one dominant manufacturer of PHEVs. However, like BEVs, the addition of new models (like the Honda Clarity and Chrysler Pacifica) have helped to boost sales. The introduction of Tesla’s Model 3 has increased battery electric vehicle sales to new highs in the 2nd quarter of 2018. At the same time, sales from traditional automakers have fallen, giving Tesla the majority of the BEV market in 2018.

New models also helped grow the numbers of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Honda played a role in boosting overall sales by finally selling an EV in some quantity.

From 2010 through 2017, Honda had sold fewer than 4,500 EVs in the US but moved over 6,500 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid EVs in just the first 6 months of 2018. It’s a bit of encouraging news from an automaker that has previously been a laggard in selling EVs, though they still have much room before claiming a leadership position in electric vehicles.

California still leads the way

While EV sales have increased across the US, California is still far ahead on EV sales. About half of all EVs are sold in California, a fraction that has stayed constant for the last 3 years. In total, over 6 percent of all new cars sold in the state in 2018 were EVs (plug-in or fuel cell powered). This is a significant and growing fraction of the new car market and would be even larger if all car brands had EVs for sale. About 8 percent of cars were EVs when looking only at brands that have an EV for sale.

EV sales were also boosted by Honda finally starting to sell a plug-in vehicle in volume. However, they are still far behind leaders like General Motors for cumulative EV sales in the US. Click to enlarge.

Some brands excelled at selling EVs in CA: over 16 percent of BMW-badged vehicles were plug-ins and over 10 percent of Chevrolets were EVs. On the other hand, Toyota and Honda, who sell the largest number of cars in California, had less than 4 percent EV sales (even less if you include their luxury brands Lexus and Acura, neither offering an EV).

Sales likely to accelerate with more models on the way

Click to enlarge.

The next 6 months will bring important new competitors in the EV market, with several new long-range battery electrics slated to arrive. The new EVs include both luxury cars and more affordable models. Hyundai will launch their Kona battery electric with over 250-mile range later this year. Jaguar, Porsche, and Audi will all debut luxury EVs to compete with the higher end Tesla models.  The number of plug-in hybrid models is also expected to grow, including the first EV offering from Subaru. If the past is any guide, adding more EV options (both more brands and types of vehicle) will help grow the sales share of EVs, even if not all are big sellers

Speed bumps ahead?

Some manufacturers are moving ahead with new EV models, while others are seeming to squander early leads in moving to electric vehicles.  For example, Ford’s EV sales are down significantly this year, with the end of the C-MAX plug-in hybrid and no new electric products announced for this year or next. Nissan has also seemed to stumble a bit. They delivered the first mass-market all-electric car from a traditional automaker with the LEAF in 2010. However, sales of the LEAF have slowed, and Nissan hasn’t expanded its electric line up beyond that one model. Lastly, Tesla is of course fully committed to EVs, but is embroiled in controversy regarding its CEO Elon Musk and

Beyond individual automaker efforts, there is another potential source hinderance to the growth of EVs. The disconnect between state policies that are pushing EVs forward and federal efforts to rollback clean car standards and remove vital authority for California and the 9 other states that have adopted the Zero Emission Vehicle regulations. It’s unlikely that lack of leadership at the federal level will stop EVs. Automakers realize that the transition to EVs is inevitable, and policies around the globe will continue to push in that direction. However, irresponsible decisions by the current Administration could delay this transition here, harming both US drivers and the environment. The good news is that so far we are seeing continued development of EVs and growth in sales.

Data Source: IHS Markit Data Source: IHS Markit

Transportation Pollution is on the Rise in Massachusetts  

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr

Pollution from cars and trucks are on the rise in Massachusetts, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve the mandates of the Global Warming Solutions Act, according to preliminary numbers released by the Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday.

DEP’s updated emissions inventory showed a significant jump in emissions from transportation, from 29.7 MMT in 2015 to 31.7 MMT in 2016, an increase of over 6 percent. Transportation pollution is higher today than it has been at any point since 2008. It is the only sector where emissions are higher today than they were in 1990. Even as the state makes significant progress in other areas, the challenge of transportation pollution threatens to undermine our ability to achieve our legally mandated climate limits.

The growth in transportation pollution is occurring even though our cars and trucks are getting cleaner and more efficient every year, thanks to national vehicle emission standards in place since 2009.

Why are transportation emissions increasing?

Transportation emissions are growing because the economy of Massachusetts and the Boston metro area is booming: there are over 400,000 more jobs in Massachusetts today than 10 years ago. That’s a good thing for a state, but it is also putting unprecedented pressure on our transportation system. More jobs mean more commuters, travelling more miles, consuming more gasoline, and producing more pollution.

In addition to the spike in emissions, Boston commuters are spending more time than ever before stuck in traffic. The average Boston driver spent 60 hours (more than two days!) in traffic in 2017, making Boston the seventh-most congested in the city in the country.

One thing that is not growing right now in Massachusetts: use of public transportation. MBTA Bus and light rail public transportation are down 6.5 percent and 3.5 percent respectively over the past three years. Insufficient funding, unreliable service and increasing competition from ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft are all playing a role reducing the use of public transit. Housing near public transportation centers is also becoming prohibitively expensive for many Massachusetts residents.

Another important factor: with gas prices relatively low and greater disposal income, consumers are buying bigger cars. Sales of SUVs and light trucks have grown to over 65 percent of the national U.S. vehicle market in 2017 – though the largest growth has been in smaller car-like SUVs. While national emission standards are improving the efficiency of all vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks, this trend towards larger vehicles is nevertheless undermining some of our expected gains in fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is now proposing to freeze federal vehicle standards – and to strip Massachusetts, California and other states of our right to set aggressive emission standards. If this federal attack is successful, it would be a critical blow to Massachusetts’ climate strategy. The vast majority of the projected emission reductions from transportation in the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan come from these standards.

What can we do?

The good news is that we have the tools to achieve dramatic reductions in transportation emissions regardless of what happens in Washington, DC.

Moreover, Massachusetts now has numerous studies and Commissions working on the problem of transportation emissions. In addition to the Future of Transportation Commission, the Comprehensive Energy Plan and the Clean Energy and Climate Plan, the state also announced on Thursday a new look at potential deep decarbonization studies for 2050, which will look at how we achieve dramatic reductions in emissions throughout our economy.

Here are three things the Commonwealth can do to get a handle on pollution from transportation:

Create a market-based limit on transportation emissions. One option would be to work with Northeast states to create a cap and invest program covering transportation fuels. The “cap” sets an overall limit on tailpipe pollution. This limit is enforced through a requirement that polluters purchase allowances based on the carbon associated with burning that fuel. The state only allows allowances up to the cap. As the cap gradually lowers, emissions reductions are guaranteed, while market forces raise the cost of allowances, generating proceeds. The state can then invest those proceeds in clean transportation solutions, like electric cars, trucks, and buses, better public transportation, and walking and biking options.

We’ve seen a similar program work before. In 2004, Massachusetts joined with the other states of the Northeast to create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (also known as “RGGI”) for the electric sector. Today, RGGI stands as a triumph of smart climate policy. Thanks to RGGI, in addition to other complimentary policies, the Northeast is on track to cut pollution from power plants by 65% by 2030. Funding from RGGI is used to support some of Massachusetts’ most innovative and important climate policies, including the MassSave program and the Green Communities Act. Overall, independent analysis shows that RGGI has created 44,000 jobs in the region while saving consumers over $773 million in reduced energy costs.

Promote responsible growth of ride hailing services. Ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are already changing the way people are getting around in our cities, and with autonomous vehicles on the horizon, these services will continue to shape our mobility choices in the years to come. However, these services can only operate effectively if they are working hand in hand with a strong public transportation system. Massachusetts should consider fees, regulations and incentives for these companies. Proceeds could be used to support public transit while requirements and incentives could encourage electrification of ride hailing fleets, encourage pooling to provide more rides with less congestion

Increase incentives for vehicle electrification. Electric vehicles are a critical technology for the future of the Commonwealth, but right now they are too expensive for many low or moderate-income residents. As the state considers future program models, there should be increased funds available for rebates targeted toward low and moderate-income residents so that these vehicles are truly affordable for everyone.  In addition, the state should consider additional rebates to encourage people to trade in old and dirty pickup trucks and SUVs for cleaner and more efficient models.

One thing that we cannot do is continue to ignore the challenges facing transportation and climate in our Commonwealth. Massachusetts climate law requires reductions from all sources of pollution in the state, and we will not meet the requirements of that law without addressing transportation. Beyond emissions, we need to address the interconnected challenges of increasing congestion, the increasing cost of housing, and the declining state of our public transportation services or these problems will grow more difficult and more frustrating for Massachusetts residents.

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr

Transitioning the Workforce in the Era of Autonomous Vehicles: Meet Dr. Algernon Austin

Photo: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are sure to bring about a significant shift in the job market. While it is important to think about how many jobs will be lost or created because of this change, there must be a focus on the workers themselves and what they will need to support a just transition. As explained in our policy brief Maximizing the Benefits of Self-Driving Vehicles:

Self-driving technology will create jobs for some, but it will change or reduce employment opportunities for others, especially in the trucking, delivery, taxi, and ridesharing industries. Before self-driving vehicles comprise a significant share of the markets for passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks, policy must recognize the economic impact of this technology, and must support career pathways and transitions for the Americans who will be affected by automated driving technology. In addition, jobs created in the self-driving vehicle industry should be accessible to all, with a focus on increasing career opportunities for populations historically underrepresented in transportation and technology industries.

I spoke with Dr. Algernon Austin*, an economist with the think tank Dēmos and co-author of “Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work,” to get an expert’s opinions on the future of the driving workforce. I asked him about potential impacts of AVs on the labor market and he discussed ways to provide job training opportunities for transportation workers that will be affected by the AV revolution.

 

 

Richard Ezike: When discussing the possible negative impacts of autonomous vehicles, job loss will always come up. What do we know about the Americans that hold driving jobs? Who, exactly, is at risk here?

Dr. Algernon Austin: Driving occupations are disproportionately held by men, and when broken down by race and ethnicity, those overrepresented in the driving industry include minority groups such as African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. People within those groups face a potential loss of jobs that pay very good wages.

RE: Are all drivers’ jobs threatened equally? Will self-driving vehicles be able to replace human critical tasks like unloading packages from a delivery truck?

AA: There are varying levels of threat to the jobs that will be affected by AVs. Currently, the jobs that appear to be most at risk are taxi drivers, followed by jobs in the freight industry. It is feasible to see autonomous trucks replacing human drivers for long freight hauls. Those in the package delivery space are also at risk, but because those jobs require manually delivering a package to an individual, the threat level is not as severe.

RE: Unions have raised concerns about self-driving vehicles affecting employment. What are ways labor groups can work to protect employees as automated technologies become more widespread?

AA: There was a recent article published in the Washington Post about how the gig economy is not competitive at all. The researchers stated that an online market is not ideal – there are a few power players that control the market and prices, and potential employees cannot easily compare wages across different job offers. The researchers suggested supporting worker cooperatives or labor unions that would set up online labor markets to prevent the system from being stacked against workers.

Simply put, if a commitment is made to protect workers and not jobs, we can easily make this technological transition.

What it really comes down to, as suggested by Jean Tirole, Nobel Prize willing economist and author of “Economics for the Common Good,” is the protection of workers instead of jobs. Both unions and governments should adopt this stance, develop a strong safety net, and encourage retraining and skill development. With such strong programs available, people would be less resistant to technological change, which we see often now when people are asked about the impact of technology in their lives.

RE: People in other professions have seen unemployment due to automation in the past, notably in manufacturing and mining, and will continue to see these effects across sectors in the future. Is the loss of driving jobs unique? Should we be trying to solve this problem systemically, or looking at solutions focused specifically in this sector?

AA: This is not a unique situation. The history of technological displacement has been one of constant evolution and the problem needs to be tackled in a systemic manner. We need to protect workers with a safety net and to eliminate poverty and homelessness. We are a rich country and we should not have so many people suffering from financial hardship. Simply put, if a commitment is made to protect workers and not jobs, we can easily make this technological transition.

RE: Education and retraining programs have been tried on different scales to varying levels of success in the past. What do you think makes an effective job retraining program, and what kinds of resources are needed to really help workers transition into a new career?

AA: The most effective programs are apprenticeships, which combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Such programs allow people to gain new skills while working and earning an income. You must remember, most people needing retraining are adults who have families. It is not reasonable to believe they can stop working and take on student debt to pursue a four-year degree.

Sector-specific training is also a viable strategy and of interest to many companies. What companies can do is set up programs at a community college that train people for the skills most in demand by the company. Sectoral training focuses on quickly growing industries, and usually leads to jobs that pay well.

It also needs to be ensured that there are a variety of affordable training programs – both short and long term – for workers of all ages. Increasingly we are seeing older adults going to two-year colleges and working part time, and the American education system needs to adjust to accommodate those adults’ lives.

RE: Assuming the federal government doesn’t make any significant changes to mitigate these job losses, what can state and local governments do to proactively deal with this issue? What systems can they put into place to help those that will be out of a job when AVs hit the market in full force?

AA: State and local governments can support sectoral and apprenticeship training programs. They can reform their educational policies with adults who are transitioning in mind and support strong safety nets.

They should also use their voices to speak to the federal government. Job loss is a looming issue and the transition in the AV environment needs to be managed. Unfortunately, there has been very little attention given to the negative impacts this new technology could have on the labor market. We are getting warning signs however, and state and local leaders should ask federal officials to help protect workers.

* Dr. Algernon Austin conducts economic policy research for the Dēmos think tank. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Global Policy Solutions, and he was the first Director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. Prior to his shift to the “think tank world”, he served on the faculty of Wesleyan University. He has discussed racial inequality on PBS, CNN, NPR, and on other national television and radio networks.

Photo: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons

Trump Fuel Efficiency Rollback Is an Attack on Science and the Public Interest

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation released their long-awaited revisions to federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. To no one’s surprise, their preferred alternative is to essentially eliminate the standards—a predetermined outcome that the administration is now trying to defend with bogus analysis.  The current standards were created in collaboration with California and the entire automotive industry and have directly made new cars and trucks cleaner and cheaper to drive. EPA and California Air Resources Board scientists spent years studying the standards, as was required, and concluded last year they are technologically feasible and cost-effective.

Millions of vehicle owners, transportation experts, public health officials and consumer advocates are rightfully outraged.

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, California has a waiver from the EPA to maintain tougher state emission standards despite a national rollback. However, with the current proposal the administration intends to make real its threat to revoke California’s authority to set its own standards. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra says California will take any step necessary to protect our planet and people and recently, Representative DeSaulnier (CA), introduced a resolution aimed at protecting state authority while Senator Harris (CA) is expected to do the same in the Senate. While threatening to revoke the waiver has led to much consternation, actually revoking the waiver will surely lead to years of litigation and regulatory chaos.

A battle between the Trump Administration and California sounds like it’s made for Hollywood, but it’s also the story the administration is using to distract us. Why? Because it’s easier to paint California as a rogue state of pushy progressives than to defend a policy decision that ignores scientific evidence and relies wholly on industry talking points. The rollback is not just an attack on our state, but on the 12 other states that choose to follow California’s more protective standards and all the other states that have the right to choose to follow California standards if they wish, as Colorado is now moving to do. It’s also more than a fight for authority, it’s an attack on our values and a larger strategy from this administration of pushing science and the public interest aside.

To justify this policy, the agencies are twisting themselves in knots and ignoring their own analysis that show safe, cost-effective technologies exist to continue to improve efficiency, cut emissions, and save consumers money at the pump. They are dragging up tired old arguments that efficiency standards make vehicles less safe, contrary to actual evidence. And the cherry on top: they point out the U.S. is pumping more oil than ever. So the days of needing to conserve energy have passed? Using more oil is not going to make our country stronger or safer, nor is it going to be good for consumers.

Americans like clean cars

Multiple polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans favor clean car standards because no matter what size car or truck they buy, drivers want more efficient, cleaner vehicles. The standards have delivered cleaner cars of every size and class to consumers every year. Additionally, vehicle standards benefit lower income individuals who tend to purchase used cars and for whom gasoline costs are a much larger share of their income.

In the U.S., transportation accounts for about 27 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change – in California it’s nearly 40 percent. The vehicle standards directly curb these carbon emissions. The standards are the most effective climate policy the United States has on the books today and an example of how scientists and industry can work together to create good public policy that protects everyone.

If the standards are rolled back as proposed, the U.S. will pump out an extra 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions and consume 200 billion more gallons of fuel by 2040. If this happens, it will be impossible to achieve our obligations under the Paris climate agreement and significantly damage the planet’s ability to hold global warming to two degrees Celsius. The automakers want a compromise between leaving them alone and a total rollback. But a compromise would mean we significantly veer off the path the country and the planet need to be on to avoid the worst impacts of climate change during our lifetimes.

These rollbacks hurt progress

With the undeniable signs of climate change increasing each season, making consumers use more fossil fuel, even when fuel efficiency technology is available and cost-effective, is at best short-sighted and at worst cynical and destructive.

New cars and trucks aren’t cleaner and more efficient by accident or because of automakers’ goodwill. They are more efficient because forward-looking and scientifically sound public policies require them to be. California and the twelve other states with clean car standards cover more than one third of the new car market. These states have a critical role to play in defending cleaner cars. We must take every legal and legislative step necessary to make sure the Trump administration does not take us backward. But don’t fall for the headlines or the simplistic rhetoric from Washington DC. It’s not just California under attack – it’s science and the public interest that they are targeting.

 

8 Ridiculous Things in the Trump Rollback of Clean Car Standards (And 1 Thing They Get Right)

President Trump has followed through on his promise to roll back Obama-era fuel economy and emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks, proposing to freeze standards at 2020 levels.  Given the tremendous benefits of these rules to-date and the promising future for 2025 and beyond, you can imagine that justifying this rollback requires contortions that would qualify the administration for Cirque du Soleil…and you would be right.  Here are just a few of the ridiculous assertions found in the proposal to justify rolling back such a successful policy:

Absurdity #1: Consumers will benefit from the rollback

Consumers, of course, stand to be the biggest losers from this rollback.  To date, these rules have saved consumers over $64 billion in fuel costs. Every class of vehicle is seeing record fuel economy levels, with the most popular vehicle classes showing the greatest improvement since the rules went into effect.  This rollback threatens to put all of that in jeopardy, limiting consumer choice.

Absurdity #2: More efficient vehicles will be less safe

Last year, a study (that the administration even cites!) showed that fuel economy standards have resulted in reduced fatalities since their inception by reducing the average weight disparity in a crash, refuting oft-trotted out nonsense from groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute who hysterically claim that making more efficient cars kills people in an effort to eliminate the rules.  Rather than sticking with the science, the administration is borrowing this ideological argument to market its rollback agenda as safety.

Lightweight materials were first deployed for safety reasons, and manufacturers have been using high-strength steel and aluminum and other lightweight materials to significantly reduce the weight of the biggest vehicles on the road, like the F-150.  This is good for society, reducing the lethality of the largest and least efficient vehicles.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest data confirms this, of course—but the agencies instead fudge the economics of their model to spit out the answer that the boss in the White House wants.

Absurdity #3: The fleet will get older and travel more without the rollback (and therefore be less safe)

The people who wrote this proposal somehow came up with ridiculously high fatality numbers, which they use to justify rolling back these incredibly popular and consumer friendly standards.  About 99% of the increase in fatalities have absolutely nothing to do with the safety of new vehicles but come instead from an economic model that claims older, less safe vehicles will stay on the road longer and that there will be a massive increase in total miles traveled if the standards stay in place (more miles = more crashes = more fatalities).

There is no consistency to this logic—they claim that these newer and more efficient vehicles will be so great that everyone will travel more, but not so great that people will want to buy them.  Never mind, of course, that manufacturers are on pace for 17 million in annual sales for the fourth consecutive year, extending an industry record, or that the primary source of vehicle travel are commutes, which are fixed, and that there is little evidence of as high an increase in “rebound” or additional travel as the agencies claim.

Absurdity #4: “Energy dominance” means we don’t have to worry about conserving energy

Ignoring the absurdity of “energy dominance” itself, the notion that increasing domestic oil production means we don’t care about energy conservation doesn’t just defy the Energy Policy and Conservation Act requirements of the fuel economy program—it defies basic economics.

Oil is the one of the most fungible commodities in the world—that means that prices are set on a global market, by the basics of supply and demand.  As such, the best way to insulate yourself from global uncertainty (and I think we can all agree there is plenty of that) is to simply decrease demand, which sets downward pressure on market prices and helps buffer against volatility.  The decoupling of economic growth and oil demand is not just good for the environment—it’s good for consumers and national security.

Absurdity #5: Zero emission vehicle standards are inherently fuel economy standards

Perplexing to anyone who understands California’s air quality challenge and the history of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program is the Trump administration’s assertion that the ZEV program is connected to fuel economy.  In fact, the ZEV program predates California Assembly Bill 1493, which is what pushed the state to adopt global warming emissions standards for vehicles (it should of course be noted here that those, too, are under attack, despite also not being fuel economy standards).

California’s ZEV program is designed to improve air quality in the state and is a critical part of the state’s plan to meet federal air quality requirements.  Other states have adopted the standard because they see ZEVs as a critical part of their sustainable transportation future, including for air quality reasons.  The administration suggesting that a regulation aimed squarely at eliminating tailpipe pollution is pre-empted by fuel economy standards is not just legally dangerous—it’s bad for anyone who breathes air in the states adopting those standards.

Absurdity #6: Manufacturers will improve fuel economy without regulations

The real impacts of the rollback would look too bad on paper, so the administration cooked the books by claiming that manufacturers will overcomply with the 2020 standards by nearly 3 miles per gallon, out of the goodness of their hearts and because they know people will buy fuel-efficient vehicles (no, the administration does not seem to sense the irony here in claiming that people will buy these fuel-efficient vehicles but not even more efficient vehicles).

Historically, fuel economy has only improved when standards have been tightened. (Values shown are lab test values—the “sticker” value is about 20 percent lower today.)

This of course smacks of ignorance—the fleet-wide efficiency of cars did not increase absent regulation  in the past 40 years — in fact, in the 1990s fuel economy actually went down as a result of flatlined standards (see figure).  To pretend like fuel economy improvements are going to magically happen without regulation defies the historical record.

Absurdity #7: Manufacturers will put on more technology than necessary to meet the standards

A corollary to the modeling of the rollback magically adopting fuel economy improvements for free is the ridiculous amount of technology being applied to meet the standards, helping to drive up costs for the standards. The administration has crafted a modeling approach so insane that the output shows manufacturers putting on more technology than is needed to meet the standards—so much, in fact, that the manufacturers will overcomply and earn credits  that will expire before they can be used!

This is completely at odds with how manufacturers actually plan to comply with the regulations.  Generally, manufacturers try to target an individual vehicle’s performance to the average standard over the car’s product lifecycle.  Since cars generally don’t change much over a 5-year span, a vehicle will tend to perform better than the standard initially, generating credits, which can then be used to compensate for the vehicle’s underperformance relative to the standard in the latter years.

In the agencies’ modeling, manufacturers improve their vehicles so quickly and to such a strong degree that they end up banking credits that never get used!  That is beyond economically inefficient—it’s just dumb.  And it’s yet another cynical ploy by the administration to inflate the estimate of the cost of the currents regulations.

Absurdity #8: Everyone’s going to need to drive “turbo hybrids” in 2025 if the standards aren’t rolled back

The end result of these ridiculous assumptions on technology is borne out in a vehicle fleet that no manufacturer would possibly design.  There are many issues with the technical assumptions in the rule, but perhaps my favorite is a concept the agencies have introduced called a “turbo hybrid”.  Their modeling effort claims that initially, manufacturers will adopt turbocharged engines (which we’re seeing—about ¼ of vehicles on the road incorporate a smaller, boosted engine), and then eventually they will be forced to become hybrids like the Prius…but  they will maintain that turbocharged engine in the hybrid.  This is not how manufacturers would design a car.

This idea is so ludicrous that the only example that I could find of anything close to this was the incredibly complex engines found in Formula 1 race cars.  The reason an auto manufacturer would never make this choice is that the electric motor on a hybrid car already provides power supplemental to the engine—you don’t need to turbo boost it as well.  There are lots of examples of car companies taking advantage of the extra power provided by a hybrid and pairing it with a smaller engine, like how the Toyota Prius utilizes the much more efficient Atkinson cycle or why the new Honda Insight can get away with using just a 1.5L engine.  There’s no reason a manufacturer is going to add cost and complexity when they don’t have to.  But by pretending like this is how manufacturers would comply, the agencies have been able to artificially inflate the costs of the current standards.

The one thing they get right: These standards are going to cost jobs

Surprising to me was that the agencies acknowledge in their analysis that this rollback is bad for the automotive sector.  According to their analysis, the industry stands to lose $200-$250 billion in revenue, cut investments in technology by $40 billion, and cut jobs in the automotive sector by 60,000 in 2030.  We pointed out how bad this rollback will be for the economy as a whole, as consumers are forced to spend more money on oil and less money on sectors with greater job growth potential, which will cut overall job growth by 125,000 in 2035 and nix $8 billion from national GDP—but this is confirmation that this rollback is terrible for the industry that asked for it.

The industry asked for this rollback—now it’s up to them to stop it

The industry opened up Pandora’s box by requesting the administration take another look at standards that are working for the American people.  Now we are getting a clearer picture of what that action means for consumers at the pump, the economy, the environment, and the auto industry—in short, it’s terrible.

It is up to the auto industry to try to fix what they broke.  I have little faith that this administration is interested in the facts—industry voices, on the other hand, may carry a lot more weight.

So, auto companies—are you willing to go to bat for the American people?  Or are you going to sit on the sidelines and watch this disaster of your own making unfold?

Photo: Ryan Searle/Unsplash

Auto Standards Rollback: Oil companies Win, Everyone Else Loses

Factory worker in a car assembly line.

In April, I blogged about the findings of a new analysis showing how state and federal standards to improve vehicle efficiency and accelerate vehicle electrification could impact jobs and economic growth. The results of the analysis were overwhelmingly positive.  Investing in vehicle technologies to reduce spending at the pump isn’t just good for drivers: the money invested in technology development creates jobs, and savings on fuel get pumped back into the economy.  So what would happen if instead we decide to take a step backwards and not invest in improving vehicle emissions and efficiency as the Trump administration is anticipated to propose any day now? Spoiler alert: Oil companies win and everyone else loses.

We worked with Synapse Energy Economics, Inc, to run economic modeling scenarios assuming the administration moves forward with what appears to be their preferred outcome: freeze federal vehicle standards at 2020 levels and undermine state authority which allows California to set more stringent greenhouse gas and zero emission vehicle standards that other states can opt into.

Compared to the standards on the books today, this rollback would:

  • Increase consumer spending on gasoline by about $20 billion in 2025 and nearly $50 billion by 2035
  • Economy wide, reduce employment by 60,000 in 2025 and 126,000 in 2035
  • Reduce gross domestic product by $8 billion in both 2025 and 2035.

Rolling back federal and state vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards would reduce employment by an estimated 126,000 in 2035 as investments in the auto-sector are reduced and consumers spend more of their income on gasoline

All that of course is in addition to the energy security and pollution impacts from consuming billions of more gallons of gasoline in the coming decades.

Why is rolling back vehicle standards bad for the economy? 

Time and again the analysis of the economics of efficiency have been shown to pay off, especially when it comes to cutting oil use.  Prodding investment in automotive technology leads to job growth. The added costs of the technologies pay for themselves over the first few years of vehicle ownership paving the way for savings over the life of the vehicle, meaning people’s hard-earned money can be spent on things other than filling up their tank.

Rolling back standards, on the other hand, means forking over more money to oil companies in the form of higher gasoline bills. It also means abdicating leadership on automotive technology at a time when other countries, like China, are moving full steam ahead, putting our own automotive industry at risk.

No matter how the administration tries to spin it, it’s hard to see how going backwards on fuel efficiency and emissions standards is going to be good for the average American or our economy as a whole, let alone the auto companies who got this whole thing rolling to begin with.

The oil companies on the other hand?  Well that’s a different story.

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