UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

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

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

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

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

Five policies to move the region forward

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

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

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

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

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

1. Accelerate vehicle emission standards

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

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

2. Make electric vehicles work for everybody

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

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

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

3. Enact a clean fuel standard

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

4. Create a clean transportation investment fund.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Domain

New California Laws Address Climate Change—Some Bills Fall Short

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

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

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

Big wins to fight climate change SB 100 bill signing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some bills fall short

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

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

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

There is always next year

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

Office of Governor Brown

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

Photo: Jaguar MENA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photo: Jaguar MENA

California Ready to Take Action on Clean Transportation after Climate Summit

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

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

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

Source: California’s Emissions Trends Report 2000-2016

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

  1. Extension of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to 2030

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Requiring electric transit buses

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

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

  1. Defending California clean car standards from Trump administration attacks

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

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

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

The way forward

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

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

Public domain

Zombie Truck Theater: A House Science Committee Hearing

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

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

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

What is this hearing about?

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking an empty chair

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

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

Public Domain

California’s Clean Fuel Policies Clear Roadblocks to Electric Vehicles

Photo: wellphoto/iStockphoto

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

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

More EVs mean more progress cleaning up fuels

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

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

EVs and LCFS: a mutually beneficial relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wellphoto/iStockphoto

California Gets one Step Closer to Zero-Emission Transit Buses

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

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

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

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

What’s being proposed?

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which buses are included in the standard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three ways CARB can improve the proposed standard

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why a standard is needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Electric Vehicle Sales Are Taking Off in 2018

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

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

What’s driving increasing EV sales?

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

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

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

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

California still leads the way

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

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

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

Sales likely to accelerate with more models on the way

Click to enlarge.

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

Speed bumps ahead?

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

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

Data Source: IHS Markit Data Source: IHS Markit

Transportation Pollution is on the Rise in Massachusetts  

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr

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

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

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

Why are transportation emissions increasing?

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr

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

Photo: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Americans like clean cars

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

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

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

These rollbacks hurt progress

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

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

 

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

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

Absurdity #1: Consumers will benefit from the rollback

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

Absurdity #2: More efficient vehicles will be less safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absurdity #6: Manufacturers will improve fuel economy without regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ryan Searle/Unsplash

Auto Standards Rollback: Oil companies Win, Everyone Else Loses

Factory worker in a car assembly line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is rolling back vehicle standards bad for the economy? 

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

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

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

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

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.

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