UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

Clean and Modern Transportation in Maryland: Wishful Thinking or a Possibility?

Photo: Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

The Maryland transportation system faces a myriad of challenges. Poor air quality, rising global warming emissions, and a crumbling transportation infrastructure, to name a few. To address these issues, the state is considering strategies that would lower transportation-related emissions, bring in funding and enable the state to build a modern, clean and equitable transportation system.

Why does Maryland need to invest in a cleaner, more modern transportation system?

Transportation is the largest source of CO2 pollution in the state, responsible for almost half of statewide emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The state cannot achieve the long term goals under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) without making significant reductions in emissions from transportation

Figure 1 – Maryland CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion for all sectors of economy, 1990-2015

Transportation is also a leading source of local air pollution that has been shown to be the main cause of over 3,000 asthma attacks, 500 preventable deaths and $1.8 billion in combined health costs annually in the state. Communities surrounding the Port of Baltimore, such as Curtis Bay, are particularly vulnerable to the impact of transportation emissions and experience elevated  rates of respiratory illness, cancer and heart disease. A study shows that in 2010 Baltimore’s rate of asthma-related hospitalizations was almost three times higher than the U.S. average and recent data indicates that this trend has not changed.

In addition, climate change is exacerbating Maryland’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, especially along the state’s 3,000 miles of shoreline and in communities prone to flooding. Maryland is one of the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Climate change will exacerbate challenges to Maryland’s existing road and public transportation infrastructure, which already suffers from poor conditions and inadequate funding. One quarter of Maryland’s 32,037 miles of public roads are in poor condition. Creating a clean and modern transportation system is an opportunity to harden our critical infrastructure.

We can do better.

What do we need to do to get there?

The only way to meet the climate target by 2030 is to move away from fossil fuels, which means putting more electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads. A recent study estimates that EVs produce less than half the emissions of a comparable gasoline-powered car, even when the higher emissions associated with EV manufacturing is considered. Where you live determines the emissions from the electricity which powers your EV, but the study shows that in regions covering two-thirds of the U.S. population,  driving an EV emits less than a 50 mile-per-gallon gasoline car.

Electric buses and trucks can help relieve the burden of air pollution from diesel fuel. We can start by electrifying Maryland’s bus fleet, including at least 7,000 diesel school buses as well as light trucks, so pedestrians, bikers, 623,000 school children and people who live in low-income communities near highways will breathe cleaner air.

With electrification, more of the dollars spent on energy resources will remain in the region, helping to create jobs.  While much of the state’s electricity is still produced from fossil fuels, the cost per mile is much lower for EVs, and Maryland’s commitment to increasing renewable power means the share of fossil fuels used in the state will fall over time.

Not just that, but electrification will save drivers money on fuel and will insulate them from the fluctuating price of gasoline. In the last decade, the price of gasoline in the state has fluctuated between a low of $1.5 per gallon and a high of $4.10 per gallon. A difference of almost threefold in a household’s expenditure with gasoline is especially burdensome for low- and middle-income families.  A study shows that for the U.S., the cost of electricity to refuel an EV using the standard rate plan is often lower than the equivalent cost of gasoline and is always lower using a time-of-use rate. In Baltimore the average price of electricity as vehicle fuel is between 75 cents  and slightly over one dollar per gallon and is lower than the lowest electricity price in the last decade. The average fuel savings for a Baltimore EV driver was estimated to be over $600 per year.

It is also important to make investments in public transportation and in affordable housing near public transportation, so people can move around without driving a car, saving them money and easing the burden of traffic for all Maryland residents.

With the right investments, we can have a transportation system in Maryland that is cleaner and more resilient than our current system. A new proposal under consideration in Maryland can help the state fund some of these critical investments and reduce emissions at the same time.

Cap-and-invest

One policy mechanism under consideration for transportation in Maryland and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is known as cap-and-invest. This policy places a limit, or cap, on greenhouse gas emissions from polluters and requires them to purchase allowances – or rights to emit CO2 – from the state, based on how much they pollute. By limiting the number of allowances available, the state guarantees overall emission reductions.  The proceeds from the auctions are then invested by the state in clean energy and transportation projects. Cap-and-invest also gives regulated parties the incentive to switch to less polluting products and processes, often minimizing consumer costs while giving them the flexibility to comply in a manner that best suits their circumstances.

Cap-and-invest is already working for the power sector. In 2009, Maryland and eight other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states collaborated to implement a successful power sector cap-and-invest program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  Thanks in part to this program, Maryland’s electricity sector reduced emissions by a third between 2009 and 2015.

Up to 2017, the allowance proceeds from RGGI have brought in $2.8 billion for the region. By investing in efficiency, RGGI has contributed significantly to emissions reductions and economic growth while saving consumers money.  In 2015 alone, RGGI-funded projects in the region have been estimated to expect to return $2.31 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to at least 161,000 homes and 6,000 businesses. In Maryland, by September 2017, RGGI had generated $574 million in cumulative funds, which  has allowed the state to make significant investments in emissions reduction, energy efficiency programs, and in reducing electricity bill costs for residents, who have saved an estimated $457 million in lifetime electricity bills.

RGGI cleaned the air in the region. In the nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, RGGI helped avoid up to 830 premature deaths, averted up to 9,900 asthma attacks and saved an average of $5.7 billion in health costs between 2009 and 2014. Neighboring states, such as the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia also saw a decrease in mortality, respiratory and heart diseases. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the valuation of avoided health effects due to RGGI amounted to anywhere from $800 million to $1.8 billion dollars in the same period.

So far, cap-and-invest covers power plants, but not emissions from transportation. Other jurisdictions, however, including California and Quebec, have expanded cap-and-invest to transportation, resulting in billions in new funding for clean transportation. This year California will spend $695 million on clean vehicle incentives, $1.2 billion on public transportation and over $700 million on affordable housing and sustainable community programs thanks to their cap-and-invest program. It has been estimated that cap and invest for transportation in Maryland could be as high as $450 million per year.

Though RGGI has been successful in reducing emissions from the electricity sector, the transportation sector has been left trailing behind. In 1990, the state’s power sector was a larger emitter than the transportation sector. But roles were quickly reversed:  by 2015 transportation’s share had gone way up, while the electricity sector’s share had gone way down.

In 2009, Maryland’s General Assembly passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which mandates that by 2020 the state must reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions to a level equivalent to 25% below 2006 emissions levels. In 2016 the GGRA was reauthorized and its goal extended to a 40% reduction by 2030.

Without a cap on emissions from gasoline and diesel, reaching our economy-wide 2030 goal is not likely, regardless of the success of the cap on electricity emissions.

What’s next for transportation cap and invest in Maryland?

Discussions on transportation pricing policies are under way in Maryland and other states in the region.

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), a collaboration of eleven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, and the District of Columbia, works to promote clean and efficient transportation in the region while taking into account the importance of individual state priorities. TCI is hosting listening sessions in several states to bring in input on potential policy approaches, including cap-and-invest and other strategies, to reduce emissions and fund improvements in the region’s transportation system.

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) advises the Maryland Governor and General Assembly on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on adaptation to climate change. The Mitigation Working group of the Commission focuses on market-based and other programs to reduce emissions, and discussions on carbon pricing are under way.  The MCCC  holds meetings open to the public where time is set aside for public comment. Encouraging state leadership to hold listening sessions is a highly valuable initiative.

The Union of Concerned Scientists works with a broad coalition of community-based partners on emission-reduction strategies and strategies for obtaining funding for a clean, modern and equitable transportation system, and on how to best invest these funds.

State-based collaborative efforts have become imperative in this day and age, and Maryland has a significant role to play in these efforts. The state’s commitment to clean energy and its success in developing a clean power sector has led to Maryland becoming one of the most energy efficient states in the country. This commitment, together with an active participation in a regional collaboration, are a winning combination. Building a clean, modern and equitable transportation system in Maryland is within reach and is the next step.

Photo: Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

A Tale of Four Cities: How Smart Growth Can Shape the Future of the Washington, D.C. / Baltimore Region

Sorry Ben, there are now three things certain in life: death, taxes, and bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. Though these three things are certain today, they may not be tomorrow. While I’d love to discuss when science will allow humans to upload their consciousness to the cloud, and download themselves into a new body (aka “sleeve”), a new study has prompted me to think about the future of regional traffic as not just dependent on autonomous vehicles or better mass transit.

Researchers at the University of Maryland National Center for Smart Growth analyzed what the Washington, D.C / Baltimore region may look like from now until 2040. The “Engaging the Future” report contrasts four possible futures against a baseline scenario in which the region adds nearly 1 million additional commuters. Under the baseline “do-nothing” scenario, commute times could quadruple despite large increases in rail ridership.

Congestion in the region, already bad, is forecast to get significantly worse. In spite of large increases in rail ridership, vehicle miles traveled and hours traveled are set to increase, which will worsen traffic – especially on highways. Source: National Center for Smart Growth

So, what can be done? The researchers played with different inputs in their model, which can all be found on page 3. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll focus on three: (1) self-driving vehicles, (2) better public transit, and (3) fuel price. Assuming growth or decline in these three factors produced the following four future scenarios for the region.

Revenge of the Nerds: Cheap fuel and autonomous vehicles incentivize driving and sprawl

This is a future of rapid economic growth driven by low fuel prices, widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles, and a retreat from government regulation in the face of such economic success. When combined, these factors increase the capacity of existing expressways, reduce the cost of driving, and make travel time more productive as commuters can watch Netflix as their car drives them to work. If most people are in self-driving cars, congestion could be reduced as cars are able to travel closer together and cause fewer crashes, allowing existing highways to accommodate more vehicles. As a result, ridership on transit plummets, emissions from transportation rise, and more farmland and forests are converted into housing.

The widespread use of autonomous vehicles increases highway capacity by 50 percent, which dramatically reduces congestion. But as residents decentralize due to new housing patterns, vehicle miles and emissions increase. Source: National Center for Smart Growth

Free for All: Self-driving cars fail to take hold, low fuel prices exacerbate sprawl as more jobs and people move into the region

This scenario assumes little government regulation and a slow but steadily growing economy led by job and population growth throughout the region. Low fuel prices mean no major investments in mass transit, but public-private partnerships are forecast to invest in new tolled highways and the construction of an additional bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In this scenario, employment and housing disperses from urban areas, and households fill the formerly protected agricultural preserves of the inner suburbs, especially in Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore Counties. Though sprawl worsens, and mass transit ridership declines, congestion and transit time improve as jobs move to the suburbs, closer to commuters.

This scenario assumes a relaxation in development restrictions, which allows new residential developments to locate in the formerly rural areas of Montgomery, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Howard Counties. Source: National Center for Smart Growth

Blue Planet: High fuel prices and strong government regulation stimulate investments in mass transit and renewable energy

This scenario assumes low levels of self-driving cars, but strong economic growth as advancements in clean technology overpower the economic drag of rising fossil fuel prices. High-tech clusters expand throughout the region, and investments in transit and renewable energy greatly decrease emissions, improve travel times, and lower regional congestion. Local governments accommodate growth by increasing residential capacity in inner suburbs, especially around the expanding transit network. The changes in travel behavior are forecast to be dramatic in this scenario. Though vehicle miles traveled increases, congestion is reduced as more public transit accommodates new straphangers. As a result, transportation-related emissions are greatly reduced as vehicles become electrified and personal transit shifts to public transit.

In this scenario, transit ridership increases 21 percent over the baseline; about half due to the expanded network and half due to high fuel prices. Unlike the baseline, many more transit trips originate in the cores and inner suburbs, with a substantial increase in reverse commutes to transit-accessible inner suburb locations. Source: National Center for Smart Growth

Last Call at the Oasis: As gas prices quadruple and economic growth slows, governments respond with more investment in core transit and electric vehicle infrastructure

The last scenario envisions a future defined by scarcity. Declining world oil reserves quadruples gas prices and accelerates the transition to electric vehicles, but not self-driving cars. The changing structure of the economy directs growth to the city cores of the region, and both households and jobs concentrate near transit stations in urban centers or inner suburbs. A quadrupling of gas prices would cause dramatic changes in travel behavior. Transit ridership would increase significantly, and electric vehicle sales would rise, helping slash emissions from transportation. In addition, considerably less forest and farm land would be developed in this scenario, since the jobs and housing would be concentrated more toward transit hubs in city centers or inner suburbs.

When vehicle operating costs quadruple, travel behavior, and ultimately land use, change in expected ways. Households cluster in the inner suburbs, close to employment and services, and near existing and new rail transit stations. Source: National Center for Smart Growth

Travel behavior is profoundly affected by a fourfold increase in fuel costs, the lack of autonomous vehicles, and the concentration of households in suburban corridors. As a result, congestion could fall dramatically in this scenario, along with auto-related pollution.Source: National Center for Smart Growth

How policy can help shape the Washington, DC / Baltimore region

This modeling effort demonstrates that the Washington, DC / Baltimore region could grow in vastly different ways. If we are to maximize the potential of self-driving cars and electric vehicles to reduce congestion and transportation-related emissions, smart policy will be needed to help drive the adoption of these technologies even if gas prices remain low.

Policies that offset the cost of electric vehicles incentivize the installation of public charging infrastructure, and push the generation of renewable energy are a good start – and already on the books across the country. Additional regulations to ensure autonomous vehicles are powered by renewable electricity and, to the greatest extent possible, operate as shared rides, will also likely be important as self-driving technology encourages people to take a car over public transit.

Policy will also be needed to keep housing and jobs from expanding too far into agricultural preserves and forests beyond the inner ring of suburbs. Placing affordable housing near transit hubs will likely remain key to keep people using public transit, even if congestion is somewhat lessened from a widespread adoption of self-driving cars.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that neither self-driving cars nor electric vehicles are a panacea to transportation-related emissions and congestion. Even if we have cleaner vehicles, if there are more people in the region buying more vehicles and driving them more, then a decrease in emissions from fuel efficient or electric vehicles could be at least partially offset by the sheer volume of new drivers in the region. That’s why housing and regional planning policy must be taken into account when looking at the holistic future of this region – and hopefully this report informs regional planners and other policymakers as they look to expand the productivity and environmental stewardship of the region.

Good News for Colorado Drivers: Hickenlooper Moves to Adopt State Clean Car Standards

Streaks of light on Colorado road.

This week Governor Hickenlooper ordered his agency staff to move forward in adopting California Clean Car Standards for Colorado – a move that would prevent the harm to Colorado consumers that the anticipated federal rollback of fuel economy and emissions standards is expected to bring.   At the same time, California regulators released an analysis that sheds light on just how much damage a rollback of federal vehicle standards is likely to have if state clean car standards are not kept in place.  What’s at stake?  A lot, including billions of dollars in additional gasoline spending.  And sadly, the Auto Alliance – the trade group representing major auto companies including Ford, GM, and Toyota – has resorted to a misinformation campaign to turn Coloradans against cleaner cars.

Why does Colorado want to join California and the other 12 states that follow California’s emissions rules?

Every state in the nation is benefiting from the availability of cleaner, more efficient vehicles that have been prompted by current emissions and fuel economy standards. In fact, savings on fuel already tops $60 billion.

Current plans by the Trump Administration are to rollback federal standards which are currently aligned with CA and the other states that have adopted California rules.  It has been reported the administration’s proposal, currently under review before public release, would freeze the standards at 2020 levels. This would result in a major increase in climate emissions – UCS estimates an increase of more than ½ billion tons of climate emissions just for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025. By 2030, that would be the equivalent of pollution from 30 coal-fired power plants.  But it would also harm consumers more directly, increasing how much they spend at the pump for years to come.

For example, Coloradans have already saved $550 million in fuel costs thanks to existing standards and by 2030 are expected to save an average of $2,700 per household under current rules.  If EPA and NHTSA freeze the standards in 2020, these expected savings will be slashed.  Governor Hickenlooper understands what’s at stake and the move to have Colorado join 13 other clean car states will ensure Coloradans continue to get clean, more efficient vehicle choices in every class from small cars to big SUVs and pick-up trucks.

California analysis makes it clear – rolling back vehicle standards will hurt consumers and increase pollution

An analysis by California regulators paints a very clear picture that following the Trump Administration’s plan to stall progress on clean cars will be a costly mistake. The analysis examines the pollution and economic impact to California under two scenarios – (1) vehicle standards are frozen at 2021 levels or (2) vehicle standards kept in place through 2025 as currently planned.  The highlights (or low-lights) from their analysis (See Appendix A):

  • A rollback of vehicle standards will cost Californians a net $15 billion between 2021 and 2030. That’s because cleaner cars save consumers money, even after paying for the technology to reduce emissions. Weaker standards mean less fuel savings and more money spent on fuel.
  • Californians would also suffer from additional air pollution resulting from production and delivery of increased amounts of gasoline, adding another $1 billion in economic costs related to increased premature deaths and health-related damages between 2021 and 2030.
  • Adding in the economic value for the actual carbon emission reductions, the rollback adds an additional $1.3 to $5.5 billion in climate damages that would have been avoided with the standards between 2021 and 2030.
  • In California, the state has a law requiring a 40% reduction in global warming emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The ARB analysis shows that a rollback would add nearly 57 million metric tons of CO2 between 2021 and 2030 with about a 20% annual increase in car and truck emissions by 2030. The numbers would be even worse if standards are held at 2020 levels, as reportedly may happen, instead of 2021. Many other states, including Colorado, have set emission reduction goals and are committed to contribute to efforts to avoid the costly consequences of climate change. A rollback will make their efforts that much harder.

While the analysis is specific to California, the same conclusions hold for other states.  Clean car standards are good for consumers and reducing pollution – and freezing them is a gift to the oil industry paid for by drivers at the pump.

Figure 1. Analysis by CA regulators showing emissions from light-duty vehicles under current standards (blue line) and emissions if standards are held at vehicle model year 2021 levels (green line).

Auto Industry Response to Colorado’s support for Clean Cars? Spread misinformation

Immediately responding to Colorado’s decision to ensure its consumers get the benefits of cleaner car technology, the Auto Alliance (representing companies including Ford, GM, and Toyota) and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce rolled out a new campaign attacking clean car standards as un-Coloradan, using the same scare tactics and misinformation harkening back to the days of fighting seatbelts and air bags requirements.

Here’s some fact checking:

  • Claims of higher gas prices resulting from clean car standards are completely bogus. Clean car standards require manufacturers to make cleaner cars. These cars reduce fuel use and save consumers money at the pump. Yet the Alliance’s website claims adopting CA standards somehow means Colorado gas prices will be affected.  This is a blatant attempt to use California’s higher than average gas prices as a scare tactic to Colorado consumers and is not based on facts—Coloradans will save money on gas as a result of this action, not spend more on it.
  • Strong standards will provide Coloradans more choices, not less. The Alliance claims clean car standards are bad for Colorado consumers and would restrict vehicle choices. The opposite is true. Current standards are driving innovation and giving consumers more fuel efficient choices in every class especially in small SUVs as documented in our recent Automaker Rankings report.  As we’ve pointed out time and again, selling SUVs and trucks doesn’t make it harder to manufacturers to meet clean car standards but it remains a talking point of the Auto Alliance.
  • The Zero Emission Vehicle Program does not require automakers to sell 15 percent electric vehicles by 2025. Peddling misinformation about CA’s Zero Emission Vehicle program trying to make the case it is unreasonable is standard fare for the Auto Alliance. In fact, they know quite well that updated regulatory analysis from 2017 shows the program requires plug-in hybrid, battery electric or fuel cell vehicles to be about 7-8% of new sales by 2025 in California and slightly less in other states that have adopted CA’s program. CA is already at 5 percent new vehicle sales. Governor Hickenlooper’s announcement doesn’t include the California electric vehicle requirements, but even if it did, characterizing the requirement as 15 percent is a clear mischaracterization of what the program requires.

 

The Trump Administration, prompted by the automakers, has decided to throw out a well-coordinated national program for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency —a move that is bad for consumers and moves the auto industry backward.  Initiation of lawsuits to prevent the rollback and Colorado’s recent announcement to join the clean car states clearly demonstrate that states recognize the myriad benefits to their residents from these standards.  They should not be deterred by tired auto industry arguments.

 

 

Massachusetts Senate Unanimously Endorses a Bold Vision for Clean Transportation

Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr

The Massachusetts Senate yesterday unanimously passed an energy bill that promises to dramatically reshape the vehicles and fuels that power our transportation system.

If enacted, this legislation would make Massachusetts a national and even global leader in the deployment of electric vehicle technology. It would dramatically reduce our consumption of oil, and the pollution that comes from petroleum. It would save lives by significantly improving air quality, especially in urban areas. It would produce a stronger and more resilient modern grid that will provide ratepayers with greater efficiency and reliability. And it would produce long-term cost savings for Massachusetts drivers and transit agencies.

And I’m just talking about the provisions related to transportation. (See here for more about the provisions related to renewable energy and storage, en espanol aqui.)  But even a focus on just the implications for the transportation sector is meaty enough. Here’s why this bill is taking on transportation emissions and what the bill would do.

Transportation and climate goals

Let me start with a little background on transportation and Massachusetts climate policy.

Under Massachusetts climate law (the Global Warming Solutions Act or “GWSA”), the state is required to achieve significant reductions in economy-wide global warming emissions. When it comes to emissions from electricity, we’re making remarkable progress: over the past decade Massachusetts has cut our emissions from electricity impressively, thanks in part to a strong set of policies, including our investments in energy efficiency and our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or “RGGI”).

But when it comes to transportation, things have been more difficult. Improving vehicle efficiency standards have helped reduce emissions some since 2008, but the gains in efficiency have been partially offset by increases in total driving and increasing purchases of SUVs and light trucks. Electric vehicles are a technology with extraordinary promise but still represent only about 2 percent of new vehicle sales. The state has committed to putting 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, but we have a ways to go to achieve that goal.

Overall, transportation emissions are about the same as they were in 1990, and transportation now represents the largest source of pollution in Massachusetts, including over 40% of global warming emissions.

What would this bill do?

The Senate bill would accelerate the rapid electrification of our transportation system, while taking steps to ensure that all residents of Massachusetts benefit from electric vehicle technology.

To start with, the Senate bill envisions the end of diesel fuel in our public transportation system. Heavy duty diesel engines are some of the dirtiest vehicles on the road, contributing significantly to urban air pollution that causes asthma and other respiratory problems. Existing technologies such as electric buses have zero tail pipe emissions and can reduce global warming emissions from diesel equivalents nearly 80 percent on today’s grid. The bill would require the Department of Transportation to replace all diesel engines with zero-emission vehicles in its bus, commuter rail, and marine fleet. This would build on recent announcements in California and New York City to electrify their vehicle fleets.

The bill would also require the Department of Transportation to enact policies that would ensure that 25% of all vehicles on the road are electric by 2026. This would represent a major increase from current levels, as electric vehicles are currently about 2 percent of new vehicles sold in Massachusetts. Achieving sales at those rates will require policies that are strong enough to make electric vehicles affordable for low- and moderate-income residents, in addition to building the infrastructure necessary to keep EVs charged.

As we build out our electric vehicle infrastructure, it’s going to be important for us to also think about the impact of EV charging on our electric grid.  Another important provision of this legislation would require utilities to offer rates that reward electric vehicle drivers for charging their vehicles at night, when electricity use is low. These “time of use” rates can lead to big savings not only for electric vehicle drivers, but for all ratepayers.

The critical role of market-based programs

The Senate bill not only sets out big goals, it also identifies a way to pay for the investments that we need in clean transportation: by requiring the state to establish a market-based program to reduce emissions from transportation fuels (as well as heating fuels).

Under RGGI, Massachusetts and the other states of the Northeast have placed a limit on emissions from power plants. This limit is enforced by a requirement that power plant operators purchase allowances that are sold in regional auctions. By limiting the number of allowances available, RGGI ensures overall emission reductions. Meanwhile, the sale of allowances raises money that is invested in efficiency and renewable energy.

This “cap and invest” model has proven effective in reducing emissions from electricity—and beyond. While RGGI only applies to electricity, other jurisdictions, including California, Ontario and Quebec, have expanded this model into heating and transportation fuels and the result has been billions in new investments in clean transportation. California alone is projected to spend over $2 billion on clean transportation investments this year – money that is going to expanded electric vehicle incentives, electric buses, improved transit services, and more affordable housing near transit.

If Massachusetts adopted a program similar to the California-Ontario-Quebec model, it could raise over $450 million per year in investments in clean transportation. That would be enough to not only make a major new investment in electric vehicles, but also to address critical issues facing our Commonwealth such as public transportation and affordable housing.

The path ahead

With the Senate promising bold action to accelerate the electrification of transportation, the action now turns towards the House of Representatives. The House has shown interest in promoting electric vehicles this session, including a good bill from Rep. Tom Golden, chair of the energy committee, that would encourage car dealers to sell electric vehicles.

One big question is whether legislators in both chambers agree on a sustainable and dedicated source of funding for investments in clean transportation. Too often, the policies we use to promote electric vehicles are based on one-time infusions of funds, such as the $12 million that Gov. Charlie Baker committed to the state’s main electric vehicle incentive in December 2016. The problem with one-time cash infusions is that they expire: the state is now running out of funds and may have to cut back on their rebate program.

The senate’s proposals in that regard—and the many other good transportation provisions in last night’s bill—are welcome indeed.

Eric Kilby

Will Chevron Show Leadership in Climate Solutions? Notes From the 2018 Shareholders’ Meeting

Photo: ArtBrom/Flickr

Last week, I joined the Union of Concerned Scientists at the Chevron shareholders’ meeting in San Ramon, CA. We were there to ask why Chevron leadership, and shareholders, have not pushed for more meaningful action to meet global emissions targets that would keep climate warming well below 2 degrees celsius.

The security to get into Chevron Headquarters in San Ramon was tight – more significant than your typical airport security. In addition to multiple steps of checking of our passes to enter and walking through metal detectors, we were only able to bring in paper and pen, and each of our papers were shuffled through and inspected on the way in. Once seated, we listened to the presentations by the company’s Chair and CEO and by shareholders advocating proposals on environmental, social, and governance issues. During this time, shareholders followed the Board’s recommendation to reject proposals to “transition to a low carbon business model” and improve lobbying disclosures, among other things.

During much of the meeting, I was scribbling down notes and adapting my prepared statement based upon what I was hearing. I also spent some time staring into this infographic that was provided in the Chevron Climate Resiliency Report (data from IEA 2015 World Balance and Final Consumption Report 2015):

This diagram highlights the flow of energy — the width of the bars reflects the relative size of the production/consumption budget — in our current fossil-fuel focused energy system. This diagram allows you to watch the flow of energy towards different areas of our economy that utilize that source. One remarkable aspect of this data, which is pointed out in the Climate Change Resilience Report, is that “about 25% of global oil consumption is used in personal vehicles” (to see this, follow the bar from “oil”, to “transport”, and then to “passenger”). This means every day that we drive in our personal vehicles we are making choices about fossil fuel emissions that add up to something very significant. I was struck by this statistic because it underscores something that I frequently address in my public talks about climate change: personal, individual action is one piece of the puzzle in solving the climate problem. But there are other pieces of the puzzle – government leadership and corporate accountability which I address again below.

At the end of the scheduled shareholder proposals, it was time for the lottery of Q&A. Each of us who had a question or statement had to get a numbered ticket; tickets were pulled randomly and there was no guarantee that all questions would be heard. In total, about a dozen people asked questions or made statements to the Chairman. Of these, almost all of them were on three topics: climate change, human rights, and an ongoing lawsuit with the people of Ecuador due to a decades old environmental disaster.

Here was my statement and question when my number was called:

Good morning Mr. Chairman, members of the Board, and Stakeholders. Your recent Climate Change Resilience report was a step toward responding to investor demands that you disclose your plans for operating in a world where global temperature increase is kept well below two degrees Celsius. However, your company emphasizes potential conflicts rather than synergies between climate solutions and other societal goals and dismisses a rapid transformation of our energy system as “unlikely.”

I am a scientist here in Northern California. One of the areas of my research focuses on the impact of rising carbon dioxide concentrations on the changing chemistry of the ocean. I collaborate with businesses along the coast that are deeply concerned about the impacts of rising carbon dioxide on their financial future. Specifically, rising carbon dioxide concentrations threaten a key part of our history, culture and economy of California – sustainable harvests of food from the sea. As a scientist, I understand the grave risks we are facing without deep reductions in emissions and know that swift action is precisely what is needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

You stated this morning, and you describe in the Climate Resilience Report, that a first principle that guides your views on climate change is that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action”. Yet, in this report you bet against our ability to tackle meaningful energy transformation. When will Chevron show greater ambition to keep global warming below 2 degrees C?

In his answer, Chair and CEO Michael Wirth was respectful, and thanked me for my work in the scientific community. He explained that the company simply “meets the demands of energy used by people around the world,” and that it does “look at low carbon scenarios” as part of its business plan. However, Mr. Wirth argued that global policies are needed – ones that would require government intervention – and that it isn’t the role of individual companies to make decisions on this matter. This was an interesting answer because it spelled out something that Chevron doesn’t say directly in its public report – the company isn’t planning on taking leadership on climate change until governments lead the way. Which is hard to imagine, since fossil fuel companies spend millions every year lobbying our government to support policies that promote the use of oil and gas.

Why does this matter – and why would a climate scientist attend a Chevron shareholders’ meeting? I pondered this quite a bit when I was asked to join the UCS team for the meeting that day. For me, the decision came down to three things. First, because I am asking Chevron to use the best available science to make decisions for our future. Was a being an ‘advocate’ – yes – I am advocating for the use of science in decision making. Second, because I have made a commitment to not just communicate with those who already agree with me. We need to be able to put ourselves in situations where we work to find common ground and similar values with people in many different communities. Finally, as I’ve discussed above, I think individual responsibility is an aspect of the problem – people need to feel emboldened to make their own decisions that place our planet on a better path. But individuals can’t solve this problem alone: corporate accountability is important here. We need to be asking more of corporations that contribute significantly to our greenhouse gas burden. If they contribute significantly to the problem, they should be contributing significantly to the solution.

 

Dr. Tessa Hill is a Professor and Chancellor’s Fellow at University of California, Davis, in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. She is resident at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, a research station on the Northern California Coast. She is part of the Bodega Ocean Acidification Research (BOAR) group at Bodega Marine Laboratory, which aims to understand the impact of ocean acidification on marine species. Tessa leads an industry-academic partnership to understand the consequences of ocean acidification on shellfish farmers. Tessa is a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, and a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists & Engineers (PECASE).

Our Latest Automaker Rankings: What The Industry Needs to do to Keep Moving Forward

Every few years, UCS takes a look at the auto industry’s emission reduction progress as part of our Automaker Rankings series of reports. This year’s analysis, based on model year (MY) 2017 vehicles, shows that the industry has once again reached the lowest levels yet in both smog-forming and global warming emissions from new vehicles, despite the fact that many off-the-shelf technologies are deployed in less than one-third of all new vehicles.  Unfortunately, this record-setting trend in progress also shows some indications of slowing down, with Ford and Hyundai-Kia showing no progress towards reducing global warming emissions, and Toyota actually moving backwards.

At the same time, the industry spearheaded an effort to re-litigate fuel economy and emissions standards set through 2025, and this report comes out while a proposal from the current administration responding to their request that would completely halt progress in the industry at 2020 levels sits awaiting public release. Therefore, while this year’s Automaker Rankings highlights some of the progress made by leaders in the industry to move forward on the technology front, it’s also critical that on the political front these companies stand up to the administration to ensure the rest of the industry continues to move forward on reducing emissions.

The technology to meet future standards is out there

For me, one of the key takeaways I had from this report is that while standards have in many cases accelerated the deployment of new technologies, some of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce emissions are still sitting on the shelf. The industry’s progress to-date is barely a glimpse of where gasoline-powered vehicles could be in the future as shown in the figure below.

While vehicle standards have led to significant growth in a number of technologies, even many of the most cost-effective technologies to lower emissions have been deployed in only a small fraction of the fleet, leaving plenty of room for further reductions.

On top of this, many of the deployed technologies, like advanced transmissions, still have significant incremental progress that can be made. We’re also seeing novel developments in other technologies like start-stop, where we are beginning in 2018 to see the deployment of higher-voltage (48V) systems that can result in complementary technology such as electric boost and again continue to push out the horizon for combustion engine improvements. For this and many other reasons, it’s baffling to see the industry assert that meeting 2025 vehicle standards requires widespread vehicle electrification.

No more Greenest Automaker

Of course, electric vehicles are one of the reasons for a key difference in this year’s report: we are now including the results of all automakers, not just those largest companies who sell vehicles of all sizes and types. A lot of the development for some of the technologies that could pave the way to a lower-emissions future are coming from some of the smallest manufacturers, whether that’s Tesla’s all-electric fleet or Mazda’s SkyActiv-X spark-assisted charge compression engine, which looks to bring diesel-like operation to a gasoline engine. Ignoring this leadership from smaller automakers would be ignoring some of the most forward-looking technology deployment in the industry.

Additionally, it’s important to recognize that this report is limited to the emissions of the vehicles sold by manufacturers—it does not consider other aspects of operations which also affect the sustainability and “greenness” of a company, whether that’s related to water use at its facilities, renewable power sourcing, or other aspects of the manufacture and distribution of a manufacturer’s fleet.

Considering these two central limitations, we have decided to no longer award a “Greenest Automaker.”  It’s important to recognize the wide difference between the emissions from the fleet of Honda, who has again asserted its leadership to provide the lowest emission fleet from full-line automakers, and Fiat Chrysler, who finds itself producing a fleet better only than McLaren, Ferrari, and Aston Martin—automakers who produce only exotic sports cars meant more for a track than a highway—but that is only part of the story.

The gap between leaders and laggards is huge and pervades all vehicle classes

One of the reasons we have previously ignored small manufacturers is that they provide a narrow spectrum of vehicles—and it’s been a historic complaint from companies like Ford that they should get a pass because people want big trucks. But one of the key findings from this year is that the Detroit Three fall to the bottom of the pack not because they sell big trucks, but because in virtually all classes of vehicles they sell, their cars and trucks emit more than the rest of the industry.  And the reverse is true for a company like Honda.

Honda is the manufacturer with the lowest emissions because it invests broadly in improvements across its entire fleet. Similarly, the Detroit Three don’t perform poorly because they sell a lot of trucks—they perform poorly because their vehicles emit more than the industry average in most classes of vehicle.

The only company whose ranking is significantly affected by the mix of vehicles they sell is Toyota—but that was an intentional decision on their part.  They chose to boost production of their least efficient vehicles, trucks and SUVs, while at the same time bypassing investment in improving those vehicles.  If they want to catapult back to the top of the pack, they’ll need more than the Prius to make them look like a leader—it’s about providing consumers lower emission choices across the entire spectrum of vehicles sold.

A path forward

With every Automaker Rankings, we try to provide the industry with a path forward. And the truth is, the engineers at these companies have been working their butts off to provide a bright future for the industry…should they choose to embrace it.

Manufacturers have made a number of pronouncements about the vehicles planned over the next five years which could easily end up keeping emissions levels on the path envisioned under the 2025 standards now on the books. And we have tried to highlight the role these vehicles can play in creating a more sustainable transportation future.

But too many within the industry have been looking to ignore their role in getting to this low-emissions future, so the question remains:  Will the industry accelerate toward a cleaner future by following their engineers, or continue to deploy their lobbyists to slam on the brakes?

It’s Time to Implement Stronger Autonomous Vehicle Testing Standards

Photo: Grendelkhan/Wikimedia Commons

The widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles could potentially bring about many benefits – advocates argue they will reduce traffic, the burden of driving, and emissions should the cars be electrified. The could also improve access for children, the elderly or people with disabilities – but the most important benefit is improved safety.

U.S. road fatalities increased 5.6 percent from 2015 – 2016. This is a disturbing trend, as this is the largest increase in the last decade. Proponents of the self-driving community will tell you that the cars will help to slash the numbers significantly because the human driver is taken out of the equation. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there were 5,987 pedestrian fatalities in 2016 – the highest number since 1990 – and 847 bicyclist fatalities, the highest since 1991. In addition, fatalities due to drunk driving and speeding went up at least 1 percent. Although fatalities from distractions and drowsiness went down 2.2 and 3.5 percent, respectively, they were offset by an increase in other reckless behaviors (speeding increased 4 percent, alcohol impairment increased 1.7 percent, and unbelted incidents increased 4.6 percent).

Autonomous vehicles are being tested in several states and provinces, such as California, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. The graphic below shows the status of autonomous vehicle testing laws in the various states across the country – 25 of 50 states have passed laws overseeing testing. Uber and Waymo have taken the lead in testing – Waymo has logged over 5 million miles and Uber, although far behind Waymo, has logged a significant number of miles itself with 2 million. California has been working with testing companies under a regulatory framework, while states like Arizona have allowed free reign to the companies to test the vehicles on the public roads, with a backup human in the driver seat to compensate for any failures in the software. However, what happens if the driver gets distracted and loses focus? Or when the autonomous system doesn’t have a sufficient way of warning the driver that they need to take over?

Current Status of State Laws on Self-Driving Cars
Source: Brookings Institution and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Click to enlarge.

The NTSB presents its findings

According to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), that is exactly what happened when an Uber self-driving platform controlling a Volvo XC90 autonomous vehicle killed a bicyclist in Tempe, Arizona on March 18. The initial reaction of the chief of the Tempe police on March 19 was that Uber was likely ‘not at fault’ for the incident after viewing the vehicles own video of the event. After a more thorough investigation, however, the NTSB report states that the Uber system “registered…observations of the pedestrian about 6 seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path.” The Volvo XC90 had its own emergency braking system, but this system was disabled when the Uber self-driving system was controlling the vehicle, to “reduce the potential for erratic behavior.” The Volvo emergency braking system could have prevented or reduced the severity of the crash, since it detected the bicyclist 1.3 seconds before the collision, and if enabled would have made an emergency stop.  The driver appeared to have been distracted by the computer interface and did not see the bicyclist step out into the street. By the time the driver looked up, saw the bicyclist and pressed the brake, it was too late.

View of the self-driving system data playback at about 1.3 seconds before impact.
Source: National Transportation Safety Board.

Safety advocates across the spectrum have cautioned lawmakers about the rapid pace of testing saying that it is too soon to have them tested on public roadways, interacting with pedestrians and bicyclists. Moreover, reports suggest that Uber’s self-driving system was struggling to navigate public streets, with drivers needing to intervene and take control from the automated system once every 13 miles, compared to more than 5000 miles between interventions for the Waymo systems being tested in California.  Real world testing on public roads is clearly needed to test and improve the self-driving technology but testing on public roads must only be done once public safety can be assured.

Congress is pushing federal legislation too quickly

This fatal crash is a stark reminder of the risks involved in racing to bring automated driving technology to market without adequate oversight. Senator John Thune, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, remarked that “the [tragedy underscores the need for Congress to] update rules, direct manufacturers to address safety requirements, and enhance technical expertise of regulators.” Senator Gary Peters also chimed in, saying that “Congress must move quickly to enhance oversight of self-driving vehicles by updating federal safety rules and ensuring regulators have the right tools and resources to oversee the safe testing and deployment of these emerging technologies.”

Yet while state and local governments grapple with responses to this tragedy, the architects of the Senate self-driving bill are renewing their push to get it passed through Congress.  The Detroit News reported that Peters and Thune are still attempting to win support from reluctant senators. The bipartisan duo also is looking at the possibility of trying to attach the measure to another bill that has better prospects for a full vote or passing it as a standalone bill.

This push concerns us as we question whether the AV START Act is the right vehicle to meet those aims. The bill would allow hundreds of thousands more autonomous vehicles on our roads, with lax oversight, and would pre-empt the great work that state and local governments are doing to regulate AV testing in their jurisdictions.

Safety of all users of the road must be the top priority

In our policy brief “Maximizing the Benefits of Self Driving Vehicles,” UCS advocates that “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.” In October 2017, UCS expressed its concerns on the lack of scientifically-based safeguards in the Senate’s AV START Bill. Already, cities and states are having discussions on how to regulate AVs more strictly. The mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto planned to ask representatives from the AV industry agree to a 25-mph limit on city roads, stating “Pittsburgh should have a very strong voice in whatever Pennsylvania should decide to do,” Peduto told reporters Tuesday. “These are our streets. They belong to the people of the city of Pittsburgh and the people of the city of Pittsburgh should be able to have certain criteria that shows them that safety is being taken first.” However, the city has  limited authority to regulate vehicles on its streets California is taking a different tack, as its Public Utilities Commission recently released guidelines that will allow AVs to pick up passengers – as long as the company holds an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the DMV for at least 90 days before picking up passengers, agrees to not charge for the ride, and files regular reports including the number of miles their self-driving vehicles travel, rides they complete and disabled passengers they are serving.

Uber and other companies will have to reassess their procedures for AV road testing and states will have to re-evaluate how freely they allow self-driving cars to be tested on their roads. Furthermore, municipal governments need to be at the table working with companies to develop robust safety standards. We need to ensure at all levels of government that adequate, sound safeguards are implemented, so that autonomous vehicles can truly achieve the safety benefits they are expected to have.

Grendelkhan /Wikimedia Commons

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