UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

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.

A Rare Victory: EPA Reverses Course and Closes Zombie Truck Loophole (for Now)

Last night, we learned that we actually scored a win on glider trucks.

Just before Scott Pruitt resigned from his position as EPA administrator, he gave a parting gift to the super-polluting glider truck industry. He said that the EPA wouldn’t enforce their own rule that limits production of these super-polluting trucks for another year and a half, an action that put thousands of lives at risk and seems legally indefensible. We had something to say about this, and so did you! More than 14,000 UCS supporters weighed in with EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, telling him to reverse course and close the glider vehicle loophole.

Glider trucks are really bad—they emit up to 40 times the NOx and 450 times the particulate pollution allowed in new trucks sold today. We have written about the strange backstory of these trucks and the saga of how one company (cough – Fitzgerald – cough) stands to gain from the previous administrator’s actions several times. You could say that we’re pretty fired up about glider trucks here at UCS.

So, what happened yesterday?

Andrew Wheeler is now the acting administrator of the EPA.  He was confirmed as deputy administrator in April and took over when Pruitt resigned.  We have been watching to see what he will do on several issues core to UCS’s mission and we got our first indication last night that he is at least more rational than his predecessor. He is not going to follow through with the enforcement ban that Pruitt put in place, which is great news. Is it the end of the story? Definitely not. But it’s a good indication that he is cut from different cloth than Pruitt.

This is a huge win for people who breathe air, particularly if they do so near trucking corridors. But we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still a rule on the table that would deregulate glider trucks entirely—many of you submitted comments on this rule (thank you!!) and we are in a waiting period to see if it gets finalized. Acting Administrator Wheeler has the power to kill the rule, like he did the enforcement ban, we just need to wait and see if he is willing to take that next step.

A political maneuver—but nonetheless a positive one

You may be wondering why he did this now, quietly, on a Thursday night, less than a week before he’s scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee…..oh wait.There’s no doubt in my mind that Acting Administrator Wheeler made this move on purpose just before his first Senate hearing since he was confirmed. He is signaling that he is a different kind of political appointee and is probably hoping that Democratic members will go easier on him; this move may help.

The other piece of this puzzle are the lawsuits against the enforcement that were immediately filed by several environmental groups  and 16 states—the DC Circuit Court stayed the enforcement ban as they collect more information.

However, there are still LOTS of outstanding issues that we will keep a close eye on and will work to hold him accountable for anything the agency does under his watch—including weakening the clean car standards and undermining state authority to regulate tailpipe emissions (the proposal for this could come next week), advancing the restricted science proposal, continuing with this nonsense on PFAS, taking any further action on glider trucks…..the list is long.

But today let’s take a moment to savor our victory. Enjoy it. Relish it. Drink it in. These moments are infrequent, but they are fortifying. On Monday, we’ll be back in the fight.

Is Tesla Doomed? The cases for and against the electric vehicle pioneer.

Photo: Matt Henry/Unsplash

Tesla is at a crossroads. One path leads to a sustainable business model and the other leads here. Earlier this month the California company hit the limit for the electric vehicle (EV) federal tax credit, meaning the full $7,500 credit will only be available to those who are delivered a Tesla before the end of 2018. The credit then phases down for Tesla vehicles during 2019 and is ultimately eliminated beginning January 2020. Other EV makers, like GM and Nissan, have yet to hit the 200,000-vehicle limit for tax credit eligibility. As a result, Tesla’s already expensive vehicles are set to get even more expensive, especially compared to other EVs that still qualify for the tax credit. This coming dynamic has spooked Wall Street analysts and inflamed hand wringing over whether there will be sufficient consumer demand and vehicle output to make Tesla ultimately profitable.

Here is the phase out schedule for the federal electric vehicle tax credit for Tesla. Note that other EV models from other brands still qualify for the credit. Source: https://www.tesla.com/support/incentives

There are strong arguments for both why Tesla will fail and why they will succeed. And, if marriage has taught me anything, it’s that I’m usually wrong. So, I don’t want to predict what exactly will happen to Tesla. Instead, I can detail why Tesla may succeed or fail irrespective of the broader EV industry, which is set to overtake gasoline-powered vehicles over the next decade.

SCENARIO A: Tesla is doomed. Why the electric vehicle maker will fail.

The coming elimination of the federal tax credit may have prompted some to cancel their Model 3 orders. One report claims that 24 percent of the 450,000 Model 3 deposits have been refunded, though Tesla contends the report doesn’t match its own data. Even if the 24 percent estimate is far off, the elimination of the federal tax credit will impact consumer demand.

You can’t get a Model 3 for less than $49,000 today, so the major Model 3 competitors – the Nissan LEAF and GM Bolt – have now become better bargains as they have both significantly cheaper sticker prices (from $29,990 and $36,620, respectively) and will remain eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit beyond 2018. Prospective EV buyers who aren’t charmed by the Tesla allure and want to save a couple “stacks of high society” may forget about their Model 3 deposit and choose one of the dozens of other EVs for sale (though many could be considered inferior when it comes to range, brand prestige or technology add-ons like autopilot).

Tesla may not only face demand problems. Their vehicle production pace hasn’t been quick enough to yield a positive balance sheet on an annual basis and the company has run higher quarterly deficits in the ramp up to Model 3 production. Also, Tesla doles out hundreds of millions a year for solar energy systems, has a burn rate of around $480,000…per hour, and has a $82.5 million debt note coming due in August.

Tesla has consistently become cash flow negative before getting back to the black, so the current cash flow problems should not be a big concern. Source: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/05/elon-musk-says-dont-worry-about-teslas-burn-rate-he-might-be-right/

Putting supply and demand aside, Tesla’s outlook has also been impacted by CEO Elon Musk’s recent bout as a whiny billionaire. He got into a social media spat with one of the divers who rescued the kids trapped in the Thailand cave, argued about the value of his donations to conservative politicians and campaigns, and threw a public tantrum about negative media stories. This erratic behavior couldn’t have helped Tesla’s stock price, which dropped 5 percent after Tesla asked suppliers for cash back to help the car maker turn a profit, a milestone that was promised to investors in Tesla’s last shareholder meeting.

$TSLA took a bit of a hit in mid-July, due to concerns about cash flow. Source.

SCENARIO B: Everybody relax! Here is why Tesla is guaranteed to succeed.

OK, ok. I know there was a lot of negativity in the preceding paragraphs. Take a breath, do this 3-minute meditation exercise then come back. You good? Good. Let’s continue.

Tesla is guaranteed to succeed because of one simple fact. Electric vehicles are a better product than gasoline-powered vehicles. They are cheaper to drive, cleaner to operate, cost less to maintain, drive smoother, can be fueled at home or topped off in a couple minutes on the road, direct fuel spending to regional utilities rather than multinational oil companies, and are simply a blast to drive.

All signs point to the coming electric revolution. The only question remains; how quickly will it happen? The answer depends on vehicle cost parity, which is improving as battery costs decline and EVs are made at larger scales from more manufacturers. The number of globally available EV models is set to jump from 155 at the end of 2017 to 289 by 2022 and the sticker price of EVs could become competitive with gas vehicles by 2024 – even cheaper than gas cars after that. Automakers are extending electric drivetrains to more vehicle segments like CUVs and minivans and, as a result, EV sales are rising in the U.S and around the world.

EVs will succeed and so too will Tesla. The Tesla brand has developed an allure strong enough to get them over any financial hurdle. Despite rarely becoming cash flow positive, the company has already raised $19 billion. That’s just how things roll out in Silicon Valley. And investor enthusiasm for the brand is well-founded. Tesla is the best in the game at marketing their brand of sustainability and cutting-edge technology to buyers of all ages and backgrounds. Both my 60-year old neighbor and 18-year old niece think Tesla’s are cool, for example. Musk is a revered figure (in some circles) and viewed as a prophet who will lead transportation away from fossil fuels and toward the promised land of using rooftop solar panels to capture energy, store it in home-based battery packs, and use it to light our homes and fuel our vehicles. That’s a powerful vision that seems within grasp, and Musk is bold (read: rich) enough to help us make it happen.

This marketing strategy has been backed up by Tesla’s ability to produce cars that turn heads and a profit. The Model 3 is the most profitable electric car in the automotive industry, with a margin as high as 30 percent, and has garnered glowing reviews from some of the toughest auto reviewers. The Model S was the top-rated car in its class by Consumer Reports and the Model Y SUV is set to disrupt one of the most popular vehicle segments in the U.S. Also, Tesla’s can come equipped with add-ons unique to the brand, like “ludicrous mode,” “autopilot” and a network of high-speed charging stations.

Overall, the performance of Tesla’s vehicles combined with the effective marketing of Elon Musk’s vision has given Tesla an “it” factor, and generated tremendous enthusiasm around the brand. This hype is more than enough to continue fueling demand to keep Tesla afloat even after they lose the federal tax credit.

As for cash flow and production? Being cash flow negative is a growing company’s M.O., and Tesla has demonstrated that they can get back in the black once they start churning out enough vehicles to meet demand. Today, Tesla is set to pump out 6,000 Model 3s a week – a record high – and plans to ramp up production even further. Demand isn’t set to wane, either. 450,000 people put down a deposit on a car that they hadn’t necessary seen, step foot in, or read anything about beyond the company propaganda – and demand has steadily risen for Tesla’s other models.

So don’t fret. This electric vehicle pioneer is set to settle in as a market leader in EVs.

Photo: Matt Henry/Unsplash

New EPA Administrator, Same Bad Idea—Car Standard Rollbacks Would be Awful

Photo: NeONBRAND/Unsplash

For months now, we’ve heard from a variety of sources that the Trump administration is readying a proposal which would roll back 2025 vehicle standards to 2020 levels, halting progress on reductions in emissions and oil use at the same time that transportation has become the largest source of global warming emissions in the U.S.  With Scott Pruitt resigning from his post at the EPA, many had high hopes that this could signal a change in direction for the agency—unfortunately, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler appears headed down the same wrong-headed path.

With the standards on the cusp of being rolled back, I thought it would be helpful to put into context exactly what is at stake.  The technology is here to move industry and the country forward while providing consumers with tremendous savings, increasing jobs and economic growth, improving national security, and reducing environmental impacts of the largest source of global warming emissions in the country—Acting Administrator Wheeler should be siding with the science to protect those gains, and moving us forward towards even stronger standards beyond 2025.

The current fuel economy and global warming emissions standards have helped “bend the curve” on emissions from cars and trucks, but they are not sufficient to hit our climate goals. The current administration’s push to roll back these rules is a huge step backwards precisely when we should be moving forward on even stronger standards.

Rolling back vehicle standards: by the numbers

We cranked the numbers on what this rollback would mean, together with their threat to void state regulations on vehicle emissions, and it is truly staggering:

  • Rolling back these standards will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online.
  • These inefficient cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010.
  • This will cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back.
And it’s even worse than that!

There are, of course, additional impacts that we have not yet directly quantified.  For example, automotive suppliers provide about two-thirds of the value of a new vehicle, and they’ve invested in the long-term to reduce fuel use—rolling back these standards will mean reduced returns on that investment, likely prompting some of these global companies to move their R&D facilities to the countries still charting a course forward, like China and the European Union.  Combined with consumers’ reduced discretionary spending, which means less money in job-intensive sectors like the service industry and retail, this action will result in job losses and shrinking economic growth. The current 2017-2025 standards are slated to create more than 250,000 jobs nationwide by 2035 and increase GDP by $16 billion—President Trump’s action could cut that growth in half.

By going after state authority to set emissions standards, the administration would also be fighting against one of the strongest levers California and other states have on public health.  Electrification of transportation is a key component of many state plans to meet air quality requirements.  Attacking state leadership on cleaner vehicles is a direct attack on public health, particularly that of the most vulnerable communities.

The only clear winners of this rollback would be the oil companies—with consumers forking over more of their hard-earned money for every fill-up.

Photo: NeONBRAND/Unsplash

Electric vs. Diesel vs. Natural Gas: Which Bus is Best for the Climate?

Map of the United States showing the fuel efficiency that a diesel bus would need to have the same life cycle global warming emissions as a battery electric bus in each region.

Battery electric buses – the people’s electric vehicle – are becoming more and more common. An increasing number of transit agencies – large and small – are making announcements about purchasing electric buses and putting them into operation.

The obvious benefit of electric buses is that they don’t have any tailpipe emissions. A question we often get at UCS is, “What about emissions used to generate electricity for electric vehicles?”

We answered this for buses charged on California’s grid and found that battery electric buses had 70 percent lower global warming emissions than a diesel or natural gas bus (it’s gotten even better since that analysis). So what about the rest of the country?

You many have seen my colleagues’ work answering this question for cars. We performed a similar life cycle analysis for buses and found that battery electric buses have lower global warming emissions than diesel and natural gas buses everywhere in the country.

What the map shows

The map above shows the miles per gallon that a diesel bus would need to have equivalent life cycle global warming emissions as a battery electric bus on today’s grid (really the 2016 grid, the most recent data available).

This means a battery electric bus operated in North Carolina, for example, has the same life cycle global warming emissions as a diesel bus that gets nearly 15 miles per gallon! That’s impressive considering a comparable diesel bus actually gets 4.8 miles per gallon. So, you can operate three electric buses in North Carolina and have the same emissions as a single diesel bus.

Electric buses are better for the climate than diesel buses everywhere in the country

Battery electric buses range from 1.4 to 7.7 times better than a diesel bus, as shown in miles per gallon emissions-equivalency. Another way of saying this is that a diesel bus has nearly 1½ to 8 times the global warming emissions as an electric bus, depending on the region.

And the grid is getting cleaner every year. Emission rates from electricity have steadily declined the last sixteen years. Transit agencies can also choose cleaner power than what’s provided on their grids by installing solar panels and batteries on site or through renewable electricity contracts.

Charged with the national electricity mix, a battery electric bus has global warming emissions equivalent to a diesel bus getting 12 miles per gallon. This is 2.5 times better than an actual diesel bus (4.8 miles per gallon).

They’re also better than natural gas and diesel-hybrid buses

Everywhere in the country, battery electric buses also have lower life cycle global warming emissions than natural gas and diesel-hybrid buses. Charged with the national electricity mix, an electric bus produces 1,078 grams CO2e per mile, while a natural gas bus produces 2,364 grams CO2e per mile and a diesel-hybrid produces 2,212 grams CO2e per mile.

(Note, values for CO2e per mile reflect the same analysis as the miles per gallon emissions-equivalent values shown in the map, just presented in different units).

Chart showing global warming emissions per mile for diesel, natural gas, diesel-hybrid, and battery electric buses.

Natural gas buses have 12 percent lower global warming emissions than diesel buses.* Electric bus emissions range from 29 to 87 percent lower than diesel buses and 19 to 85 percent lower than natural gas buses.

Here’s a table showing the life cycle global warming emissions per mile from electric buses in all regions of the US.

Table showing the global warming emissions per mile of electric buses charged in different regions of the country.

Click to enlarge.

 

 Cleaner electricity means cleaner electric buses

In upstate New York, the region with the lowest carbon grid in the country (roughly 30 percent hydropower, 30 percent nuclear, 30 percent natural gas), a battery electric bus has nearly 90 percent lower global warming emissions than a diesel bus.

A battery electric bus charged in upstate New York even has lower life cycle emissions than the average passenger vehicle on the road (new and old combined)! An electric bus charged there produces about 350 grams carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per mile, while the average gasoline car/SUV in the US is responsible for 500 grams CO2e per mile.**

Other grid regions (California, Alaska, New England, and the Pacific Northwest) aren’t too far off at about 650 grams CO2e per mile, without even accounting for the fact that a bus can carry a lot more people than a car.

The time is right to get more electric buses on the road

With zero-tailpipe emissions and low life cycle global warming emissions, battery electric transit buses offer significant local air quality and climate benefits. The more of these buses that are deployed the better. Encourage your local transit agency to begin exploring electric buses, if they haven’t already. Also encourage your state and federal representatives to provide incentive funding to help get these clean vehicles on the road.

 

Methods Life cycle emission data and models

Life cycle global warming emissions for battery electric buses include those from generating electricity and extracting, processing, and transporting the fuels used to generate electricity. These emissions were compared to the life cycle emissions of diesel and natural gas buses, which include tailpipe emissions and emissions from extracting, refining, and transporting the oil and natural gas.

Emissions from electricity generation are from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s eGRID 2016 database, reflecting emissions from calendar year 2016. Emission rates include transmission losses associated with delivering electricity, roughly 5 percent, depending on the region.

Emissions from extracting, processing, and transporting the fuels used to generate electricity, diesel, and natural gas were determined using Argonne National Laboratory’s GREET 2017 model. This model was also used to determine the tailpipe emissions from diesel and natural gas vehicles.

Methane emissions and global warming potential

Life cycle emissions from natural gas vehicles depend greatly on the extent of methane leaks throughout the fuel’s life cycle and the global warming potential used for methane. Our analysis uses conservative estimates for both, including global warming potentials over a 100-year period from the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report. Using higher, yet justifiable, assumptions for methane leaks and its global warming potential, the global warming emissions of natural gas buses can change from 12 percent less than diesel (as used in this study) to 20 percent greater than diesel.

Fuel efficiency

A New Flyer Xcelsior battery electric bus.

The bus manufacturer New Flyer makes the same bus (40-foot Xcelsior) in diesel, diesel-hybrid, natural gas, and battery electric versions. These buses have undergone testing by the Federal Transit Agency, allowing for comparison of fuel efficiencies across vehicle type and over the same test conditions.

Fuel efficiencies used in this analysis were as follows: diesel bus: 4.82 miles per diesel gallon; diesel-hybrid bus: 5.84 miles per diesel gallon; natural gas bus: 4.47 miles per diesel gallon equivalent; and battery electric bus: 2.02 kWh per mile, which accounts for a 90 percent charging efficiency.

The on-road fuel efficiency of any bus will depend on the specific route, including the vehicle’s speed, number of stops, and terrain; passenger load; auxiliary uses of energy, e.g. air conditioners or heaters; and the inherent efficiency of the engine or electric motor, which varies by manufacturer.

Standardized testing of the New Flyer buses shows that electric buses are four times more energy efficient than natural gas buses. In contrast, a study of electric and natural gas buses operated on the same routes by Foothill Transit in Southern California showed electric buses had eight times better fuel efficiency.

Note, converting the fuel efficiency of the electric bus (i.e., 2.02 kWh per mile) into an equivalent miles per diesel gallon (using the amount of energy contained in a gallon of diesel, 129,488 British thermal units per gallon), gives an equivalent fuel efficiency of the battery electric bus of 18.8 miles per diesel gallon equivalent.

Comparing this fuel efficiency to a diesel bus reflects only how much energy the two vehicles use over the course of a mile. The MPG numbers shown in the map above go several steps further and include upstream emissions, which is why we refer to them as “the equivalent life cycle global warming emissions from a diesel bus with X miles per gallon efficiency.” A mouthful, but a critical distinction.

Fuel efficiency is representative of global warming emissions if you’re talking about the same type of vehicle using the same type of fuel, e.g., comparing a diesel bus made by company X to a diesel bus made by company Y. But, if you want to compare two different types of vehicles, e.g. a battery electric bus and a diesel bus, the upstream emissions associated with the fuel or electricity production need to be accounted for, as reflected in the values on the map.

* This result is similar to the finding that natural gas buses have just 9 percent lower global warming emissions than diesel buses in our previous analysis, which was specific to California.

** This result makes use of our life cycle emissions analysis for passenger vehicles and the average fuel efficiency of these vehicles on the road.

 

Photo credit: MJW15 CC BY-SA 4.0

Watching Wheeler: 9 Critical Actions the New EPA Chief Should Take

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Photo: Alamy

The people’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new leader. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler took the helm of the agency on July 9 following the resignation of Scott Pruitt. And now Wheeler has the opportunity to move past his predecessor’s scandals and return the agency to its science-based mission of protecting human health and the environment.

Like many other Trump administration department and agency heads, Mr. Wheeler is there to implement President Trump’s anti-regulatory, industry-first agenda—and he has clearly indicated his intention to do so. Yet in his address last week to a whipsawed and often demoralized EPA staff, he also acknowledged the agency’s “collective goal of protecting public health and the environment on behalf of the American people.”

If Wheeler is truly sincere about returning the EPA to its core mission, here are nine critical actions he will need to take to achieve that goal.

1. Abandon efforts to restrict the agency from using the best available science to protect public health

Former Administrator Pruitt pushed forward a dangerous proposal that would effectively restrict the types of science that can be used in policymaking. Under this proposal to restrict science, the EPA would be unable to use a range of public health research that relies on personal medical records and other information that must be kept confidential to protect individual and patient privacy rights.

Developed by political appointees with no input from scientific organizations, the proposal is a key part of the administration’s real goal: weaken air pollution rules that protect the quality of the air we breathe.

There is not a single mainstream scientific organization that supports the proposalPublic health organizations and experts have expressed significant concern about it. Dozens of scientists and advocates testified against the proposal at a public hearing in Washington, D.C. on July 17.

If the new acting administrator is serious about listening to science and scientists and to protecting public health, he will immediately withdraw the proposal to restrict science at the EPA.

2. Halt rollbacks of vehicle standards and close the “glider” truck loophole

The evidence is clear. Efficiency and emissions standards for vehicles are working, across the country, to cut emissions that impact our health, while saving families money at the pump. But former Administrator Pruitt willfully ignored the evidence, disavowing years of work by his own agency, and declared his intention to roll back these standards and effectively end the progress we’ve made on delivering cleaner cars of every size.

The administration has not yet issued a new proposed rule, which gives Wheeler the opportunity to listen to the evidence and change course. A growing number of states support strong standards, and we have the technology to continue to improve efficiency and cut emissions in a cost-effective way. Wheeler should halt efforts to roll back these successful standards.

In addition, Scott Pruitt’s final action in office was to announce that the agency would not enforce pollution rules for “glider” trucks, which often use higher-polluting older engines. The EPA’s own research shows that closing the loophole that allowed glider trucks to use old engines would save 1,600 lives every year by cutting dangerous pollution. The choice is clear: Mr. Wheeler must keep enforcing rules that keep high-pollution “glider” trucks from endangering hundreds of lives every year.

3. Improve transparency

In his address to EPA staff last week, Wheeler vowed to be more transparent about his actions than his predecessor. But to greatly improve transparency at the agency, he will need to go beyond ditching Scott Pruitt’s soundproof booth, unlocking access to the administrator’s office area, and making his public calendar actually public (some of which is now online). It will mean allowing reporters full and unfettered access to EPA scientists; affirming the rights of scientists to communicate the science publicly without first asking for permission; and fully complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

It also means fully detailing how the many political appointees with current or former financial ties to industries that the EPA regulates—including Wheeler himself—will recuse themselves from decisions that affect their former employers and clients.

4. Support the facts on climate change

Unlike his predecessor, Wheeler acknowledged the facts on climate change in a recent interview, saying that “I do believe climate change is real. I do believe that people have an impact on the climate.”

That is encouraging to hear. But Wheeler should show leadership by more clearly and frequently articulating the urgent need to cut carbon emissions to limit the harmful effects of climate change, as well as highlighting the key role his agency must play in that effort.

To address the growing threat of climate change, the EPA can and should set strong standards to cut heat-trapping emissions from the power sector, the transportation sector, and from industrial sources.  To support those efforts, it is also essential that Wheeler restores science to its rightful place at the EPA and removes all implicit or explicit barriers for staff working on issues related to climate change.

Last week, Wheeler noted the importance of communicating risks and related information to communities and the public, including the need to improve risk communication to lower income communities that are often most impacted by environmental threats. It is critical that his clearly articulated priority on risk communication also extends to the science, the risks, and the impacts of climate change to public health and the environment.  An easy first step would be restoring the web pages on climate change that were taken down or buried on the EPA website under his predecessor.

5. Stop efforts to weaken and delay the Clean Power Plan

Under Pruitt, the EPA began efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan—the nation’s first-ever standards to limit power plant carbon emissions—and replace it with a substantially weaker standard.  

It makes no sense to turn back the clock on the nation’s transition to clean energy, especially when the nation is facing worsening climate impacts—including flooding, heat waves, and wildfires—and the renewable energy industry is providing one of the fastest-growing sources of employment. What’s more, cutting carbon emissions from power plants will also decrease air and water pollution, which will bring significant public health benefits to communities around the country. 

Mr. Wheeler must know that, despite the administration’s claims, undoing the Clean Power Plan will not bring back coal. Indeed, a recent analysis shows that many operating coal units in the country are increasingly uneconomic relative to cleaner generation sources. If the administration truly cared about coal miners and coal communities, it would work with Congress to pass legislation to help with transition assistance, worker training, and the creation of new economic opportunities in these communities. 

Wheeler knows that the EPA is legally bound to act to limit carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act because they are a threat to public health. Rather than looking for ways to limit EPA’s role in addressing climate change, as he has indicated in recent interviews, he needs to make good on the agency’s legal obligations and deliver a strong power plant carbon standard without delay.  

6. Acknowledge and account for the health benefits of improved air and water quality

The EPA recently issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking signaling its plan to substantially change the way the agency accounts for the benefits of pollution standards that improve public health.

The proposed rule would essentially use a deceptive approach that reduces or eliminates the way these substantial health benefits are accounted for in formulating new policies. And then use that as a back-door way to weaken rules that protect air and water quality. For example, the EPA’s 2017 proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan used this type of crooked math to artificially lower the benefits of the pollution reductions that the standard would have brought. In particular, the EPA failed to account for the fact that actions to cut carbon emissions also pay large dividends by reducing other forms of harmful pollution like soot and smog.

If implemented, this proposed rule would have far-reaching consequences for the public’s health and well-being. Wheeler should halt this blatant attempt to fudge the numbers at the expense of the public’s health.

7. Require chemical companies to tell communities and first responders about the potential risks they face

 In early 2017, the EPA finalized changes to the Risk Management Program that would have provided the public and our nation’s first responders with more information about hazardous chemicals at industrial facilities in their neighborhoods. Beyond supporting and advancing the agency’s community-right-to-know responsibilities, providing this information is just plain common sense for planning and preparing.

Under Pruitt, the EPA delayed implementation of these changes and then proposed a new rule that would roll back these improvements. In his speech to agency staff, Wheeler said that he wanted to improve risk communication, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. Reversing course on this rollback will demonstrate his sincerity, his leadership, and his willingness to put public health and safety ahead of chemical industry pushback.

8. Work with independent stakeholders

To ensure the EPA is upholding its fundamental mission to protect human health and the environment, the agency must be informed by the best available science and ensure that the well-being of communities affected by pollution are prioritized.

Wheeler’s predecessor, however, focused almost exclusively on engaging with business interests. He failed to engage with other stakeholders, including scientists and affected communities. Regulated industries are important stakeholders as well, but is it in the best interests of public health and the health of our economy for the EPA’s decisions to be informed almost exclusively by this narrow perspective? I don’t think so.

To ensure a broader airing of perspectives, issues, and concerns, Wheeler should commit to engaging with a wider set of stakeholders. This includes scientists with relevant expertise, environmental justice and other community groups, and public health professionals. Wheeler must elevate the mission of the agency above the interests of the regulated of industry groups. It also means rescinding a ban on science advice from the very scientists whose work the EPA has found most promising.

Wheeler must also provide adequate opportunities for public hearings and comments—and clearly demonstrate his commitment to serving the American public first and foremost.

9. Fight to protect and increase the budget of the EPA so it has the resources needed to do its job

President Trump and former Administrator Pruitt repeatedly proposed sweeping budget cuts to the EPA, threatening the ability of the agency to carry out its mission. In 2017, President Trump and then-Administrator Pruitt proposed cutting the spending by nearly a third, which would have taken the agency to the lowest level in 40 years. The administration followed up in 2018 with proposed budget cuts of over 25%.

These proposed cuts—which Congress ultimately rejected—would have had severe implications for the health and safety of the American public. As just one example, as I’ve written about before, such budget cuts would have gutted EPA clean air programs that allow EPA staff to monitor air quality levels, estimate population exposure to air pollutants, and provide tools and guidance to states that help ensure that Americans can breathe clean air.

The EPA needs a leader who sees the critical value of the work and the staff of the agency and will fight to protect—and actually increase—its budget so that the agency can carry out its mission and protect the health and safety of the American public. It makes no sense to hobble the agency’s ability to deal with current threats, let alone anticipate and plan for the future risks which are sure to come.

Waiting…and watching

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be watching how Wheeler lives into his new role. Will he take the steps needed to put human health and the environment first and foremost in agency policy and decision-making? Will he stand up and ensure that the agency is guided by independent, unconflicted science in what it does and what it says? Will he restore agency morale—and integrity, trust, and credibility in the eyes of the public he is duty-bound to protect?

While the Trump administration’s track record gives us ample reason to be skeptical, Wheeler now has the opportunity to put duty to the public and to the country first.

There will be ample opportunities to encourage and insist that he do so in the months ahead. And we will be there with you to hold him accountable for his actions.

VW Settlement: A Needed Jolt for Electric Trucks and Buses, But More Is Needed

It has been nearly three years since the Volkswagen diesel scandal first broke. Since then, a handful of settlements have been reached, one of which provides states funding to offset the extra nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution emitted by defective Volkswagens.

A dozen states have recently finalized such funding plans and others are taking public comment on draft plans. These plans offset a majority of the pollution by providing financial incentives for the purchase of clean trucks and buses.

And rightfully so. Trucks and buses make up a small fraction of vehicles on the road (7 percent), but a disproportionately large fraction of emissions. In fifteen states, heavy-duty vehicles make up the largest source of NOx emissions from the transportation sector, despite being significantly outnumbered by cars.

For many states, the Volkswagen settlement likely represents their largest single investment in clean technologies for heavy-duty vehicles. Combined with the allure of a scandal, there’s a deserved buzz about these spending plans.

As news around the Volkswagen settlements continues, there’s two important things to keep in mind: (1) this settlement is only a fraction of the incentive funding we need to spur the deployment of electric trucks and buses, and (2) if history is our guide, incentives are only part of the equation. Solutions to global warming and air pollution ultimately rest on large scale market shifts in response to plans, commitments, and standards, such as vehicle fuel efficiency standards and renewable electricity standards.

Righting the wrongs of the Volkswagen diesel scandal

If you haven’t followed the Volkswagen diesel scandal, here’s a quick recap: In 2015, Volkswagen (and its subsidiary Audi) admitted to intentionally cheating on emissions tests affecting 580,000 diesel cars sold in the United States since 2009. The cars’ emissions of NOx (a precursor to ground level ozone, aka smog) are a head-shaking 10 to 40 times higher than what’s allowed under law.

Settlements were reached between the California Air Resources Board (which led the investigation against Volkswagen), the US EPA, and Volkswagen requiring the company to (1) buy back or fix the polluting vehicles (estimated at $10 billion); (2) invest in charging infrastructure and consumer education for electric vehicles ($2 billion); and (3) provide funding to states and tribes to offset the extra pollution emitted by the cars ($2.9 billion).*

States are taking public comment on plans to offset pollution from Volkswagens

Actions eligible to offset pollution include replacing old trucks, buses, and freight equipment. Up to 15 percent of a state’s plan can also be used for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen fueling stations.

States have discretion as to which types of vehicles and equipment to invest in, whether zero-emission battery and fuel cell technologies or combustion technologies. Importantly, plans must consider how the investments can benefit communities that bear a disproportionate share of air pollution.

A dozen states have already approved Volkswagen mitigation plans

Plans from Wyoming, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maine, Utah, and Wisconsin remain broad, with many types of trucks and buses eligible for funding. In these cases, important decisions will come as the funding is awarded to specific applicants.

Other states’ plans have provided more details. Georgia’s focuses exclusively on electric shuttle buses at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and new buses for the XpressGA commuter service. Minnesota’s plan uses a phased approach, evaluating its funding priorities over time. Arizona’s plan focuses exclusively on public fleet vehicles, with most funding going towards school buses. Oregon’s plan only allows funding for school buses but, unfortunately, caps funding at $50,000 per vehicle. This amount is likely not enough to encourage school districts to buy electric buses, which are the best option for children’s health.

California recently approved the largest Volkswagen mitigation plan

As the state with the largest number of defective Volkswagens, California will receive the largest amount of funding to offset the vehicles’ pollution ($423 million). California’s recently approved plan provides the strongest signal amongst states’ plans for electrification, directing $300 million towards zero-emission buses, trucks, and equipment. More than 50 percent of California’s plan will benefit low-income or disadvantaged communities.

California’s plan strikes an appropriate balance, with significant funding going towards the cleanest (zero-emission) technologies and a more measured amount ($60 million) for combustion vehicles and equipment in categories where zero-emission technology is less developed. This combination of investments is expected to more than offset the Volkswagen pollution. UCS joined many other groups across the state in supporting California’s plan.

Table showing allocations of investments in California's Volkswagen environmental mitigation funding plan

Putting the Volkswagen settlement into perspective

As large of a windfall as the $2.9 billion Volkswagen settlement is, it won’t be enough to meet our clean air and climate goals. In fact, its primary intention is to offset just the emissions from Volkswagen cars that were above the legal limit. But to meet our air quality and climate goals, we have to reduce a lot more pollution than from 580,000 Volkswagens.

State budgets: less flashy, but equally important investments

Last week, an even larger commitment to clean vehicles continued with passage of California’s annual budget and allocation of the state’s cap and trade revenues. State budgets don’t have the same intrigue or news hook of an emissions scandal, but represent opportunities for the sustained investments needed to achieve our climate and air quality goals.

While the recently approved budget for low carbon transportation ($467 million) is lower than the current year’s funding ($560 million), California has quietly invested $1.2 billion in clean vehicles over the last five years. These investments are much larger than the state’s share of the Volkswagen environmental mitigation settlement ($423 million), which will be spread out over the next few years.

California’s funding for low carbon transportation has supported everything from electric car rebates (on top of the federal tax credit) to vouchers for electric trucks and buses. Demand for the incentive funding has often exceeded the supply, indicating consumers and fleet owners are more than ready to adopt clean vehicles.

Electric truck and bus support is limited beyond California

While fourteen states provide purchase incentives for electric cars, only New York offers incentives comparable to California’s for electric trucks and buses, but from a smaller overall pot of funding ($19 million in New York vs. $180 million in California this year).

Utah and Colorado offer a tax credit for heavy-duty electric vehicles, but the credits are capped at $20,000, which doesn’t offset much of the additional cost of an electric truck. Georgia used to have a similar tax credit, but it expired.

For comparison, California and New York’s rebates are roughly $100,000 per truck or bus, depending on the size and type of the vehicle. And the rebate structure is much better for fleets, allowing the savings to be had upfront, rather than waiting for a tax credit several months later.

Federal support for heavy-duty electric vehicles has also been limited to a relatively small amount of funding for transit buses and airport shuttle buses. This is in contrast to the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric cars, which has been critical to uptake of these vehicles. Electric trucks and buses need similar incentives to spur widespread adoption.

The Volkswagen settlement could be a catalyst

While investments from the Volkswagen settlement are only a start in reaching the number of electric trucks and buses we need on the roads, they may prove critical in demonstrating the market readiness and benefits of these vehicles to justify additional investments. The availability of electric trucks and buses is increasing rapidly and public policy must keep up with these advances.

* Two other settlements – for $4.3 billion – addressed Volkswagen’s criminal and civil penalties for cheating on emissions tests and lying about cheating.

Three Revolutions and the Future of Cars: An Interview with Dr. Dan Sperling

There are a number of benefits we can expect to see with the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs), including more convenient transportation. One possible consequence resulting from this would be an increase in the number of miles that people drive, creating more vehicle pollution. To avoid this outcome, experts like Dr. Dan Sperling* from the University of California, Davis, are stressing the need to incentivize low-carbon vehicles (like electric cars) and an increased number of passengers per trip (sometimes called sharing or pooling).

My colleague Abby Figueroa sat down with Dr. Sperling to discuss the future of transportation and his book Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future.

I extracted some key excerpts from the interview. You can listen to the complete interview here:

Abby Figueroa (AF):  So you have a book that you’ve wrote recently, “Three Revolutions” where you talk about what needs to happen next in transportation. Let’s talk about those three revolutions. Let’s start with the first one, electric vehicles. What’s going on with electric vehicles these days?

Dr. Daniel Sperling, Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, and founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis (ITS-Davis).

Dan Sperling (DS): Well, electric vehicles is a fascinating topic that I’ve spent many years on. And now as was mentioned earlier, I’m a board member for the California Air Resources Board. So California is fighting with the Trump administration over electric vehicle rules but electric vehicles are here to…not only here to stay, they’re going to dominate. There’s almost no question about it. Every car company in the world has made a major investment. They’ve got the technology, they’ve got the supply chains, they’re really just waiting for policy to really push them and consumers to start buying them. But they’re ready to go. And they’ve got the technology. So it’s really a question of how intent are we as a society in making it happen. Certainly in California, we’re really committed and we’re going to see massive introduction of electric vehicles in the coming years.

[…]

AF: So electric vehicles is the first revolution that needs to happen in transportation so that we can start reaping the benefits of reduced carbon emissions and better safety and less pollution. The second revolution you talk about in your book is automation, self-driving cars. Tell us a little bit about what’s going on in that world right now. How close are we to self-driving cars becoming a reality?

DS: Well, automation also is inevitable. It’s definitely going to happen, there’s almost no question. In this case, not just the automotive industry, but many other related companies, all the high-tech software companies, Silicon Valley companies, Google, are all making huge investments. So automation is definitely going to happen. In fact, our cars already are partly automated. Today, you can get some cars that will drive themselves on freeways right now, the Tesla, Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes.

[…]

AF: The car companies are racing forward with the technology. And the legislators and the cities are racing to try to keep up with the policies. And I think with reason people are excited and some folks are feeling more cautious and wary of it all. What’s the future looking like once we have these automation, these self-driving cars on the roads? How does that change our commute and the way we get around our communities?

DS: Well, the automated vehicles could play out in two different ways. They could be just basically superimposed on our current transportation system. In other words, we now go out and we buy our own car so now we would just go out and buy our own automated car. And so it would be the same except that it would be automated. If that were the case, that is what leads to what we sometimes call, the hell scenario…

AF: The dream or the nightmare that you called it in your book…

DS: In my book I call it, The Nightmare Scenario. And that’s because if you have an automated car, you can spend time in that car doing anything you want. You can eat, sleep, tweet, text, it can be your office. It can be your hotel room. And so you’re going to be much more willing to take long trips because you don’t mind so much being in the car. And it won’t be just being in the car more, cars will be empty part of the time. You go to a meeting, you don’t know quite when you’re gonna get out, you don’t wanna pay for parking, you just have the car circle around the block. You know, we refer to single-occupant vehicles, we’re going to have zero occupant vehicles, you know, zombie cars.

AF: That would be the nightmare scenario. That’s worse than the parking lots full of cars. It’s just cars roaming on the road with no one in them.

DS: So the other way it can play out, and that’s what we call the Heaven scenario, the dream scenario, is that these vehicles are used mostly or even totally as a mobility service, as a pooling service, meaning you take Lyft line or Uber pool and some other micro-transit companies like Via or Chariot. And you automate it and now you get rid of your cars, you don’t own cars anymore. And you just hit that button, car comes, takes you where you wanna go.

AF: Is there someone in the car with us?

DS: There’s no one in the car. And the cost is really cheap because you don’t have the driver, the automation won’t cost that much and the car will get really cheap because it’s being used so efficiently. Right now, our cars, they sit 95% of the time on average. Now we’re gonna use it 12 hours, 15 hours, 18 hours.

AF: Much more efficient.

DS: Much more efficient, so we won’t need as many. And because people are gonna pool in it, you know, there are multiple people in these cars. And these cars might not be cars like we know them now, they could get a little bigger, be more like a van, small vans. You know, probably there’ll be a differentiation of service, some people will want a more exclusive service and pay more, but the point of this is, that if we do have this pooling, that is by far the best strategy we can imagine to create a sustainable transportation system.

Because it’s cheaper, it requires less road space, less parking space, it provides more accessibility to more people, low income, physically disadvantaged, disabled.

[…]

AF: So of the three revolutions, electrification, automation/self-driving, and pooling, which one or which combination of those three are the ones that can have the best impact on our carbon emissions, the best positive climate impact?

DS: Well, if we had all electric vehicles, that would probably be the best for just reducing greenhouse gases, because there you can get, as we decarbonize our electricity system, we’re talking about a 80%, 90% reduction in greenhouse gases.

AF: And transportation is the leading cause or source of emission right now. So that’s the huge…

DS: In California, it’s over 40% of the total and nationally it’s over 30%. That’s right. So electric vehicles, if you just looked at it carbon, then electric vehicles is necessary. It’s kind of like given you have to do that. The rest of this, the pooling combined with the automation can help us reduce vehicle use. So then we can knock off another 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%.

AF: So electrification makes cars cleaner. And automation and pooling takes cars off the road.

DS: Yes.

AF: So those two things combined will help our carbon emissions again.

DS: Yeah, maybe a better way of saying it is it reduces vehicle miles traveled. It reduces vehicle use. So we’ll have less vehicles around because there’s more people in each vehicle.

AF: And they’re being more efficient. The cars aren’t parked 95% of the time.

DS: Exactly.

AF: Got it. So all the three revolutions really are interconnected, if we are to get to this dream scenario?

DS: Yes.

 

* Dr. Daniel Sperling is Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, and founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis (ITS-Davis). He holds the transportation seat on the California Air Resources Board and served as Chair of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies in 2015-16.  Among his many prizes are the 2013 Blue Planet Prize from the Asahi Glass Foundation Prize for being “a pioneer in opening up new fields of study to create more efficient, low-carbon, and environmentally beneficial transportation systems.” He served twice as lead author for the IPCC (sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize), has testified 7 times to the US Congress, authored or co-authored over 250 technical papers and 12 books, including Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future (Island Press, 2018), is widely cited in leading newspapers, been interviewed many times on NPR radio, including Science Friday, Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air, and in 2009 was featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Grendelkhan /Wikimedia Commons

Court Says Agency Can’t Indefinitely Delay Implementation of Obama-era Rules

Photo: Allen and Allen (allenandallen.com)/Flickr

Here is a beacon of good news to temporarily brighten your dark and stormy social media feeds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down an attempt by the Trump Administration to indefinitely delay a rule that was set to increase the fines automakers must pay for failing to meet fuel economy targets. Though Elaine Chao and the Department of Transportation have already begun a rulemaking to rollback the fine increase that was finalized during the last days of the Obama Administration, at least they now cannot indefinitely delay the effectiveness of the rule while they go through the rigmarole of rolling it back.

How did we get here: A brief history of CAFE fines and penalties

Get your waders on and join me in the weeds of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard, a regulation administrated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and not to be confused with, though inextricably linked to, the EPA rules that govern tailpipe emissions.

CAFE was created by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which required NHTSA to set a penalty for automakers who fail to meet any federal fuel economy target. When EPCA became law in 1975, the CAFE penalty was set at $5.00 per tenth of an mpg per vehicle sold. Though Congress passed a law in 1990 requiring federal agencies to adjust civil penalties for inflation, NHTSA updated these fines just once, in 1997, up to just $5.50. This 50-cent increase was far short of what the fine should have been if it was truly adjusted inflation. According to the Department of Labor, $5.00 in January 1975 actually had the same buying power as $15.27 in January 1997.

In 2015 Congress updated its Inflation Adjustment Act to prevent agencies like NHTSA from setting artificially low penalties. In response, NHTSA (under President Obama) recalculated CAFE fines based on a formula laid out by Congress and set a new penalty of $14.00 per tenth of an mpg per vehicle. This recalculation was slated to go into effect for model year 2019 vehicles, and was finalized on December 28, 2016 – just 2 working days before President Trump and his cadre of regulation-slashing cabinet members and agency administrators took office.

Here is what President Trump is trying to do to reduce CAFE fines and penalties

In late January 2017, NHSTA published a series of rulemakings that delayed the effective date of the penalty increase – first for 60 days, then for 90 more days, then another 14 days, and finally, in July 2017, indefinitely while the agency reconsidered the penalty increase via a separate rulemaking. The decision to indefinitely delay the penalty increase was then challenged in the Second Circuit by a host of advocacy organizations and several states attorneys general. The two major trade groups representing automakers also joined the suit on the side of the government, who argued that federal agencies have an inherent authority to indefinitely delay a rule while it is being reconsidered. A panel of three judges (two of whom were appointed by a Republican president) disagreed.

This ruling may do nothing to incentivize automakers to improve fuel economy improvements

I know this is a good news post, but I do need to sprinkle in some bad news. The bad news is that NHTSA is moving forward with another rulemaking that will flatline the CAFE penalty at $5.50 per tenth of a mpg per vehicle – effectively rolling back the penalty increase that the Obama Admin worked to put in place. In that rulemaking, NHTSA argues that the CAFE penalty is not a “civil monetary penalty” as defined in the law requiring agencies to adjust penalties for inflation, and therefore does not need to be adjusted. I can’t wait for a court to get involved in these semantics if (when) this rule is challenged.

But this ruling could help other courts rule against the Trump Administration

On the one hand, the Second Circuit ruling on the indefinite delay rule may do nothing to incentivize automakers to meet fuel economy targets, since the penalty for missing mpg targets will likely be flatlined anyway. On the other hand, the finding that federal agencies cannot indefinitely delay a rule while it is pending reconsideration is a holding that could be applicable in other ongoing lawsuits and may become a major thorn in the side of President Trump’s rollback agenda – especially if other federal circuits agree with the Second Circuit here.

For example, UCS is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging an attempt by the EPA to effectively indefinitely delay standards designed to prevent accidents at facilities that use or store hazardous chemicals. This case resides in the D.C. Court of Appeals, who may now look to the Second Circuit in determining whether EPA exceeded its statutory authority when indefinitely delaying a rule. You better believe our attorneys at Earthjustice sent the Second Circuit opinion on the CAFE penalties to the D.C. Court of Appeals, who is expected to issue a final ruling on the Trump Admin’s decision to delay the effectiveness of chemical safety standards in the next several months.

More broadly, the Trump Administration’s M.O is to first delay the effective date of Obama-era rules – sometimes for months, other times indefinitely – and then roll them back. If the courts agree that an indefinite delay of a rule is inappropriate, this Second Circuit decision becomes a strong piece of judicial opinion (aka jurisprudence) for future challenges to President Trump’s attempt to erode public health and economic protections across all federal agencies.

 

Explaining Land Use Implications of Autonomous Vehicles: Meet Dr. Jonathan Levine

Aerial view of urban sprawl in Nevada.Urban sprawl in Nevada. Photo by USDA NRCS

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will change more than our streets, and over time could change the structure of cities, towns and neighborhoods.  As explained in our policy brief Maximizing the Benefits of Self-Driving Vehicles, “self-driving vehicles could increase the use of personal vehicles, exacerbating sprawl, congestion, and pollution. Alternatively, the use of self-driving vehicles predominately for shared rides could reduce the need for parking and expansion of roads, creating the potential to repurpose public space for uses such as businesses, green space, and walking and bicycling infrastructure.”

Meet Jonathan Levine, a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan whose research focuses on the intersection of transportation and and land-use policy.

How AVs and other changes in transportation affect sprawl will depend on policies regarding land use. Why is land use policy important in realizing a positive role for AVs in a clean transportation future? Meet Jonathan Levine*, a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Dr. Levine’s research centers on the potential and rationales for policy reform in transportation and land use. He is also interested in the design of institutions for emerging transportation systems – which may be based in large measure on self-driving electric vehicles – to serve metropolitan-accessibility goals.

I had the opportunity to meet Professor Levine as both of us served on the Policy and Social Justice Panel at the U.S Department of Transportation Center for Connected and Automated Transportation’s Global Symposium on Connected and Automated Transportation and Infrastructure in March 2018. I asked him about the importance of land use considerations as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent on American roadways.

RCE: There is a lot of speculation not as to if, but when self-driving vehicle technology is coming.  People are talking about what changes this technology will bring to vehicles and our transportation choices, but your work takes a broader view, including land use.  Can you explain briefly what you mean by land use, and why this is an important element of transportation systems?

JL: Land use is the question of what happens and where across a metropolitan area.  Land-use patterns can be concentrated or spread out, centralized or decentralized, and mixed- or single-use.  The purpose of transportation is not movement per se, but access, or the ability to reach destinations.  Thinking of it in this way, an assessment of the quality of service provided by transportation systems must consider both the speed of movement and the location of destinations.

RCE: What are the potential pitfalls if we do not address land use concerns?

JL: In general, if we do not address land use, there will be an ultimate impediment to access to transportation for consumers and constituents. Two examples of this impediment include parking and zoning. In many cities, when a new residential or commercial building is constructed, there must be a minimum number of parking spots attached. This requirement of parking increases housing costs in the area. Furthermore, when zoning laws encourage low density development, that density is eventually capped and cannot increase.  Both pre-existing land-use policies would impede development of a customer and constituent base.

RCE: What are some of the benefits we could see if we get changes in land use right? How do AVs play into making these easier or harder to achieve?

JL: Policy is important in achieving positive outcomes regarding land use. Too often in history, leaps in technology in the transportation system led to increases in the footprint of cities. What AVs could potentially do is encourage infill development in the cities, reducing their outward expansion making their per-capita environmental footprints smaller. The benefits are not restricted to cities; employing AVs to operate in coordination with public transit to encourage transit-oriented development can make suburbs more attractive to live in.

RCE: Here in the Washington DC metro area, we have what some call the “East-West divide,” where much of the region’s wealth and opportunity is concentrated in the west, and much of the poverty and social burden in the east. Improving transportation connections between east and west is one way to bridge the gap, but your work points in a different direction.  Can improving accessibility to destinations address challenges like the East-West divide?

JL: AVs could potentially address this access challenge in the area. They can be flexible and adaptable and need to work with sharing to reduce costs.  The accessibility approach would focus on areas of low transit accessibility and high proportions of people who are unable to rely on the private car for many of their trips.  With transit-AV coordination, shared AVs can help fill in these accessibility gaps.  Coordination might come in the form of congestion pricing or other access controls such as high-occupancy-vehicle lanes in heavily traveled transit-rich corridors, regulations or incentives spurring AVs to fill in the gaps, and extension of transit subsidies to shared AVs under certain circumstances.

RCE: What should community leaders keep in mind as they prepare for AVs to re-shape our cities? Do you have any recommendations they should advocate for to achieve the best outcomes?

JL: The future of AVs in cities and regions is not just a matter for technology and business-model development.  Policy at the state and especially municipal level will shape AV futures for better or for worse.  In many cases, the relevant policies are holdovers from an earlier auto era; in this sense planning for AVs is already underway without community leaders being aware.  But these holdover policies need reform to position cities and regions for a desirable AV future.

In addition, community leaders should recognize that the data currently being produced by on-demand mobility are immensely valuable.  They should seek leverage to gain access to that data for planning for integrating shared mobility in the short term and AVs in the longer term.

 

* Dr. Jonathan Levine is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. His current work focuses on the transformation of the transportation and land-use planning paradigm from a mobility to an accessibility basis. Dr. Levine was recognized along with his colleagues with the 2010 Chester Rapkin Award for best paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, and in 2001 the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded him the Excellence in Urban Policy Scholarship Award. He is the author of Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use (Resources for the Future 2006) and The Accessibility Shift: Transforming Transportation and Land-Use Planning (forthcoming, 2019).

Utilities Should Invest in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Photo: SanJoaquinRTD/Wikimedia Commons

For more than a century, our cars and trucks have been fueled almost exclusively by oil. Today, electric vehicles (EVs) give us the potential to power our vehicles with a diverse set of energy sources, including clean and renewable energy. But to make that happen, we need to build the infrastructure that can keep our vehicles fueled and make owning an electric vehicle as convenient as a conventional car.

Across the country, many utilities are stepping up to build the EV infrastructure that we need. Some recent investments include:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission recently approved $738 million in electric vehicle infrastructure proposed by PG&E, SCE and SDG&E, inincludingundreds of millions for charging heavy duty vehicles such as buses and trucks.
  • Utilities in Maryland have recently proposed a $104 million investment in charging infrastructure that would create 24,000 charging stations across the state.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities recently approved a $45 million investment by Eversource. A comparable investment by Massachusetts’ other major utility National Grid is still pending in front of the DPU.
  • Ohio has recently approved a $10 million pilot for electric vehicle charging stations.

These investments raise important public policy questions. What electric vehicle infrastructure is most important to speed up adoption? How should we design electricity rates to maximize the value of electric vehicles to ratepayers and the grid? How can our infrastructure best support all types of electric vehicles, including heavy duty electric vehicles such as trucks and buses? How can we use infrastructure to support electrification of shared vehicle fleets?

Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists is releasing a fact sheet outlining 10 principles that we see as particularly important to guide utility investment in electric vehicle infrastructure. In this fact sheet, we argue that utility investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure is important public policy and ultimately a good deal for ratepayers.

Why should utilities invest in electric vehicle infrastructure?

Electric vehicles (EVs) represent both an enormous opportunity and a significant challenge for our utilities. Converting our vehicle fleet to electricity could add as much as 1,000 terawatt hours of demand onto our electric grid, an increase of about 25 percent of current levels. If managed correctly, this large and flexible load could significantly increase the efficiency of our electric system, which would benefit not only EV drivers but also all ratepayers, providing lower costs.

In the long run, widespread deployment of EVs could also be a source of energy storage, filling a critical need as our electricity system moves away from fossil fuels toward intermittent sources of power, such as wind and solar. Without proper management of EV charging, however, the additional power needed to fuel EVs could require significant new capacity, increasing pollution and imposing additional costs on ratepayers.

Building more EV infrastructure will help more people and businesses make the switch to electric vehicles, saving money and reducing emissions. Consumer studies have consistently found that inadequate access to charging infrastructure remains one of the most pressing obstacles to EV adoption. We have had over a hundred years to build the massive infrastructure necessary to support our gasoline and diesel vehicles. Creating an EV charging network that can compete with our oil infrastructure will require tens of thousands of new charging stations.

What principles should guide utility investments?
  • Provide chargers where people live and work. Most EV charging happens at home, and as affordable, long-range EVs are becoming available, overnight home charging can provide drivers with all the charge they need on most days. So providing universal access to home charging is a top priority. Workplace charging can be a valuable perk that can spur adoption through personal and professional networks.
  • Create a network of high-speed chargers along highways. While most charging will happen at home, a network of fast chargers along highways—capable of recharging an EV in 30 minutes or less—will be a critical component of our infrastructure, allowing EV drivers to access charging for road trips and emergency uses.
  • Maximize benefits to ratepayers and the grid. EVs can provide significant benefits to ratepayers and improve the efficiency of the electric grid if electric vehicle charging occurs during times of low demand or high production of renewable energy. Utilities should create policies that encourage drivers to charge their vehicles during these ‘offpeak’ hours.
  • Establish fair electricity rates for EV charging. EV charging rates should be fair, transparent and provide value to EV drivers. High demand charges can make it difficult to create a viable business model for high speed charging stations, which can be particularly important for electrification of heavy duty and shared vehicles.
  • Support electrification of trucks and buses. Heavy-duty vehicles such as trucks and buses are major contributors to global warming pollution as well as to local air pollution, such as emissions of NOx and particulate matter that cause significant health problems. Investments in charging infrastructure and station equipment can help make these technologies cost effective for fleet managers and transit agencies.
  • Support electrification of new mobility services. Ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft play an increasing role in our transportation system and must be electrified. Utilities should work with these companies and others to ensure that they have the charging infrastructure and rate design that they need to move to EVs.
  • Ensure low-income communities benefit from electrification. Integration of EVs into ride- and car-sharing networks, installation of more charging stations in apartment buildings, and electrification of transit and freight vehicles can help ensure that low-income residents benefit from the transition to electric transportation.
  • Create an open and competitive market for EV charging. Utilities should work with the auto industry and suppliers of charging equipment to ensure that we retain a competitive market for EV charging that encourages innovation and consumer choice and provides EV drivers with a consistent, high quality experience.

Taken together, universal access to residential charging, widespread availability of workplace charging, and high speed chargers along critical transportation corridors can make driving an EV cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient than any other car. And inducing smart charging and integration with renewables can ensure that the transition to EVs makes our grid stronger and more efficient – and save ratepayers millions in the process.

We encourage utilities and agencies to move forward with ambitious projects to build out EV infrastructure and create the clean transportation system that we need.

Photo: SanJoaquinRTD

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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