UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

Rural Drivers Can Save the Most From Clean Vehicles

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

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

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

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

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

Rural drivers’ potential to save money and cut emissions

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

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

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

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

Obstacles to rural electrification

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

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

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

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

The Northeast needs a rural electrification strategy

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

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

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

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

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

Do Shell’s New Climate Commitments Make the Grade?

Shell sign in gas station

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

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

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

Shell’s Carbon Footprint Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Nagy

Massachusetts Needs More Than MOR-EV

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

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

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

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

Electric vehicles are critical to achieving Massachusetts climate limits

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

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

We can do better than MOR-EV

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

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

Looking beyond MOR-EV

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

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

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

We need dedicated funding to make this happen

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

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

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

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

Data and the Future of Mobility: An Interview with Dr. Regina Clewlow

Photo: Seb Zurcher

I recently got to sit down with Dr. Regina Clewlow, CEO of Populus, to talk about one of the most critical, yet unappreciated, pieces to improving our transportation system: data.

Whether it’s high-level data such as the number of miles driven by cars in the United States each year or specific data such as the number of bicyclists passing through a single intersection each day, access to information already plays an important role in the design of our transportation system.

Data will also play a large role as we prepare for autonomous vehicles (AVs). And robust research and access to data related to self-driving cars is one of our seven principles for maximizing the benefits of these vehicles.

The ride hailing, bike-share, scooter-share world we are beginning to live in – let alone emergence of self-driving cars – presents huge opportunities and challenges for changing how we get around. Congestion, convenience, cost, speed, equity, and emissions associated with transportation are all subject to change – for better or worse – with the emergence of these new forms of mobility.

Regina is one of the most respected people I know working in the new mobility industry. She has worked from all angles to improve how we get around, as a researcher in the academic world to leading roles in the private sector, including her current venture as the co-founder and CEO of the mobility data platform company, Populus. Here’s an edited transcript of a conversation we recently had about data and new mobility.

Jimmy O’Dea (JO): Okay, let’s start with the big picture: new mobility companies collect a lot of data through the course of their operations. What kind of data are important to you as a researcher and how can sharing it help improve our transportation system for everyone?

Dr. Regina Clewlow (RC): The data we really focus on are centered around GPS traces of vehicles – whether they are bikes, scooters or cars – to help cities better manage street space, curb space, and parking. Collecting this data helps us understand where people are going so that cities and regions can plan around those decisions at a higher level.

On the safety side, when you have better information about how people are moving, you can better design streets, and you may find you can dedicate more space to safe bike infrastructure, which is a win-win for everyone.

There is also data that can help us achieve emission reduction goals by answering some key questions: to what extent are mobility services reducing vehicle ownership? Are people traveling more or less when they start adopting these shared mobility services? These decisions obviously have a huge impact on total transportation emissions.

JO: In a recent Forbes article, you point out that data sharing could help all parties. What are some of the benefits to companies?

RC: Sure, if cities can identify where hotspots are, they can design pick up and drop off zones, which would help ensure that these vehicles don’t disrupt the flow of traffic and make them safer for people getting in and out of them, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. This type of coordination hasn’t really happened in a scalable way, but it is a key opportunity that’s on the horizon.

JO: Okay, so better curb management could help companies get riders in vehicles, but some companies are still hesitant to get behind the idea of sharing data. Why is that?

RC: It’s not just companies concerned about the competitive intelligence aspect of revealing their business models or about the proprietary nature of the data. A lot of people are also concerned about the privacy of users.

A key challenge with GPS trace data, particularly with services like Uber and Lyft, is that many trips are going to people’s physical homes or physical work addresses. If someone were to get a hold of enough breadcrumbs, they could recreate trips and then attach other data sets to identify specific people.

JO: So how can cities etc. get access to the data they need without compromising riders’ privacy?

RC: Many experts are of the opinion that certain data should not be made publicly available in its raw form because it can compromise individual privacy. But there are many ways to aggregate data so that certain elements are made publicly available without compromising personally identifiable information. Of course, too much aggregation should also be avoided because aggregation of data can start to render it useless for transportation planning and policy.

I really believe that data needs to be made available for researchers at national labs and at research universities in order to help us understand what’s going on and what the future looks like. This can be achieved without compromising privacy or proprietary information, which is precisely what we do at Populus for cities from coast to coast.

JO: Are there any examples that come to mind in other sectors of sharing data for the public good without compromising privacy?

RC: There are numerous examples, but one that I’m quite familiar with because I was an aviation researcher previously, is that in exchange for utilizing publicly-funded airspace and airports, commercial airlines are required to report on a 10 percent sample of all trips, including origins, destinations, stopovers, and fares.  So, the FAA knows exactly how many people are getting on and off planes, and they also know with the 10 percent ticket sample how much people are paying – so what are the average fares for specific routes. All this data is made publicly available without compromising any personal information or business information, because there is a time delay in when the data is publicly released.

JO: Have there been any data sharing requirements for ride hailing services?

RC: Mobility services have rolled out very quickly, so even though there’s a clear need for data for transportation planning, at a high level, there is very limited data available to the public sector.

Cities have been frustrated by the lack of data that’s been made available to them by ride hailing services; for the most part, they have virtually no information. A key challenge that has emerged in the increasing privatization of mobility services is that these services don’t necessarily strive to meet public goals. The important, continuing role of the public sector will be to define policies that can help us meet goals such as improving safety, ensuring equitable access to transportation services, and improving efficiency – even as transportation services continue to become more privatized.

We’re starting to see some progress with cities requiring data from transportation network companies. Some examples are New York, one of the first cities that required trip data from Uber and Lyft, and DC, which just followed suit through their for-hire vehicles program.

With dockless bikes and scooters, cities have significantly more regulatory authority. There are a couple main reasons for this. One, with micro-mobility, bikes and scooters are small vehicles – cities can throw them on the back of a truck and impound them. Two, because users come and check them out and use them and then leave them somewhere, they’re stationary for a certain portion of time, and again, it’s easy to impound them. Three, they tend to be owned by mobility operators, whereas with ride hailing services, the vehicles were constantly moving, not owned by the companies, and the people driving them are technically not employees.

JO: I’m not aware of any massive data collection or GPS tracking of the trillions of miles being driven by personal cars each year. What makes data collection from new mobility companies so different?

RC: Actually, there are ways that cities can access personal vehicle data today. There are companies that aggregate connected vehicle data and sell it. Cities are making use of that kind of data. They actually just used it in a recent study on traffic caused by ride hail companies in San Francisco. But from a regulatory perspective, it’s a lot easier to establish policies that effect a few companies than trying to affect millions of individual drivers.

JO: Okay, I’ll end on autonomous vehicles. Most of the data we’ve been talking about so far is from ride hailing services like Uber or Lyft, or car, bike, and scooter sharing services. But autonomous vehicles are on the horizon and could be a major part of our transportation system. Should there be data sharing requirements for autonomous vehicles?

RC: A lot of cities are thinking about how to deal with the regulatory environment for scooters, bikes, and ride hailing companies and what that means for the potential arrival of autonomous vehicles. If AVs are rolled out in a mobility-as-a-service fashion, establishing data policies for ride hailing services could help pave the way. In addition, establishing the technical infrastructure to make use of that data and to monitor and manage mobility systems is something cities are thinking about now.

I believe it is fair for cities to require data sharing from private operators in exchange for the use of public right of way. Similar to airspace, if private companies want to use publicly-funded space, it is completely reasonable for them to pay for the utilization of that space, with data or dollars. In fact, many experts would agree that the appropriate pricing of physical space utilized by transportation services is one of the most efficient ways we can reduce traffic congestion, and ultimately the energy and emissions impacts of the transportation sector.

 

Dr. Regina Clewlow is the CEO and Co-Founder of Populus, a data platform for private mobility operators and cities to deliver safe, equitable, efficient streets. She is a former transportation scientist from UC Berkeley, Stanford and UC Davis, a former Clean Vehicles Kendall Fellow at UCS, and has been a leading expert on shared mobility and autonomous vehicles.

2018 LA Auto Show: Automakers Promise an Electric Future While Moving Backwards on Emissions?

Photo: Tracey Adams/Flickr

I’ll be at the LA Auto Show this week to check out the latest EVs and efficient cars from automakers from around the world, and to see what carmakers are saying about their future plans. The LA Auto Show is traditionally focused on new technology, and this year should bring more news and debuts of cleaner cars. I’ll also be listening for how the automakers present their lineups and future plans and am especially interested in hearing how the industry squares their efforts to rollback vehicle standards with claims of environmental responsibility and future clean models.

Cleaner cars and electric cars needed to compete in California: a tipping point?

I’ll be tracking how automakers talk about electrification and cleaner cars, but also what cars and trucks they highlight in their displays on the convention center floor. While the auto market is global, the LA Auto Show is also an important marketing event for the local automotive market. And in California, electric cars are a rapidly increasing part of the new car market. In August 2018, plug-in electric and fuel cell cars made up 10 percent of all new car sales in California, over double from just the prior year.

In both August and September of this year, the top selling model of car or truck in the state was the fully-electric Tesla Model 3. While some of these Tesla sales reflect pent-up demand for the wait-listed long-range battery electric car, it still is shocking to see a plug-in car atop the sales rankings for California. More efficient gasoline cars also account for other top spots on the sales list with 3 of the top 5 models available in a non-plug-in hybrid version. This means that automakers need to have electric and hybrid models to compete in a market that appears to be ready for cleaner cars. Traditional car companies must be a little nervous watching Tesla eat away at their sales. For example, from July through September of this year, Tesla has more sales than established brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Subaru in California.

We’ll have to see if EV sales continue to grow, especially from makers besides Tesla, but if California continues to exceed 10 percent EV sales, we may be at a tipping point for electrification of cars in the state, as automakers will need to ramp up efforts to meet this demand.

More long range, affordable electric cars coming soon

Last year’s show had several presentations about new electric cars. I’m hoping to hear more concrete plans this year. (Photo: me)

Tesla grabbed the top spot by putting a long-range, more-affordable electric vehicle on the market. So what other new electric cars will I be looking for at the show?

First on the list is the Hyundai Kona battery electric vehicle (and the closely related Kia Niro EV). The Kona is rated at 258 miles of range on a full charge and has the crossover / tall hatchback body style that is currently popular. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but all indications are that it will be less than the Model 3 and roughly in line with the Chevy Bolt EV (the only other long-range EVs currently available in the $35,000-$50,000 range). One question though will be availability. The car will only be in California initially, and then will roll out to other states that have adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicle standards.

Subaru is expected to debut its first plug-in vehicle at the show, a plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek all-wheel drive SUV. It’s expected to get about 17 miles on electric power, before switching over to gasoline for longer trips. This isn’t the only plug-in all-wheel-drive SUV on the market (for example: the BMW X5, Volvo XC90, and Mitsubishi Outlander all have versions that category), but it should be helpful to a have an EV from a brand like Subaru to highlight the fact that plug-in vehicles now come in a variety of sizes and types.

I’ll also be listening for announcements from BMW and Volkswagen. Both companies have been highlighting moves towards greater electrification lately, with VW announcing plans to build a giant electric car factory and a goal of 25 percent of its sales to be electric cars by 2025. BMW has also been talking recently about future EV plans, and has hinted that a new prototype will be shown this week.

Volvo’s not-a-car display plans. (Photo: Volvo Car Group)

One new car I’m not looking for at the show: a new Volvo. In an odd move, Volvo has sent out a press release touting that they will have no cars displayed during the press days of the show. While obviously a publicity stunt, this does highlight an emerging trend in the automotive industry, the move from automotive companies solely focused on building cars to the more nebulous concept of “mobility”. Automakers are now involved in car sharing services, bike shares, and automated drive systems. The future of transportation and mobility could possibly change quickly over the next decade with advancements in automated cars and shared vehicles. However, no matter who (or what) is driving and how the vehicle is owned, the key themes remain: that we need to have more efficient vehicles, and we need to switch from petroleum to low-carbon fuels like renewable electricity as soon as possible.

Car companies talking cleaner cars while pushing for rollback of vital standards

At the same time that many of the auto companies are talking about plans for more efficient and electrified vehicles, they (either individually or through their trade associations) are asking for a rollback of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards. Automakers are caught between the need to reassure investors that they are ready for the switch from gasoline to electricity both here and abroad, and the desire for short-term profits from selling inefficient gasoline cars and trucks now.

While electric cars are clearly the future, in the near-term most of the models at the show (and on dealers’ lots) will continue to be gasoline-powered. This is why we need both progress on electric vehicles AND strong standards that increase the efficiency of gasoline cars, which will continue to make up the majority of sales over the coming decade. Rolling back vehicle standards will both slow electric vehicle adoption and needlessly increase emissions and petroleum consumption from conventional vehicles. Given what we now know about the impact of climate change on our economy, infrastructure and health, rolling back vehicle standards is unconscionable. The auto companies need to stop directly and indirectly supporting attacks on the standards and instead focus on accelerating progress towards cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks.

Photo: Tracey Adams/Flickr Source: IHS Markit

Charlie Baker Can Lead on Clean Transportation

Governor Charlie Baker’s decisive re-election puts his administration in a strong position to address some of the key priorities identified by Baker during the campaign, including climate change, affordable housing, and public transportation.

As a lifelong citizen of Massachusetts, I was proud to witness a gubernatorial contest in which both major party candidates expressed strong commitments to solving climate change.

In debates and on the campaign trail, Governor Baker repeatedly stressed some of the major accomplishments of his administration on climate and energy during his first term: the procurements of offshore wind and hydro power, the first statewide mandatory limits on global warming pollution from the electric sector, grant programs to help municipalities adapt to climate change, procurements of energy storage.

It’s an impressive list, made no less impressive by the fact that Governor Baker shares credit for these accomplishments with the legislature and the judiciary, as well as the Patrick administration.

But it is not enough.

Massachusetts needs more action on clean transportation

Massachusetts may still fail to reach our legally mandated requirements for 2020 under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. If we fail, it will be because increased pollution from transportation is offsetting the gains we are making in the electric sector. The state also does not yet have a long-term plan to achieve our limits for 2050, or our interim targets for 2030 and 2040 (although they are working on it). We have not yet placed mandatory limits on pollution from transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth.

When asked during the final debate to identify a big idea to define his second term, Governor Baker said climate change . If Charlie Baker wants to lead on climate change, the clear priority is transportation.

The good news is that we have some great policy models to work with. One policy that has been important in helping the state enforce limits on emissions from electricity is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI works by setting a mandatory regional limit on pollution, requiring polluters to purchase allowances from the state, and investing in energy efficiency and renewable projects that save consumers money and reduce emissions. Together with additional complementary policies and the transition away from coal RGGI is on track to require a 65% cut in electric sector emissions in the Northeast by 2030. RGGI is also a funding source for many of the state’s most popular energy policies, including Mass Save and the Green Communities Act.

In the final debate, Governor Baker noted that RGGI “has worked really well across all states that participate, and it’s had a huge impact on carbon emissions in power.  We have been talking to other states about putting together a regional approach to deal with transportation.”

One key question that will define Governor Baker’s success on climate change in his second term is whether his administration can help drive these interstate conversations to their logical conclusion: a regional program (like RGGI)  covering transportation fuels.

This program would represent the first mandatory limits on transportation fuels in the Northeast region. Moreover, it would present Governor Baker and his administration with an opportunity to address many of the other critical challenges facing the Commonwealth. As Governor Baker said during the debate on energy and the environment, “the issues associated with climate are not purely limited to climate… they cover a much wider collection of policy areas and decisions.”

A regional program could help address core challenges facing Massachusetts

Here are a few of the wider collection of policy areas that we could help address through a program limiting transportation emissions:

  • Affordable housing. As Baker has recognized, housing “is an enormous environmental issue,” in addition to being an important issue for economic growth, racial and economic justice, transportation congestion, and others. The Baker administration has promised 135,000 new units of housing over the next 5 years, and their Housing Choice program is a pretty good policy model: grants to municipalities in return for procedural reforms on density restrictions. However the $10 million budgeted for this program is clearly insufficient to deal with the scale of this challenge. A larger program could provide municipalities with more funding for affordable housing units near transit in return for more substantial progress on approving projects.
  • Public transportation. The poor state of the MBTA and public transportation services was a major theme throughout the campaign; Gov. Baker’s opponent Jay Gonzalez reported he “heard about more than any other issue” from voters. Funds from a transportation program could help electrify the MBTA bus fleet, improve services in low-income communities, and strengthen the resiliency of our public transportation system.
  • Electrification. Achieving our long-term climate limits requires the near complete electrification of our vehicle fleet. Massachusetts state agencies are currently producing modeling that shows that at least 2 of 3 new vehicle sales need to be electric by 2030 – a huge increase from current levels. Achieving widespread electrification will require more aggressive efforts to make electric vehicles and other clean vehicle technologies affordable for mainstream consumers, particularly low- and moderate-income consumers and people in rural areas. We need a program similar to Mass Save that can combine increased rebates for low income residents with financing assistance, infrastructure support and consumer education. That’s going to require dedicated funding.

If Massachusetts and other Northeast states create a regional market-based limit on transportation emissions, it could raise over $4.5 billion each year for clean transportation projects. In Massachusetts, that would mean over $450 million annually to address these and other critical priorities facing our transportation system in the Commonwealth.

The success of the RGGI program has always been built on the foundation of bipartisan cooperation between the parties and between the states of the Northeast region. As a Republican Governor with a history of bipartisanship and leadership on energy and climate issues, Charlie Baker has an opportunity in his second term to bring the states of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic together on a regional program. If he can succeed, it will give Massachusetts and the other states of the Northeast some of the tools necessary to cut emissions from transportation and build a clean, modern transportation system that works for everybody.

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

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

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

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

“Flexibilities” are at the heart of all automaker comments

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

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

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

Tallying up the impact of automaker proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rollback by another name

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

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

An incredibly myopic “vision”

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

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

Is anyone not calling for a rollback?

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

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

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

Promises today, pollution tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big oil’s campaign of disinformation

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

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

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

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

Believe scientists, not oil companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the main concerns with GM’s proposal?

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

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

#2 – Extra credits would further weaken vehicle sales requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online
  • Increase oil use. Cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010
  • Cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back
  • Reduce employment, economy-wide, by 60,000 in 2025 and 126,000 in 2035;
  • Reduce gross domestic product by $8 billion in both 2025 and 2035.
What policies would help reduce emissions and petroleum use?

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

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

 

 

Can Uber and Lyft Be a Climate Solution?

Photo: Mark Warner

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

Why ride-hailing is important for climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

Photo: Mark Warner

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

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

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

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

However, the meeting was utterly disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automakers Well Positioned to Meet Fuel Economy Standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five policies to move the region forward

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

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

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

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

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

1. Accelerate vehicle emission standards

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

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

2. Make electric vehicles work for everybody

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

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

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

3. Enact a clean fuel standard

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

4. Create a clean transportation investment fund.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Domain

New California Laws Address Climate Change—Some Bills Fall Short

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

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

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

Big wins to fight climate change SB 100 bill signing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some bills fall short

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

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

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

There is always next year

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

Office of Governor Brown

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

Photo: Jaguar MENA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photo: Jaguar MENA

California Ready to Take Action on Clean Transportation after Climate Summit

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

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

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

Source: California’s Emissions Trends Report 2000-2016

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

  1. Extension of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to 2030

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Requiring electric transit buses

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

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

  1. Defending California clean car standards from Trump administration attacks

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

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

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

The way forward

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

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

Public domain

Zombie Truck Theater: A House Science Committee Hearing

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

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

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

What is this hearing about?

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking an empty chair

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

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

Public Domain

California’s Clean Fuel Policies Clear Roadblocks to Electric Vehicles

Photo: wellphoto/iStockphoto

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

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

More EVs mean more progress cleaning up fuels

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

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

EVs and LCFS: a mutually beneficial relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wellphoto/iStockphoto

California Gets one Step Closer to Zero-Emission Transit Buses

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

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

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

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

What’s being proposed?

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which buses are included in the standard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three ways CARB can improve the proposed standard

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why a standard is needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

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