UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

Make Electric Vehicle Rebates Available at the Point of Purchase

New legislation proposed in Massachusetts would take a critical step towards making electric vehicles (EVs) affordable to consumers, by offering rebates to consumers at the point of sale.

While Massachusetts offers rebates for electric vehicles through its “MOR-EV” program, Massachusetts currently does not offer rebates at the point of purchase. Instead, customers who purchase an electric vehicle must fill out this application, identifying the VIN number, the purchase details, the dealership and the sales person. If there is still funding available when you make your purchase (and the program is constantly on the verge of running out of funding) the state sends the applicant a rebate check up to 120 days later.

Further, beginning in 2019, MOR-EV rebate levels were cut to just $1,500 for battery electric vehicles and $0 for plug in hybrids. Massachusetts has been forced to cut rebate amounts because the state has not developed a sustainable funding source for MOR-EV. Even with the cutbacks, the program is set to run out of funding in June. Given the central role of EVs in achieving the state’s climate limits, this is a critical issue that must be dealt with by the legislature immediately.

A budget amendment proposed by Representative Jonathan Hecht would address these problems by creating a new instant rebate of for low- and moderate-income consumers. In addition, the Hecht amendment would restore MOR-EV rebate amounts to the level they were in 2018 ($2,500 for battery electric vehicles and $1,000 for plug in hybrids). Taken together, Rep. Hecht’s legislation would make EVs a viable choice for most new vehicle purchasers.

For example, under the Hecht proposal, a middle-class customer interested in a Chevy Bolt with Quirk Chevrolet through Green Energy Consumers Alliance’s Drive Green Program might be able to lease the vehicle for no money down, and an equivalent lease rate of $150 per month on a 36 month lease. That is a great deal for a great car that will improve our environment, our public health and our economy.

We need to make EVs affordable for more drivers

MOR-EV is an important program. Its 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 driven down costs and made these vehicles more accessible.

Today, the challenge facing EVs is how to bring the technology to all drivers. Analysis conducted by the state agencies demonstrate that widespread electrification is necessary to hit the requirements of Massachusetts’s important climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Passenger vehicles are responsible for over 20 percent of global warming emissions in the state. The Comprehensive Energy Plan requested by Governor Charlie Baker and conducted by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs looked at several potential scenarios to meet the state’s climate limits for 2030. They found that in even the least aggressive scenario, electric vehicles will have to be 2 of 3 passenger vehicles sold in Massachusetts by 2030. In the most aggressive scenario electric vehicles are 7 of 8 new vehicles sold!

A program that requires consumers to wait months before they receive their rebate is inadequate.

Many states offer EV rebates at the point of purchase

In contrast, most states that offer rebates for electric vehicles do so at the point of purchase. Most also offer larger total rebate amounts. The Delaware Clean Vehicle Rebate program offers rebates of $3,500 for consumers who purchase through participating dealerships at the point of purchase. Auto dealers who participate in Connecticut’s CHEAPR program or New York’s Drive Clean Rebate, both of which offer $2,000 for a battery electric vehicle, likewise do all the paperwork behind the scenes, giving Connecticut and New York consumers an immediate incentive without any paperwork. Colorado’s alternative fuel tax credit of up to $5,000 for a battery electric vehicle can be claimed by financing institutions at the point of purchase. New Jersey exempts EVs from the state’s sales tax, which effectively provides thousands in savings at the point of purchase.

California does not offer rebates at the point of purchase, although the state is working on pilot projects to preapprove income-eligible EV purchasers. However, California does offer much larger incentives for low- and moderate-income residents. California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program offers a rebate of up to $4,500 for the purchase or lease of a battery electric vehicle to low-income consumers statewide. People who live in the San Joaquin Valley or within the South Coast Air Quality Management District are further eligible for incentives to trade in an older, high-emissions car or truck for an electric vehicle or hybrid; taken together, these incentives “stack” to up to $14,000 for low income consumers. California is also exploring providing financing assistance to low income consumers.

Data from the Center for Sustainable Energy confirms that states such as New York and Connecticut that have introduced rebates at the point of sale do significantly better in stimulating the market for low- and moderate-income customers than Massachusetts.

Mass Save for vehicles

Making electric vehicle rebates available at the point of sale is one particularly obvious step towards bringing this technology to all consumers. But we need to figure out a larger and more comprehensive approach to vehicle electrification. The decision to purchase an electric vehicle can be complicated. It requires the consumer to consider a number of issues from long-term cost savings to charging infrastructure to access to offstreet parking. We need 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 have a great model for how to do that in the Bay State. It’s called the Mass Save program.

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 also combines direct, upfront 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   provide efficiency technologies for free to low-income residents. 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 is an awesome program because Massachusetts has devoted real resources to Mass Save from multiple dedicated funding streams. Massachusetts’ Three Year Energy Efficiency Plan calls for $772 million in energy efficiency funding through Mass Save in 2019. Currently MOR-EV has a 2019 budget of $8 million, which is projected to last the state through June. Nobody knows how the state will fund EV incentives in July. It is very difficult to build a bold or comprehensive program that addresses multiple barriers to EV adoption when MOR-EV is constantly on the verge of running out of money.

We need to do better than this, and we can. Representative Hecht’s budget amendment would represent a good step towards making MOR-EV a program that works for all consumers. We encourage the legislature to work with the Baker administration to make point-of-sale rebates for low- and moderate-income customers a priority, and to provide the kind of sustainable funding source that can allow our EV programs to reach a lot more consumers.

Grendelkhan/Wikimedia Commons

Electric Utilities Can Accelerate Electric Truck and Bus Deployment

Photo: Greensboro Transit Authority

Today, in my inaugural blog post, I am excited to share a set of recommendations for electric utility investments in electric truck and bus charging programs.

Swapping diesel trucks and buses for electric models is a critical strategy for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change and reducing local air pollution to improve public health. The good news is that high-performance electric trucks and buses are becoming increasingly available for many vehicle uses, notably medium-duty delivery vehicles, cargo equipment, transit buses, and school buses. The challenge is that widespread deployment of those vehicles requires a large-scale, coordinated effort by policymakers, private investors, and—you guessed it—electric utilities.

For their part, electric utilities are an important early investor in charging programs for all EVs, including trucks and buses for several reasons. First, grid-related investments to support electricity demand from EVs are well within utilities’ wheelhouse. Second, utilities’ expertise in managing the grid make them an important partner in managing electric truck and bus loads to maximize potential benefits to the grid. For example, smart charging of EVs can make renewable energy easier to incorporate into the grid.  Finally, utilities have access to debt and capital to make investments that kick-start the comparative market for private investments.

Utilities across the country are starting to take a serious look at EV programs to support the growing demand for electric cars, trucks, and buses.  Many utilities are moving forward with vehicle electrification proposals to state utility regulators, some of which include consideration for heavy-duty vehicles. Proactive state regulators and electric utilities can take advantage of the growing availability of models to accelerate electric truck and bus deployment to help realize the health, climate, and grid benefits from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

UCS has laid out the principles for how electric utilities should invest in EV charging. The recommendations we release today, Utility Investment in Truck and Bus Charging: A Guide for Utilities, build on those principles by providing high-level guidance on the design of utility programs for truck and bus charging.

How should utilities go about designing programs, and what should state regulators look for when evaluating programs?

Consider various strategies to address barriers to truck and bus charging. 

Different electric truck and bus uses may require different program strategies, depending on vehicle model availability and the business case for electrification in a specific service territory. For charging infrastructure, this means utilities may need to make use of a variety of ownership models in order to effectively accelerate EV deployment. These ownership models extend beyond “business as usual” up to “end-to-end” utility ownership from the customer meter to the charger (see figure).


Diagram showing models of utility investment in EV charging infrastructure

Models of Utility Investment in Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

Set fair commercial rates that account for truck and bus charging and provide incentives for grid services.

Operating costs are one of the most important factors vehicle operators, particularly those who operate fleets, consider when deciding whether to switch to electric models.  Fair, sensible rates for commercial EV charging will ensure that vehicle operators have an opportunity to save on fuel costs and provide an incentive for charging at beneficial times for the electric grid.

Scale up programs based on their potential impact and the readiness of vehicles for electrification.

Vehicle applications such as transit buses, medium-duty delivery trucks, and cargo equipment have the potential to positively impact climate emissions and public health and are highly ready for electrification. As such, those vehicles are ready for large-scale utility programs. Utilities can also advance more nascent vehicle applications through pilot projects.

Prioritize serving communities overburdened by air pollution.

Diesel pollution and the consequential human health impacts are not distributed uniformly. Utility programs can have maximum impact for each charger deployed by focusing on areas that suffer disproportionately large amounts of diesel pollution. However, prioritizing overburdened communities is not just a best practice for cost-effectiveness. Because low-income communities and communities of color are overrepresented in overburdened areas, prioritizing charger and EV deployment in these areas is an important way to reduce public health inequities.

Coordinate and leverage multiple funding sources.

While utilities are well-suited to be an early investor in the EV charging space, other funds for EV charging are available. As UCS has previously discussed, the VW settlement and other funds fall short of providing the scale of investment needed for widespread electrification of truck and buses. Even so, those funds are an important resource for accelerating EV adoption. Utilities can maximize the reach of their own programs by coordinating with and leveraging other funding sources.

Consider fleet programs that accelerate electrification across vehicles classes.

Utilities can identify opportunities to include trucks and buses alongside passenger vehicles in fleet programs to make the most of synergies in information sharing between the utility and fleet customers.

Consult with truck and bus fleet managers when developing programs.

Utilities’ customer relationships with fleet managers can become strategic partnerships for the development of utility charging programs.  Utilities can collaborate with fleet operators to understand the use and charging needs of electric trucks and buses in order to inform infrastructure programs and rate designs.

Set minimum charging system capabilities to enable managed charging.

Managed charging of truck and bus loads is critical to realizing the greenhouse gas benefits and fuel cost savings those vehicles can offer. A “smart” system in which chargers can communicate with a network system is necessary to enable managed charging. Requiring such capabilities for chargers supported by utility programs will enable managed charging, while also making it easier to upgrade charger software over time.

Future-proof investments by preparing charger sites for additional deployments.

It is important to take a long-term view of electric truck and bus deployment when designing programs. Utilities can future-proof “make-ready” investments—the upgraded panels, new conduit and wires to make the site ready for chargers—by considering expected future charging demand when determining the capacity of the make-ready installation.

I am encouraged to see some utilities already step up to support truck and bus electrification. We need many more to follow suit with significant investments to make timely progress on climate and public health. These recommendations will help make utility investments more effective in meeting these urgent goals.

For a fuller discussion of each recommendation, including program examples, be sure to check out the full policy brief.

Photo: Greensboro Transit Authority

Will Congress Extend the EV Tax Credit? A New Bipartisan Bill Gives me Hope

Photo: John Brighenti/Flickr

Electric vehicles (EVs) are our best choice for significantly reducing emissions from cars and light trucks.  Here at UCS, we spend a lot of time thinking about EVs, how they work, what they do for the environment, how to get more consumers to think about buying one, how to make sure the benefits of electrification are widespread and equitable, and how to best incentivize these vehicles for consumers.

Numerous polls and studies show that reducing the upfront cost of EVs is key to accelerating adoption.  The purchase price of EVs are currently higher than their conventional gasoline-powered counterparts, so the federal $7,500 tax credit for plug-in electric EVs helps make them cost competitive and is critical for deployment.  The credit is structured differently than most other tax credits– the full credit is available until an auto company hits 200,000 EV sales – after a manufacturer exceeds that number of sales, there is a year-long phase down period where buyers receive a partial tax credit.

Why does this matter?

Two U.S. manufacturers have hit the 200,000 sales mark and are currently in the phase down – Tesla and General Motors.  Nissan will likely be the next manufacturer to hit the cap.  As consumers are shopping for a new EV, they will find that they will not be able to take the tax credit for vehicles made by these manufacturers, which creates a disincentive to buy EVs from these companies.  With about 40 EV models on the market (compared to nearly 300 models for conventional vehicles), the already restricted consumer choice on EVs shrinks even more.  Further, many of these EVs are only available in select markets, so depending on where you live, you may have far fewer EV models to choose from. This also penalizes the companies that have been leading the way on electrification as they are now competing with companies that have been slower to market and whose vehicles are still eligible for the tax credit.

It’s not that this is a bad structure, but the biggest problem with the current tax credit is that 200,000 vehicles isn’t considered scale in the auto industry.  For example, in 2018 over 240,000 Jeep Cherokees, 325,000 Honda Civics, and 909,000 Ford F-series trucks were sold.  These vehicles are all being produced at scale, but not a single EV model has had sales anywhere close to these numbers over their many years on the market.

As battery costs decline and manufacturing scale increases, these vehicles will become cost-competitive with conventional vehicles – both our analysis and new analysis from ICCT show that we can expect to see price parity in the mid-2020’s.  We strongly support expanding or modifying the tax credit for a defined period before EVs are cost-competitive with conventional vehicles.  There are a number of ideas on how to do this; some change the credit to be a more conventional tax credit and allow for it to be used for a set number of years.  Others increase the number of vehicles (the “manufacturer cap”) that are eligible for the tax credit.  We are open to evaluating any of these solutions.

We are nearing a tipping point in the next decade where electrification will be mainstream — costs for batteries are coming down, and manufacturers are nearing deployment of EVs in every class of vehicle. But it will take bipartisan support and investment to make that vision a reality, if the US is to lead the world towards a more sustainable transportation future.

What’s new this week?

Last night, the first bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation that would increase the tax credit was unveiled.  It has the support of 60 organizations, including the auto companies (all of them – this is no small feat), utilities, auto suppliers, environmental groups, health groups, business groups, and security groups.  In other words, this is legislation that has widespread support and could potentially become law.

In the Senate, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Susan Collins (R-ME) are the primary architects of the Driving America Forward Act.  Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI-5) is the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives.  This proposal would increase the per manufacturer cap to 600,000 and reduce the tax credit value for the additional 400,000 units to $7,000 per vehicle (it’s currently a maximum $7,500 per vehicle).  The bill also extends the tax credit for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles for 10 years, which will incentivize the development and deployment of additional low carbon, zero tailpipe emissions options, which UCS also supports.

What will the bill really do?

Some relatively simple math shows the benefits of EVs. The average EV driving on electricity in the US will generate 3.3 tons FEWER CO2e (CO2 equivalent) emissions per year than an average gasoline-powered car (which right now gets about 30 mpg).  If I could wave a magic wand and replace 400,000 conventional vehicles with EVs tomorrow, the reduction would be 2 million metric tons of CO2e emissions per year, roughly the same emissions as from the electricity use of almost 350,000 homes in  a year.

These climate benefits are real and are only going to get better as the grid gets cleaner.  My colleagues have been looking at the emissions impacts of driving an EV in different parts of the country for years now and we have already seen a dramatic shift in the several years since when we first started this work.  In 2009, we found that 45 percent of people lived in areas where an EV would produce the same tailpipe global warming emissions as a conventional vehicle that gets 50 mpg.  By our more recent analysis in 2018, that number was up to 75 percent (the toggle function on the map in this blog is really fun).  In large parts of the country, EVs emit much less than even the most efficient conventional vehicle.  That’s a significant change over a relatively short time period.  Unlike gasoline, electricity is a transportation fuel that can get (and has gotten!) significantly cleaner over time – as the grid gets cleaner, the emissions from EVs charged on that grid automatically go down.

In addition to the climate benefits, this bill would also result in lower oil use – to the tune of about 480 gallons per year per car.  In my magic wand scenario above, that would be nearly 200 million gallons of gasoline that are not used.  That’s a lot of oil.  Speaking of oil – you know who isn’t going to like this bill?  The Koch brothers and the oil industry.  We have been keeping an eye on their lobbying activities around the EV tax credit – I’m sure it won’t be terribly surprising to learn that they are actively trying to abolish it.   This means that the oil companies think that EVs pose a real threat to their business.  To me, that means we’re on the right path, but we can’t afford to deviate now.  We must keep moving forward, and that means increasing EV sales and making sure that charging infrastructure is available so we can dramatically reduce emissions from transportation.

EVs may be a threat to the oil industry, but they are critical to the auto industry

US leadership in a critical industry is also riding on our ability to deploy EVs domestically.  Globally, there is really no question that we are moving towards electrification.  The International Council on Clean Transportation has written several reports on the global EV market and what other countries are doing to incentivize EV purchases – not surprisingly, China is setting itself up to eat our lunch.

In 2018, 64 percent of the EVs sold in the US were made domestically.  GM, Tesla and Nissan EVs have been rolling off assembly lines in MI, CA, and TN, for example. That’s a pretty good news story.  But if we, as a country, do not continue to invest in electrification, we are not going to be able to keep posting these numbers.  We are going to wind up importing more EVs, and maybe more importantly, the intellectual capacity on innovation and leadership in the advanced automotive industry is going to shift elsewhere.  As ICCT put it “Economies like Japan, Germany, and the United States, among others where there is major automobile manufacturing, have the most to lose if they do not lead in the transition to electric vehicles.  China, on the other hand, is now the leading automobile market and has the most to gain from staking out a leadership position in the shift to electric.”  If we don’t stay at the table, we can’t win.

It would be great for more Senators to support the bipartisan bill to extend the EV tax credit – you can ask your Senators to co-sponsor the bill by taking this action.

Photo: John Brighenti/Flickr

Washington State Tackles Transportation Emissions

Photo: Alaska Airlines

The climate crisis demands an immediate response on multiple fronts, and while in Washington DC the Trump administration is attempting to reverse the progress of the last administration, in Washington state legislators are tackling the challenge head on.

The largest source of pollution in Washington state is transportation, which is another way to say burning petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel. Tackling emissions from transportation requires policies that focus on vehicles and transportation fuels. Broad economy-wide measures like carbon pricing or cap and trade are important and should be pursued but will have limited direct impact on transportation in the near term. Fortunately, a clean fuel program, which targets transportation fuel directly, has proven quite effective. Legislators in Washington are considering enacting such a standard, which would be a major step forward in cutting oil use and emissions from transportation.

Clean fuels policies cut oil use and emissions

California, Oregon and British Columbia each have a clean fuel standard in place. These are technology neutral performance standards that require average transportation fuels to get cleaner over time. They don’t mandate the use of any specific clean fuel but instead provide support for all clean fuels based on a scientific assessment of the benefits they provide compared to burning gasoline and diesel fuel.

The measure of a clean fuel adds up the global warming pollution associated with the full lifecycle of the fuel, from fuel production to combustion. This approach is flexible, and allows for the goals to be met in several ways: by blending cleaner biofuels into the gasoline and diesel used by the existing fleet of cars and trucks,  substituting fossil fuels with drop-in renewable fuels (such as renewable diesel, renewable natural gas, or renewable jet fuel), or by using more clean fuels like electricity and hydrogen. The lifecycle assessment for each fuel recognizes that producing transportation fuels can also be very polluting, so emissions from using fuels is combined with emissions from oil fields, tar sands, oil refineries, not to mention the production of crops for biofuels or power for electricity generation. See our fact sheet and analysis on clean fuel availability for more details.

Experience shows clean fuels policies work

California’s clean fuel policy, called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, was enacted nearly a decade ago, and with a track record of success it was recently extended to reduce the carbon intensity of the state’s fuel supply by 20 percent by 2030. The policy has significantly increased use of clean alternative fuels in the state and has encouraged producers of clean fuels to reduce emissions associated with their production.

For example, the policy does not just simply encourage the use of alternative such as biodiesel and natural gas; it encourages fuel producers to use the lowest carbon sources of these alternative fuels, which means biodiesel, made from used cooking oil or biomethane captured from wastes. Clean fuels policy also provides a substantial support for electrification of vehicles. By switching from diesel to electricity, transit agencies can generate credits worth more than $10,000 per year for each bus, and clean fuel credits can be used to fund rebate programs for electric vehicles. A program under development in California is expected to provide rebates worth up to $2,000 per EV.

The cost of climate inaction is high and rising

The oil industry and other critics of clean fuel policies claim they will increase the cost of gasoline or diesel. But by focusing attention on the small cost of making smart investments to move steadily away from petroleum-based fuels, they distract from the real risks to consumers and the public. Cleaner transportation choices like electricity not only are produced in state but have lower and more stable prices than oil.  The real risk to consumers comes from the inherent instability of global oil markets and the Trump administration’s efforts, aided by the oil industry, to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards. And the cost of inaction in the face of the climate crisis is much higher still. Beware of the oil industry’s self-serving claims to be protecting the pocketbooks of drivers when they are really protecting their own monopoly on the transportation fuel marketplace at the expense of future generations.

Washington lawmakers should join their neighbors on the west coast by enacting a clean fuels program of their own.  The cost of inaction is just too high to neglect the largest source of pollution in the state, and the benefits of accelerating the transition to electricity and other clean fuels is too great to ignore.  Together with other policies to promote renewable energy and more efficient buildings, a clean fuels policy is a critical tool for Washington to address the climate crisis.

EPA Report Shows Vehicles Are Most Efficient Ever But is Trying to Roll Back That Progress

Today, EPA published the latest in a series of annual reports looking at the fuel economy and emissions of passenger cars and trucks. The news is both good and completely unsurprising: vehicles are more efficient than ever before, and manufacturers continue to comply with the strong standards driving that improvement.

Incredibly, the fact that consumers continue save bucketloads of cash ($78 billion and counting) as a result of these standards is not slowing down this administration from rolling them back. Manufacturers have plenty of technology left on the shelf…and if the administration gets its way, that’s where it’ll stay.

MPG at highest ever (again)

I’ve read countless articles about the death of sedans and the rise of crossovers, but no matter what type of vehicle it may be that customers are buying today, they’re getting choices that are (or nearly are) more efficient than ever before. Improved efficiency in each class of vehicle over the past few years has continued to push the fuel economy of all new vehicles sold to a new record high of 24.9 mpg for the 2017 model year, up 0.2 mpg from the previous year, even as cars give way to more pick-ups and SUVs.

The only major improvements in fuel economy and emissions have occurred under strong standards—CAFE standards were held flat for nearly 20 years before the first improved standards for light trucks went into effect in 2005, to be followed with standards for all passenger vehicles beginning in 2011 (CAFE) and 2012 (global warming emissions). And now EPA wants to put the freeze on that progress once again.

Manufacturers are complying with strong standards

This record level of fuel economy is no accident—driving that improvement for consumers are strong standards set in 2010 and affirmed in 2016. And, despite their statements to the contrary, we continue to see automakers complying with these emissions standards.

Manufacturers are reducing emissions in response to strong standards and have accrued a massive bank of credits (249 million metric tons!) that will help them meet even stronger standards in the future.

Automakers will be entering the 2018 model year with more than 249 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 credits, thanks to doing better than required in previous years. While they’ve had to use some of these credits again this year, the industry used less than last year (18 MMT worth vs 30 MMT). That’s because automakers improved their fleets in 2017 at a rate greater than required, which helps illustrate the year-to-year variance in model updates and the way in which banked credits are planned as apart of an overall compliance strategy.

To put that 249 MMT of banked credits in context, manufacturers could actually do absolutely nothing to improve the efficiency of their vehicles until 2020 and still continue to comply with the standards.

Plenty of technology to choose from for future improvements

In order to achieve record high levels of fuel economy, manufacturers have been deploying a wide array of different technologies, as highlighted in the latest report (see figure). The figure below shows the percent of a manufacturer’s vehicles that employ a particular type of efficiency technology–note in particular the wide variance and numerous values well short of the majority of a manufacturer’s sales.

The latest data from EPA on some of the most common efficiency technologies shows that manufacturers have only just begun to deploy some of the most obvious ways to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicles, often focusing on just one or two technologies. That leaves plenty of room for further improvement, to meet even stronger standards.

There are two clear facts that jump out from this figure: 1) most manufacturers have invested in just a handful of technologies to-date to improve their fleet, and 2) that means a lot of unfulfilled potential yet to tap. For example, while Hyundai has focused on deploying direct injection across its fleet, it has barely invested in increasing the efficiency of its transmissions or even much deployment of smaller, turbocharged engines. Increasing investment in these technologies would provide ample room for further future improvement.

While most companies have at least begun to invest in improving their fleet, one company has essentially rested on its laurels: Toyota. As we pointed out in our 2018 Automaker Rankings, Toyota stopped investing in its trucks and SUVs for a number of years, largely relying on its Prius family of hybrids to comply with efficiency requirements—and that’s borne out in the data provided by EPA. As a result, Toyota is the only major manufacturer to actually see its fuel economy get worse over the past 5 years.

The data shows we can, and should, keep moving forward

This latest EPA report shows clearly: 1) the standards are driving improvements as intended, saving consumers money and reducing emissions; and 2) there is ample technology available to continue to improve, with manufacturers well positioned to meet stronger standards primarily by continuing to invest in reducing emissions from conventional vehicles.

Unfortunately, Andrew Wheeler’s EPA would rather ignore its own ample evidence for the benefits of setting strong standards and the ability for manufacturers to meet the challenge in order to roll back this successful program for the administration’s own ideological aims. After calling off negotiations with California, with scant evidence these negotiations truly started in the first place, it’s clear that this administration is aiming to stop this successful program no matter what, essentially halting progress at 2020 levels.

Rolling back the standards will throw the whole industry in limbo, stifling investment in many of the most obvious off-the-shelf opportunities and putting the brakes on investment in the next generation of technology. The people who will pay the most for this administration’s failure to follow the data are those who can least afford it: American workers and lower- and middle-class families who spend a disproportionate share of their income at the pump.

EPA’s own analysis shows that a rollback is the wrong way to go—but there’s little to suggest that this administration is interested in anything but driving this successful program off a cliff.


6 Clean Energy Milestones to Watch For

Photo: RichmondBUILD Academy

Clean energy superstars have been on a tear in recent years, and those superstars—solar, wind, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and others—have had me watching for signposts on our journey to a clean energy future.

My focus on clean energy milestones has been turbocharged by the latest figures for how we make electricity in this country, and the news that we passed yet another notable milestone in 2018: solar panels and wind turbines provide fully 10% of our power mix last year (five times what those two technologies were contributing just a decade before).

So what clean energy milestones can we hope to hit next in this country? Here are 6 I’m watching for.

1. Wind hits 100,000 megawatts

Wind’s progress in recent years has been a marvel to behold. From less than 1% of our electricity mix just over a decade ago, this technology has grown to be a serious player.

The milestone math: The recently released year-end figures from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) showed that by the end of 2018 we hit 96,488 megawatts (MW) of wind power, across 41 states. The US industry has installed 7,000-9,000 MW each of the last few years, and as of December, says AWEA, had 16,521 MW under construction. New wind farms tend to go online late in each year (with 50-80% of additions in Q4).

So we look set to hit 100,000 MW—100 gigawatts (GW)—of wind power in just a few months. That’ll be enough capacity to meet the equivalent of 30 million US households’ electricity needs.

2. Solar hits 2 million (rooftops)

The rooftop market is an important piece of the overall solar photvoltaic (PV) picture, and, in many parts of the country, the most visible evidence of the clean energy revolution (when we remember to look up).

This is another milestone that would have been hard to grasp just a few short years ago, when solar would barely show in calculations of our electricity mix. And we hit the 1 millionth PV system less than three years ago.

The milestone math: In 2017, says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we gained 300,000 distributed (small-scale) systems, putting the US total at close to 1.6 million systems. Preliminary results for last year suggest residential solar grew about by about the same amount in 2018 as in 2017.

All that adds up to the 2-millionth solar rooftop being in our very near future, if we haven’t already covered it in solar panels.

As a bonus (Milestone 2b, maybe), I’ve also got my eye on solar’s own 100,000 MW level. We’re at around 64,000 MW now, and projected to gain 12,000-15,000 MW a year over the next several years. So we’d be looking at hitting that numerically interesting threshold sometime in the year 2021.

3. Renewable energy hits 20% of US electricity

Exciting though solar and wind and their 10% mark are, they’re just pieces of the renewable energy story. Hydropower has been a piece of the mix for more than a century, and  biomass and geothermal are also in there.

The milestone math: With hydro at 6-7% and solar and wind at 10% and growing, we’re getting close. If solar and wind continue their brisk pace, we could be looking to hit the 20%-renewables mark as early as next year.

4. Offshore wind hits 1,000 megawatts

After all those high-flying numbers above, a 1,000 MW target may not seem like much. And Europe’s offshore wind industry (with a 25-year head start) is at more than 18,000 MW.

But getting to 1,000 MW in this country with offshore wind will be a neat, tangible milestone in our journey from a little to a lot—from the one five-turbine/30-MW offshore wind project in existence in the US at this point, to a future where turbines off our coasts are contributing seriously to cleaning up our power sector and growing our clean energy economy.

The milestone math: Yeah, we’re at 30 MW now, but there are thousands of megawatts of projects under development. Some combination of the Vineyard Wind project (800 MW, off Massachusetts), Revolution Wind (700 MW, between Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island), South Fork (130 MW) off Long Island, or projects off New Jersey, Maryland, or even Virginia (12 MW) would do the trick. And the next megawatts should be springing from the water in the next couple of years.

Credit: J. Rogers

5. LED A-type bulbs hit 1 billion

If we’re talking about clean energy milestones, it’s good to include energy efficiency—the energy we’re not having to use because we’re doing more with less. It isn’t always the easiest thing to quantify, but there are options (check out ACEEE, for example).

For these purposes, I’ve picked a prominent, palpable proxy for our progress (and a personal favorite): light bulbs. Specifically, the uptake in LED bulbs that are “A-type”—the shape we all knew and loved back in the old, inefficient days (before curly-cue compact fluorescents).

The milestone math: While white LEDs have been broadly available for only a few years, they’re rapidly gaining market share. The latest Sustainable Energy in America Factbook from BNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy shows that the number of A-type LEDs in use in the US grew from essentially nothing in 2010 to 200 million in 2015 and 436 million in 2016. So that billion-bulb milestone has got to be right around the corner, if we haven’t already hit it.

BloombergNEF/Business Council for Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Energy in America Factbook 2019

6. Electric vehicles hit 2 million

When we’re talking clean energy and momentum, America’s roadways are another place where there’s progress to celebrate. The move to electric vehicles has been another story, one good for our move away from dirty fossil fuels (and a whole lot of fun for EV drivers).

The milestone math: EV sales have been taking off, and there are now 1 million battery-electric and plug-in hybrids in the US. At current rates, says my colleague David Reichmuth, we’re likely to double that tally within 2.5 years, meaning we’d hit the 2 million mark in 2021.

And more!

These 6 milestones are just a taste of the different indications that our clean energy momentum is real, serous, and growing—and just a glimpse of some of the technologies in play. And, of course, the US is just a slice of the clean energy momentum story throughout the world.

But those are some milestones we’ll watch out for, and report back to you on.

In the meantime, I’m plenty happy to add to this watchlist. If you’ve got clean energy milestones you’re looking to see in the near future, feel free to add them below.

Because every one of these is testament to the now-ness of clean energy, and worth a little celebration—even as we zip on by them to the next ones on our lists.

Public Domain

Self-Driving Cars and Land Use: An Interview with Becky Steckler and Nico Larco

Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr

Take a look outside. If you’re in a city, you might notice a lot of space has been devoted to roads and parking lots. Will automated vehicles (AVs) change how we use roads? Will we no longer need parking lots if we’re being shuttled around by cars that are constantly being used? Will the expected convenience of AVs create demand for even more roads? What can cities do to ensure AVs improve the livability of their communities?

To answer these questions, I sat down with land use and planning experts Becky Steckler and Prof. Nico Larco of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon. Becky and Nico study the effects AVs could have on cities’ development, sustainability, equity, and budgets. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

Ok, let’s start with the big one – in the United States, transportation planning has largely focused on personal vehicles and roads. How could autonomous vehicles change that equation for better or worse?

Nico Larco: On the one hand, roads are going to be exactly like they are today. On the other hand, they’re going to be used quite differently.

People talk about a complete reshaping of our infrastructure, but the truth is that when you talk to any of the tech companies or vehicle manufacturers who are developing these cars, all of them are designing AVs to operate on roads that look like the roads that we’ve got today.  There is not the funding or political will for large scale changes to our infrastructure.

That said, how the space is used might change a good amount.  We often say that AVs already exist in our cities, it just so happens that there are drivers in them. What we mean by that is that Uber and Lyft today are exactly the model of how we will use AVs – we call it up, it shows up, we get in, it takes us somewhere and then it goes and does something else.

If you start thinking about using AVs that way, then the pick-up and drop-off along streets becomes a huge new part of how streets function. It takes up space and it takes up time to load and unload passengers.  This is already changing the way streets are used.

Becky Steckler: As a parent, I’m excited about the possibility that these vehicles might do a better job of noticing when my kids are biking on the road or trying to cross the street. The potential for safe streets is pretty exciting.

So, if we’re doing more drop-offs and pickups with AVs, do you see a re-purposing of space currently allocated for parking?

Nico: With all these changes, parking seems like a really inefficient use of space. As you’re reducing parking along the street itself, that opens space up to be used for something else, like new bike lanes or e-scooter lanes. You can try expanded sidewalks or parklets, or you could potentially think about more lanes for vehicular traffic.

If cars that would otherwise be parked begin hitting the road, would we actually need more road space to accommodate AVs?

Nico: It’s likely that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft will become cheaper and easier to use with AVs, and throughout history, anytime we’ve had transportation get cheaper and easier, we tend to consume more of it. That means there’s a possibility that we will have more induced trips, more congestion, and more vehicle miles traveled. So, streets might actually become more congested.

What should cities be doing now to prevent the busy, congested road scenario?

Nico: We talk to cities a lot about making sure they get their priorities right today, and that their community goals are front and center in this whole transition. If these goals aren’t clearly laid out when AVs arrive in our cities in huge numbers, there’s just going to be a push for more asphalt to handle more car trips.

Becky: We need to ask, “What kind of communities do we really want?” Do we want places where it’s pleasant to walk and bike, and where we run into our neighbors and talk to them? AVs could provide an opportunity, if we take advantage of it, to re-develop our cities into these really wonderful places and fill in space that’s currently a parking lot with housing or places of employment that bring us closer together. This could be a great opportunity for many cities across the country.

Could you talk a little more about the form these re-developments could take?

Becky: In many locations, what we need is housing that is easily accessible to transit, or is close to downtown, close to jobs, close to schools. But there are other possibilities too. It might be greenspace, like putting in a park or even just planting more trees that make a street more pleasant to walk around. Cities are going to have to think about what is needed in different neighborhoods.

Nico: In terms of parking lots, it won’t be the same everywhere. Downtown areas in some cities have minimal or no parking requirements or very small parking requirements – they’re not going to see a lot of changes. The buildings are already taking up most of the land.

Then you have other cities that have a tremendous amount of parking downtown, like parts of Cleveland, Houston, and Phoenix. These large expanses of parking can be re-developed. In suburban areas there will be even greater re-development opportunities at large big-box type stores or office parks, where parking takes up a lot of space that can be used for something else.

Parking has been detrimental to many cities in the United States. It spreads things out, doesn’t let things be close enough that you can walk to them, and you wouldn’t want to walk to them because it’s such an aggressive auto-dominated environment. Repurpose that parking, and cities can become much more livable.

What are your thoughts on how AVs will influence other forms of transportation like walking and biking? Will changes in road design encourage more of us to use these modes, or will cities be designed for higher-speed, efficient movement of robot cars that scare bikes and pedestrians away?

Nico: AVs, in some ways, are presenting a fantastic opportunity by asking, “What do you want to do with a new transportation system?” We could enact policies that encourage walking and biking, or we could continue prioritizing vehicles.

Unfortunately, if you look at mistakes we’ve made in the past, you find we have pursued development patterns that have led to environmental degradation, social isolation, and climate change.

If we think of AVs as a step beyond what we already see happening with TNCs, we can look at the effects of TNCs to understand what the effects of AVs might be. And the data so far is not great.

Bruce Schaller did a great analysis earlier this year looking at a few metro areas in the US, and he found that Uber and Lyft-type services are cannibalizing transit, biking and walking. So, we’re getting more car travel, and we’re taking away from the modes that we really want to grow. But whether this trend continues is completely a policy question.

What if we did things like congestion pricing, or an empty-seat tax? Then, all of a sudden, we would be putting the cost of these externalities into the cost of the trip, which might actually lead us to make healthier and cleaner decisions.

Becky: Many cities realize that if they are going to achieve their goals, especially reduced greenhouse gas emissions, then they have to replace those vehicle trips with other types of trips. Improving biking and walking infrastructure is an important step in reducing these emissions.

Any time I start a trip, I take out my map app, and I have all these different options. Should I take transit? Should I take a bike? Should I take a scooter? Should I use Uber or Lyft? And I can see how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost, and what route it’s going to send me on.

As many cities prepare for AVs, especially cities concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, they’re really thinking about how we move people to the lowest carbon mode. How do we prioritize our bike and pedestrian infrastructure? How do we make sure smarter choices are more comfortable and convenient?

I’m excited by the opportunities. If you’re building origins and destinations closer to each other because you’re not building the parking that pushes it farther away, it really increases the opportunity for people to walk and bike. There’s kind of a magic quarter mile to- and from- transit where people are more likely to walk to it, if they feel safe and comfortable doing so. It seems like so many more cities around the country are really focusing on walking and biking, and with more space in our cities opening up to put our homes and destinations closer together, we could see many more people turning to those modes.

I like the framing you mentioned earlier of cities having these goals in place before the technology surprises them and they just rush to accommodate more vehicles. Could you say more about planning for AVs?

Becky: If we could’ve envisioned what the car would’ve done to our communities, back when it was introduced by Henry Ford, I’d like to think that we would’ve done things differently. But today we have the tools to envision what the future could look like. I think everybody is afraid of the possibility of unleashing AVs and having tons of empty vehicles roaming around without passengers or delivering a single cupcake – which sometimes happens with Uber Eats. It’s important that we figure these things out now.

Nico: My advice to cities is, “Make sure you get your priorities right.” Based on climate and equity goals, cities should know the kinds of modes to prioritize: walking, then biking, then transit, then freight, then single occupancy vehicles. Then figure out what the levers are in this new mobility landscape to support the modes that are the most important.

For the most part, we already know what works. AVs are not going to change some of the basic smart-growth and pedestrian-oriented design principles we should be implementing, but they can help provide the space needed to implement some of these principles.

Dense, walkable, mixed-use development – those are the key pieces. I’m living in the Netherlands right now while on sabbatical. Just traveling through Europe, over and over I’m reminded that density is the number one key, and that’s always been the biggest uphill battle in the US.

This idea is almost irrelevant to AVs, aside from the potential for getting more of that parking land back, which might facilitate more density. Communities that are interested in equity issues, economic vitality, and climate goals are going to be pushing towards modes of transportation that are not the single occupancy automobile.

Where’s the urban planning community on this? Are there still schools of thought that just want to get as many cars through a stop light as possible?

Becky: It really depends on where you live. Professional planners are supporting their elected officials, and they need to respond to the pressures and concerns that those elected officials have. The response to emerging technologies will look very different in Seattle, where they are heavily investing in transit instead of parking (and it’s one of the few places in the country where transit use is actually increasing) than in Dallas, where they have much more sprawl and it’s going to be tougher to walk around, especially in the summertime when it’s so incredibly hot.

The professional planner’s role is to provide the different options and be able to illustrate the benefits and challenges of different types of policy approaches. If you want to have healthier people, then you have to build places where it’s easy and comfortable for people to walk and bike.

For the industry, and especially for traffic engineers, the priority for the last 50 years has been to move vehicles, but I think that’s really starting to change.

There’s obviously going to be a transition to this new technology. What’s that transition going to look like?

Nico: The deployment is going to be geographically differentiated. The first wave will be cities that have large streets, gridded or straightforward street patterns, and that don’t get too much snow. As the technology gets more sophisticated, we’ll begin seeing it in more complicated situations.

Boston’s probably going to get AVs later than Miami, just due to the layout of the streets. Europe is probably going to be later than that with the smaller width of their streets.

The strange part is, when deployment happens, it’ll be stepped, not gradual. If deployment occurs through fleets, then what’s going to happen is one day, Waymo is going to point to your city and say “Okay, here are your 5,000 AVs. Ready, GO.”

Just in the last year, Waymo has ordered 82,000 vans. They ordered 20,000 in January 2018 and another 62,000 in June 2018. So, they’re not going to be deploying just one or two vehicles at a time.

So, the deployment is going to be geographically differentiated but also really stepped. You might go from nothing, to a hundred, or even a thousand AVs. So, cities could see the impacts of AVs, potentially, in short order.

Becky: It’s been interesting to watch how e-scooters have been introduced, where they were just dumped on cities without any kind of warning. In the lead up to AVs, cities are going to be thinking about these vehicles ahead of time. Some might even put a cap on the number they allow.

Who makes the decisions when it comes to reallocating road space and determining the use of the public right of way?

Becky: It’s usually the cities. It really depends on what jurisdiction you’re in. In most places, it is going to be cities that control road space, i.e., sidewalk to sidewalk, as well as the zoning. There are cases with county or state lands that have specific rules or regulations on them too, so it really depends on where you are across the country. But in most locations, when it comes to land use, it’s the cities that are in charge.

Nico: It’s a huge thing for cities to realize: that they own the operating environment for all these new technologies. They have a tremendous amount of power and say in what happens to road space. They need to take control and not just let these changes happen to them, but shape changes that are coming.

What should cities keep in mind as they’re making these decisions?

Nico: AVs are not just a transportation issue, e-commerce is not just a retail issue, these are everything issues. We need to get outside of just thinking about these issues in narrow disciplines because they are going to have far reaching impacts.

There are big revolutions heading our direction, if we want to have equitable, environmentally friendly, economically sustainable outcomes, then we need to build political support. We need to make sure we’re talking to people outside of just the transportation sector.

Everyone needs to think, “How will AVs effect the specific area that I work on?” If you’re interested in anything that has to do with cities, it will be impacted by these vehicles.


Becky Steckler, AICP is the Program Director for the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon. She has over 20 years of project management experience, with a focus on land use, transportation, economic development, and strategic planning projects. As the Urbanism Next Program Director, Ms. Steckler manages and conducts technical research on the secondary impacts of emerging technologies (autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, and e-commerce) on land use, urban design, transportation, and real estate and the implications of these changes on equity, the economy, the environment, and governance. She is a member of the Oregon Legislative Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles that will make recommendations to the Oregon Legislature on enabling legislation for autonomous vehicles.

Nico Larco, AIA is the Director of the Urbanism Next Center and a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Oregon. The Urbanism Next Center is focused on how technological advances such as new mobility, autonomous vehicles, e-commerce and the sharing economy are changing city form and development.  Prof. Larco assists cities and projects with future-proofing, has run workshops and charrettes nationally and internationally on this topic, and is currently coordinating work in this area with various municipal and state agencies around the globe.  He is also a Principal of Larco/Knudson, an urban design consulting firm.

The Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon is leading conversations nationally and globally around the effects automated vehicles could have on cities. Approaching the issue from an interdisciplinary perspective, Urbanism Next engages architects, city and transportation planners, developers, elected officials, and technology providers around the changing landscape of how people and goods move. The center is hosting its 2nd annual conference around these issues from May 7-9th in Portland, Oregon. More information can be found at https://www.urbanismnext.com/.

Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr Photo: Mark Hogan Photo: Adam Coppola

EPA Head Lies about Fuel Economy Fines in Push for Weaker Car Standards

Fiat Chrysler spinning itself in circles as it chooses to pay fines and buy credits from competitors instead of investing in efficiency for the long-term. Photo courtesy of FCA

In an interview with Bloomberg Media on February 4th, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that manufacturers have paid $77 million in fines for not complying “with the current Obama numbers,” going on to say that “it’s incorrect to say that the automobile manufacturer can comply with the Obama numbers. We want a more realistic number.”

In waging this war on “the Obama numbers”, Andrew Wheeler is waging a war on facts in order to increase pollution from passenger cars and trucks and force consumers to pay more at the pump, lining the pockets of the oil industry with whom he has met repeatedly in his short tenure at EPA.

Fiat-Chrysler is paying a fine…for repeating history

One part of the story is correct: Fiat Chrysler is paying $77 million in fines as a result of the inefficiency of its 2016 model year fleet. However, this fine is not because they aren’t in compliance the critical and important standards set under Obama (in fact, they are). Instead, Fiat Chrysler is paying a fine for violating a Congressional law meant to prevent the very actions which set in motion the bailout of Chrysler!

In the 2000s, Chrysler and other domestic manufacturers had invested heavily in SUV and light truck production in the United States, essentially ignoring investment in passenger cars. When oil prices rose, they were completely unprepared for the market shift away from these big gas guzzlers and towards the more efficient passenger cars made by their competitors. The result of this negligence were massive layoffs of domestic workers.

In 2005, General Motors announced the closure of 12 manufacturing plants, resulting in the loss of 30,000 jobs across North America. In 2006, Ford announced eliminations of up to 30,000 jobs and 14 factories. In 2007. Chrysler announced cuts to 13,000 jobs in North America and at least partial closures of 4 plants. This massive economic catastrophe was the result of a business strategy that ignored the possibility of a changing market and the inherent fluctuations resulting from a volatile oil market, putting short-term profits over smarter, longer-term investments.

Congress says enough is enough

The long-reaching impact of these lay-offs is apparent in Michigan today, even as many of these jobs have returned. And in 2007, Congress sought to put an end to the detrimental behavior that cost the public so much.

In the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), Congress set a mandatory limit for a manufacturer’s domestically produced passenger car fleet—no longer would a manufacturer be allowed to ignore investment in a robust portfolio of efficient vehicles produced in North America. In order to make sure the bailouts, layoffs, and economic turmoil brought about by shortsighted investment strategies, the law requires that every manufacturer’s domestically produced passenger car fleet achieves an average fuel economy no more than 8 percent worse than the average car sold in the United States. .

Fiat-Chrysler tells the American people: We don’t care

In 2007, Congress tried to prevent future crises by passing EISA. And in 2008, the American taxpayer bailed out Chrysler and General Motors, assuming that these companies had learned their lesson. But just seven years later, Fiat Chrysler flaunted the requirements set out by Congress to avoid another bail-out and protect American jobs.

In 2015, Fiat Chrysler knew that it was going to fall well short of the requirements on North American production of efficient passenger cars. Yet in 2016, the company doubled down on its strategy, not only refusing to improve the efficiency of its domestic fleet but scrapping production of its  most efficient vehicles entirely. This was a conscious and deliberate choice to ignore Congress and the goodwill of the American people in bailing out the failing company by repeating history. The penalty for doing so was a $77 million price-tag they were willing to pay.

Fiat-Chrysler is being fined because they are falling short of their competitors and focusing on short-term gains in place of long-term investment, exactly the behavior the law they broke was meant to combat.

EPA wants you to believe that manufacturers can’t meet standards…and so does Fiat Chrysler

Andrew Wheeler’s EPA is in the process of undoing the regulations that have continued to make vehicles of every size and type more efficient. He’s already claimed ridiculous things about the impacts of these rules, but now he’s adding a new weapon in his quest to harm American consumers: lying about whether manufacturers are in compliance with these standards.

In fact, the document published by NHTSA disclosing these fines shows quite clearly that manufacturers continue to comply with the CAFE program. Even his own EPA shows that manufacturers continue to comply with the program, in part by using credits earned for exceeding expectations in the early years to buy more time to comply with the harder future standards, for which they’ve prepared a number of widespread developments, whether that’s mild hybridization of some of the largest vehicles on the road, deployment of dozens of new electric vehicles, or just the “holy grail” of internal combustion engines.

Fiat Chrysler has been quite clear about how it feels about regulations—it would rather pay the U.S. government fines than provide customers with efficient options. And it has lobbied Andrew Wheeler for a dramatically weaker program in order to continue doing so. But one company’s strategic indifference to fuel economy improvements are not justification to rollback a program that is cutting global warming emissions, reducing our use of fossil fuel, and saving consumers billions at the pump.

Self-Driving Cars Need to be Steered in a Climate-Smart Direction

Electric AVs being tested by Cruise Automation frequently pass by my home in San Francisco. Photo: Don Anair

The roving autonomous vehicles on the streets of San Francisco are one of the frequent reminders on my daily commute that our transportation system is changing. But will self-driving cars be good or bad for climate change?

Imaginations can run wild with “heaven or hell” scenarios of automated cars.  Imagine zooming around uncongested roads and highways while passengers attend to their social media, relax with friends, or take in a movie in a clean, electric vehicle.  Or, in the darker vision, zombie cars with no passengers are clogging roads and spewing pollution, urban sprawl is given a new life, and marginalized communities continue to lack good transportation options. As this technology comes to market, it will be up to decision makers to set us on the right course with smart policies.

Some researchers have been putting pen to paper to better understand the potential climate risks of self-driving cars (or autonomous or automated vehicles (AVs) as they are otherwise called) as well as their potential climate benefits. This research is providing important insights into the potential for building a modern transportation system that is less polluting, less congested, more equitable and more efficient than what we have today. It also highlights the significant risks of inaction and the difficulty of achieving the best outcomes.

3 Revolutions and a Multi-Modal Future: Autonomous, Electric, and Sharing Rides

Let’s start with the positive vision first. Self-driving car technologies are paired with electric vehicles, which we’ve shown have lower carbon emissions no matter where you live in the U.S.  In addition, AVs usher in a new wave of transportation services—think Uber and Lyft 2.0—where rides are more convenient than individual vehicle ownership and are cost-competitive.  This leads to a reduction in personal car ownership, since not owning a car is now a more viable, cheaper option for households.  Reduced car-ownership alone doesn’t solve the problem, but when paired with increased access to mobility options like shared bikes, scooters, and efficient mass transit, individuals now choose from a variety of options for each trip, rather than always defaulting to the car formerly parked in their driveway. Sharing or pooling of rides is seamless and offers a lower-cost option, access to faster moving car-pool lanes and lower tolls, while reducing the number of cars on the road.  This ideal future of clean, equitable, and accessible mobility is one of autonomous, electric, and pooled car trips combined with urban design and infrastructure that supports walking, scooters, bikes, and mass transit, and pricing signals that steer choices towards the cleanest, most efficient modes of travel.

Figure 1 Adapted from “Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation“, 2017.

What happens to climate emissions in this future? Researchers at University of California Davis and Institute for Transportation & Development Policy examined a future scenario where AVs are incorporated into a highly shared, multimodal, and electric urban transportation system.  They found, globally, urban transportation pollution could be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 and massive increases in congestion could be avoided, with vehicle miles traveled actually declining by 25 percent instead of increasing by 50 percent in the business as usual case (see figure).

This scenario of a future transportation system meets the travel demands of a growing population while driving down climate emissions.  And it requires coordinated policies to work, including compact development as well as policies that make the lowest emission and most efficient modes of transport the most attractive.  But what if that’s not what happens? What if we don’t make the decisions necessary to support the future described above, and instead take a hands-off approach to AV deployment?

The nightmare AV future: More vehicle miles, more congestion, more pollution, less equity

As wonderful as the vision of “three revolutions” is, it would be foolish to think that this vision of the future is likely—or even possible—without a lot of work. Here are a few ways that things could go wrong.

AVs could dramatically increase driving

If AVs primarily enable increased single occupancy vehicle trips, we are in trouble. One widely-cited study looked at a wide range of impacts AVs could have on energy consumption, travel and carbon emissions.  And there are many factors (see figure). Everything from the energy savings of robot eco-driving to energy and travel increases from newly empowered individuals who previously did not have the ability to drive their own vehicle. There are several potential impacts on both sides of the ledger, but the biggest potential increase in energy use (and by association, emissions) comes from a behavioral response to AVs.  If driving can now be productive time, longer commutes, for example, may not be the burden they once were.  This is one way in which AVs could reduce the time-cost of driving (see “travel cost reduction” results in the figure) and increase overall vehicle travel – as much as 60% according to the study.  Recent modeling of possible AV deployment in the Washington, D.C. metro region showed similar results, estimating that vehicle miles traveled could increase 46-66% with the introduction of self-driving cars.

So will people really drive that much more? Some researchers did an experiment to see what would happen to a household’s vehicle travel if they had access to a vehicle and a driver for a week – mimicking life with a self-driving car. Not surprisingly, most households used the vehicle more often (83% average increase in miles traveled), and even sent the car and driver out on errands (21% of the increase was zero-occupancy).  While there were only 13 participants in the study, which limits the generalization of the findings, the experiment does illustrate the potential behavioral shifts when a vehicle that can drive itself is introduced into a household. Why not send the car to pick-up your dry cleaning or take that trip to Aunt Esmerelda’s you’ve been putting off?

AVs could increase congestion and undermine transit, instead of complementing it

Pooling rides is essential to making AVs deliver on their potential to be clean, equitable and efficient.  Pooling rides for people with similar origins and destinations can deliver more passenger trips from fewer vehicle trips, which is key to making efficient use of vehicles (reducing pollution per trip) and roads (reducing congestion per trip).  But while pooled AVs could help increase the average occupancy of cars, they could also undermine our most important current source of pooling, mass transit.  A car with 2-3 people sharing a ride is an improvement over each person driving alone, but it is a lot more vehicles, pollution and congestion than 30 people in a bus, or several hundred in a subway or train.

Based on the current evidence, especially in larger cities where mass transit is especially important, ride-haling is pulling more people from modes like transit, walking and biking than it is pooling passengers who would otherwise drive alone. This mode shift, along with additional trips that that wouldn’t have been made in the absence of ride-hailing options, is leading to increases in congestion and increased vehicle miles traveled.  (See research by Clewlow & Mishra, Schaller, and University of Kentucky) Moreover, reduced ridership on mass transit hurts the economics of these critical systems as they lose fare revenue.  Adding AVs to ride-hailing fleets could drive down ride costs and exacerbate the changes in vehicle travel and transit impacts we are already seeing.

Roads snarled in congestion are not a good outcome for anyone, including companies that want to use these roads to sell people rides, pooled or otherwise.  So, new rules and incentives will be needed to efficiently manage transportation networks as private companies operate what are in effect private transit systems with occupancy sometimes higher than today’s cars but most often lower than today’s mass transit. Policy-makers will need to prioritize the movement of people over vehicles with policies that favor higher occupancy trips and modes. These could  take the form of preferential pricing, access to restricted lanes and ensuring that the financial model of mass-transit adapts along the way

If we don’t succeed in ensuring rides are largely pooled in both cars and in mass transit modes like rail and subway, not only will congestion get worse, but we will fail to reduce climate emissions to safe levels as electrifying our transportation system is simply not enough.   In the UC Davis/ITDP study, a “2 Revolution” scenario with AVs and widespread electrification but WITHOUT significant pooling of trips resulted in emissions reductions globally in 2050 by only 45% – far less than needed to stabilize our climate.

AVs could exacerbate or perpetuate inequities in our current transportation system

A new report by The Greenlining Institute outlines strategies to ensure AVs benefit all communities.

Our current car-ownership-based transportation system does not serve all communities in an equitable way.  Lower income households spend a larger share of their income on transportation than wealthier households. Those who cannot afford a car, or are too old or young to drive, or have physical handicaps to driving, have to rely on a transit system that often doesn’t meet their needs.

AVs could improve mobility for communities historically underserved by our current transportation system – if the technology enables greater access to affordable, accessible and reliable transportation.  If, however, AV technology is primarily relegated to private car ownership and leads to increased congestion or undermines public transit, as described above, the current inequities will be exacerbated.

A new report by the Greenlining Institute describes in more details the health, economic and mobility risks of AVs for marginalized groups like people of color, the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities, and offers a list of recommendations to policymakers for ensuring the rollout of AVs leads to greater mobility options for all. UCS will also be releasing a report soon with results from an analysis of the Washington DC metro area and how the rollout of AVs in that region could impact transportation equity.  This research is important for informing the policies necessary to maximize the benefits of self-driving technology.

Now’s the time to get on the right path

Research is providing some helpful insights on understanding the potential role of AVs in a transportation system that cuts climate emissions and improves mobility.  It also offers a cautionary tale of the potential for AVs to dramatically increase emissions and exacerbate congestion if decision makers are not proactive and thoughtful about putting in place the policies that will lead us to the best outcomes.

We are starting to see some positive action on this front.  In California, legislation (SB1014)signed into law last year requires state agencies to develop standards to ensure ride-hailing companies are moving towards greater shared, zero-emission trips. Since AVs are likely to be rolled out in ride-hailing services, these rules will affect AV deployment.  But that’s only a drop in the bucket. Developing effective public policy to ensure AVs deliver climate and transportation system benefits requires shared goals, effective interagency coordination, and development and implementation of effective policy at different levels of government.  In California, UCS is sponsoring legislation with CALSTART (SB59 authored by Senator Ben Allen) that would get the ball rolling at the state level and ensure proactive policies can be deployed as AV technology is hitting the street.

Smart policies are critical for ensuring self-driving car technology ushers in a new era of clean, affordable, and efficient transportation rather than the zombie car apocalypse.  AVs may be able to drive themselves, but it is up to us to steer them in the right direction.

Photo: Don Anair

¿Quién respira el aire más contaminado por emisiones de vehículos en California?

Es bien sabido que los residentes de muchas ciudades grandes y los que viven cerca de autopistas principales respiran aire contaminado.  ¿Quién no ha visto un bus o camión botando humo negro en el medio del tráfico urbano o en una carretera, o no ha olido aire sucio al caminar por las calles de una ciudad?

Coches, camiones y autobuses emiten partículas finas que son lo suficientemente pequeñas como para penetrar profundamente en los pulmones e incluso  en el torrente sanguíneo. Estas partículas pueden causar enfermedades cardiovasculares, ataques cardíacos, y el cáncer de pulmón, entre otras enfermedades. Se ha estimado que la contaminación del aire por partículas finas es responsable de la gran mayoría de las 3 a 4 millones de muertes anuales atribuídas a la contaminación del aire en todo el mundo.

Lo que mucha gente no sabe, o quizás sepa pero sin evidencia concreta, es que existe una gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos de muchos lugares de EE.UU.. Vivimos en una sociedade desigual donde la contaminación del aire es una de las desigualdades menos visibles, pero que impacta tremendamente  la salud humana.

Ahora tenemos evidencia cuantitativa de esta triste realidad para  California.  La contaminación del aire por partículas finas en California es un problema particularmente grave, ya que este estado cuenta con siete de las diez  ciudades más contaminadas del EE.UU.

Los latinos, afroamericanos y asiáticos en California respiran un aire más contaminado por vehículos que los californianos blancos

De acuerdo com  un nuevo análisis de Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), que utilizó un nuevo modelo desarrollado en la Universidad de Washington y datos de la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos, los californianos afroamericanos, latinos y asiáticos están expuestos a una contaminación de material particulado fino (PM2.5), que es 43, 39 y 21 por ciento, respectivamente, más alta que aquella a la que están expuestos los californianos blancos.

La investigación analizó las emisiones vehiculares de los tubos de escape y el reabastecimiento de combustible y estimó la exposición a la contaminación a nivel de zona censal. “Los residentes en las comunidades más afectadas han sabido por generaciones que había una cantidad desproporcionada de contaminación del aire en sus vecindarios”, dijo David Reichmuth, ingeniero sénior de UCS y autor del nuevo estudio. “Este modelo nos permite cuantificar la magnitud de la desigualdad en todo el estado. California ha logrado grandes avances en las últimas décadas para reducir la contaminación de los vehículos, pero estos datos muestran que los afroamericanos, latinos y asiáticos en California aún respiran mayores cantidades de contaminación”.

En promedio en todo el estado, la investigación encontró que la contaminación del aire es más baja donde el porcentaje de californianos blancos es más alto.

Las comunidades con un alto porcentaje de población blanca están menos expuestas a la contaminación del aire.

Hogares de bajos ingresos o que no poseen coche también son más afectados

Otro resultado del análisis demuestra que los hogares de más bajos ingresos (que ganan menos de $20.000 por año) en el estado viven donde la contaminación por PM2.5 es 10 por ciento más alta que el promedio estatal, mientras que los hogares con ingresos más altos (que ganan más de $200.000 por año) viven donde la contaminación por PM2.5 se ubica 13 por ciento por debajo del promedio estatal.

Los californianos que viven en hogares sin un vehículo personal también están expuestos a niveles más altos de contaminación vehicular que otros hogares—un 19 por ciento más de PM2.5 que el promedio estatal—debido a que estos hogares  tienden a estar en áreas urbanas rodeadas por tráfico vehicular.

“Las personas que a propósito o debido a circunstancias financieras no son dueños de un automóvil y no contribuyen directamente a la contaminación del aire proveniente de automóviles y camiones aún viven con más de ese tipo de contaminación. Los líderes locales y los defensores del aire limpio deben notar la ironía”, dijo Reichmuth.

Hay también una gran disparidad dentro del estado de California

La gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos fue similar a las disparidades encontradas entre las áreas geográficas y los niveles de ingresos en California. Los residentes de Los Ángeles están expuestos a un 60 por ciento más de contaminación vehicular que el promedio estatal y un 250 por ciento más que los residentes del área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Sin embargo, en ciertas zonas  de la Bahía de San Francisco el aire es igual de sucio al promedio de contaminación de Los Ángeles.

La gran disparidad en la exposición a la contaminación entre los grupos raciales y étnicos fue similar a las disparidades encontradas entre las áreas geográficas y los niveles de ingresos en California. Los residentes de Los Ángeles están expuestos a un 60 por ciento más de contaminación vehicular que el promedio estatal y un 250 por ciento más que los residentes del área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Sin embargo, en ciertas zonas  de la Bahía de San Francisco el aire es igual de sucio al promedio de contaminación de Los Ángeles.

Haga clic en el map para explorar el mapa interactivo. 

¿Qué es el  PM2.5 y por qué es un problema tan grave para la salud?

Parte de la contaminación de estas partículas finas proviene de fuentes tales como el polvo de carreteras y construcciones, y de incendios. Otra parte se forma directamente durante la combustión en plantas de energía, y durante la combustión de gasolina o diesel en vehículos.

Sin embargo, gran parte de PM2.5 se forma indirectamente a través de las reacciones de los gases contaminantes en la atmósfera. La mayoría de estes contaminantes, que incluyen amonio, óxidos de nitrógeno, óxidos de azufre y compuestos orgánicos volátilese, son emitidos en los tubos de escape de los vehículos, aunque los compuestos orgánicos volátiles también provienen de la evaporación de la gasolina durante el reabastecimiento, de las fugas en los tanques y de las mangueras de combustible de los vehículos.

El PM2.5 proveniente del transporte por carreteras puede exacerbar las afecciones pulmonares y cardíacas, causar ataques de asma y provocar un aumento en las hospitalizaciones.  La exposición crónica de niños a PM2.5 también se ha vinculado con el crecimiento lento de la función pulmonar, el desarrollo de asma y otras enfermedades.

La exposición a PM2.5 conduce a aproximadamente 3.100 muertes prematuras por año en California debido a enfermedades cardiovasculares, ataques cardíacos, el cáncer de pulmón y otras enfermedades. En comparación, en el año 2017, se reportaron 1.829 homicidios en el estado, o aproximadamente un 40 por ciento menos que las muertes estimadas debido a la contaminación por PM2.5 proveniente de automóviles y camiones. La cantidad de muertes relacionadas con la contaminación es sólo ligeramente inferior a las 3.600 muertes causadas por accidentes de tránsito que se reportan en todo el estado durante el 2016.

Teniendo en cuenta el aumento proyectado en la tasa de mortalidad, esta contaminación tiene un costo anual de $29 mil millones, según la estimación de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos sobre el costo de los riesgos para la vida humana.

¿Qué podemos hacer para reducir la contaminación y la desigualdad?

Existen muchas oportunidades para reducir esta importante fuente de emisiones asociadas  no solamente a la contaminación del aire, pero al calentamiento global.

La electrificación de coches, buses y camiones podría reducir considerablemente las emisiones. Los vehículos con batería eléctrica y los vehículos de celdas de combustible, en particular, no producen emisiones de escape (sin embargo, hay cantidades menores de PM5 por el desgaste de los neumáticos y de los frenos) y evitan por completo la necesidad de reabastecimiento de gasolina y sus emisiones asociadas. California tiene estándares de contenido renovable tanto para el  hidrógeno  para el transporte como para la electricidad, estándares que limitarán las emisiones adicionales (Wisland 2018; Senado del Estado de California 2006).

Los vehículos convencionales más eficientes y que producen menos emisiones también son importantes para reducir la contaminación del aire. Los vehículos de gasolina con mayor economía de combustible necesitan menos reabastecimiento. Además, las tecnologías de ahorro de combustible, como los sistemas de arranque y parada que reducen las emisiones cuando los vehículos están encendidos pero inactivos, también pueden contribuir a reducir los gases emitidos por el tubo de escape.

Disminuir las millas conducidas, especialmente en áreas de mayor población, también es una estrategia potencial para reducir la contaminación del aire. Las decisiones sobre el uso del suelo son importantes para reducir la necesidad de conducir vehículos, y las políticas que fomentan el uso del transporte público, caminar o andar en bicicleta en lugar del uso privado de vehículos de pasajeros podrían reducir la generación de PM2.5

Si bien que los californianos pueden marcar la diferencia al elegir vehículos más limpios, gran parte de la contaminación proviene de fuentes que están fuera del control individual. El análisis de UCS señala que es clave expandir las políticas estatales y locales actuales dirigidas a reducir la contaminación vehicular en comunidades sobrecargadas para disminuir la grave desigualdad entre los grupos raciales y las personas de diversos niveles de ingresos en todo el estado.

Las acciones existentes ejemplifican los pasos que el estado ha tomado para reducir la contaminación del aire provocada por los vehículos:

Los formuladores de políticas también han tomado acciones específicas dirigidas a reducir las cargas en las comunidades más afectadas, por ejemplo, estableciendo requisitos para que el gobierno invierta un porcentaje mínimo de los ingresos generados por el programa limitación y comercio de las emisiones (‘cap-and-trade program’) en las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación.

Este análisis de UCS proporciona evidencia de la necesidad y la importancia de estes tipos de programas, y puede ayudar a informar y configurar acciones futuras dirigidas a reducir la exposición a la contaminación, así como las desigualdades ambientales en California.

“Tenemos la ventaja en este estado de que ya contamos con reglas y políticas innovadoras que nos han convertido en líderes en la electrificación del transporte y la reducción de emisiones”, dijo Reichmuth. “Pero tenemos que hacer más para asegurarnos de que todos los californianos respiren aire puro. Con una crisis de vivienda sin cesar en este estado y un desarrollo más denso cerca de los corredores de alto tráfico, debemos priorizar los programas de vehículos limpios que beneficien a las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación del aire”.





Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

Air Pollution from Vehicles in California: People of Color Bear the Biggest Burden

Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

Cars, trucks, and buses are a significant source of air pollution in California. But how much pollution is attributable to these vehicles and who is exposed to this pollution? To help answer these questions, I’ve used a computer model to estimate the amount of fine particulate matter air pollution (known as PM2.5) created by using on-road vehicles (cars, trucks, and buses). The findings are troubling, both because they show that people of color are exposed to higher levels of harmful air pollution and because this result is likely not to be a surprise to many Californians (full report available in English and Spanish). The study supports the claims many have been making for decades – that on average, African American, Latino, and Asian Californians are exposed to more PM2.5 pollution from cars, trucks, and buses than white Californians. In fact, these groups are exposed to PM2.5 pollution 43, 39, and 21 percent higher, respectively, than white Californians.

What is PM2.5 and why is it important?

Petroleum-powered cars, trucks, and buses produce emissions that lead to harmful air pollution.

Exposure to PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is linked to increased illness and death, primarily from heart and lung diseases. These particles are small —20 times smaller than the diameter of fine human hair— so they can penetrate deeply into the lungs, and the smallest particles can even enter into the bloodstream. While PM2.5 is not the only air pollutant that adversely affects health, it is estimated to be responsible for approximately 95 percent of the global public health impacts from air pollution. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 causes increased death rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, and has been linked to other adverse impacts such as lung cancer. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 in children has also been linked to slowed lung-function growth, development of asthma, and other negative health impacts.

On-road vehicles like cars, trucks, and buses are a significant source of harmful emissions in California. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel has multiple negative effects: it produces climate-changing emissions such as carbon dioxide and pollution that reduces air quality. PM2.5 pollution is of particular concern in California, as the state has seven of the 10 most polluted US cities in terms of PM2.5 pollution.

Greater PM2.5 pollution for Latinos and African Americans, low-income households

We estimated exposure to particulate matter air pollution using a recently developed model from the University of Washington and data from the US Census Bureau. This model lets us calculate how vehicle tailpipe and refueling emissions ultimately lead to ground-level pollution exposure so we can understand how exposure to PM2.5 varies among groups and locations.

The results are clear: PM2.5 pollution burden from cars, trucks, and buses is inequitable when looking at the exposure experienced by racial groups in California. Latinos are, on average, exposed to 15 percent higher PM2.5 concentrations than the average Californian, and African Americans in California experience concentrations 18 percent higher than average. White Californians have average exposure that is 17 percent lower than the average for the state. This means that, on average, African American and Latino Californians are exposed to PM2.5 pollution that is 43 and 39 percent higher, respectively, than white Californians.

African American and Latino Californians are exposed to higher than average levels of particulate matter pollution from cars, trucks, and buses

Unequal pollution burdens can also be seen at the community level. In census tracts with average annual PM2.5 concentrations less than half the state average, whites make up 48 percent of the population, while only constituting 38 percent of the state’s total population. In contrast, the most polluted census tracts have a higher proportion of people of color. More than 60 percent of people in these highest burden areas are Latino, compared with a state population that is just 39 percent Latino. The inequities and disparities are clear.

Communities with higher percentages of white population have less exposure to particulate matter from cars, trucks, and buses.

Our research also links inequitable disparities in household income to pollution exposure, with less affluent households having higher exposure to PM2.5 pollution from on-road transportation. On average, households with the lowest incomes (less than $20,000 per year) are exposed to more than 25 percent more particulate matter air pollution than the highest-income households (greater than $200,000 per year).

PM2.5 exposure from cars and trucks varies greatly within California

Click to view interactive map.

Los Angeles County has the highest average PM2.5 pollution exposure from cars and trucks in the state: on average, 60 percent higher than the mean value for the state. One quarter of the population in Los Angeles County experiences pollution levels that are more than double the state average. And because Los Angeles County is the most populous in the state, this higher level of pollution affects millions of people. Only six counties have an average exposure from on-road transportation that is greater than the state average, but four of them (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego) are in the top five most populous counties in California, with a combined population of almost 19 million people.

Other areas, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, have zones of higher pollution but have much lower average exposure to vehicle-related particulate pollution compared with the state average. The worst regions of the Bay Area (such as downtown Oakland and San Jose) have annual average PM2.5 concentrations equal to the average across Los Angeles County.

Opportunities to reduce harmful impacts of vehicle use

Particulate matter air pollution from on-road transportation places significant health burdens on Californians, and those burdens are inequitably distributed. However, there are opportunities to greatly reduce the exposure to PM2.5 by reducing tailpipe and refueling emissions, making much of this burden avoidable.

Electrification of vehicles, both passenger and freight, could greatly reduce emissions. Battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in particular have no tailpipe emissions (however, there are minor amounts of PM2.5 emissions from tire and brake wear that all vehicles produce) and completely avoid the need for, and emissions associated with, gasoline refueling. Electricity generation and hydrogen production can produce emissions; however, California has renewable content standards for both hydrogen for transportation and electricity that will limit additional emissions.

While Californians can make a difference by buying cleaner vehicles, much of the pollution comes from sources outside an individual’s direct control, like heavy-duty trucks and buses. The state needs to continue to move forward on regulations, incentives, and other policies to reduce vehicle emissions. Equity and meaningful involvement of disadvantaged communities should be key considerations in designing policies and strategies to reduce pollution from vehicles. The state will need to continue to make progress on reducing emissions and should prioritize actions that reduce the inequitably distributed burden of air pollution in California. Programs like the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (incentives to help retire older, polluting cars) and low-income clean vehicle rebates are examples of ways the state can help, but clearly more can and should be done to address the problem of harmful air pollution in California.

Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Will the Real State of the Union Please Stand Up? 7 Things President Trump Won’t Say

A great public servant and one of my mentors, William Ruckelshaus, always emphasized to me that the State of the Union was a time to put big ideas on the table, to talk about the truly great challenges facing the country, and to provide leadership for what we as a nation needed to do to live up to the ideals of our democracy. New education initiatives, cleaning up pollution, providing health care—these are some of the big ideas that previous presidents have talked about on this national stage.

Call me crazy but I don’t think that is what we will hear from President Trump.

Instead we’re likely to hear misdirection and falsehoods. According to the Washington Post, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims during his first two years in office. Even if by some miracle he sticks to actual facts during his State of the Union address, it’s a safe bet that he won’t address many of the most crucial challenges facing America. Instead he’s likely to tout the strong economy, while ignoring rising inequality and continuing losses for everyone but the wealthy. He’ll rail about border security, while dismissing the real security threats highlighted by his intelligence agencies. And he will talk about jobs, while ignoring worker safety and threats to public health.

What should be in the speech are some of the truly great challenges we need to tackle as a nation. We need a real change in direction and focus from this administration, and so I will be watching the speech live, tweeting the #RealSOTU, and calling for this nation to face up to the truth.

Here are seven BIG things that President Trump won’t say in his 2019 State of the Union speech.

Rolling back regulations hurts people

President Trump and his appointed agency heads have cut down landmark public protections that we all depend on for our health and safety, and sidelining science has consistently been one of their go-to strategies to accomplish it.

Rolling back regulations that reduce air pollution, water pollution, toxic contamination, worker protections, and more might give windfall profits to some companies. But those profits come at public expense. And who’s bearing the brunt of those impacts and costs? Poorer communities and communities of color.

That all needs to stop, right now.

And right now, with a new Congress in place there is a renewed opportunity to call on our elected officials to represent their constituents and to hold the Trump administration accountable. The administration should be doing its job of serving the public, not special interests.

We need policies that treat our people equitably, that require those who pollute to clean up their mess regardless of what neighborhood they are located in. And we need our government to hold polluters to account. Mr. President, do you want to make real change?  Then work for the people who need the government’s help. That isn’t the oil and gas or chemical industry.

We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change

We have about a decade left to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and avoid truly catastrophic climate change impacts, including unprecedented and life-threatening heat waves, the loss of millions of coastal homes to rising seas, and a growing number of extreme and damaging weather events.

The IPCC’s recent special report and the Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment (NCA4) both tell us that climate change is already affecting all of us, and that right now we are speeding down one of the most costly and damaging paths possible.

Whether it’s national security, natural disasters, the military, the economy, immigration, or any other number of issues, there’s one thing Trump will surely fail to recognize in his speech: Climate change affects all of them.

Consider, for example, the 2018 report on the vulnerability of military installations to climate-related impacts, which showed that about 10 percent of sites are being affected by extreme temperatures, and some six percent are affected by flooding due to storm surge and by wildfire. Or the 2019 worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community, which identifies climate change as a national security risk.  Or how the NCA4 finds that existing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure are already being impacted by heavy rainfall, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, heat waves, and other weather and climate events.

The last two years of natural disasters and extreme weather brought huge costs to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are also part and parcel of a warming climate, and our economy—indeed our very future—depends on the country getting deadly serious about the climate crisis right now.

Coal is dying and renewables are booming. Not fast enough.

Our electricity system is moving away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Today coal produces only a quarter of our nation’s electricity, down from 50 percent a short dozen years ago. That’s an encouraging trend, but we still need faster progress and more ambitious policies to achieve the emissions cuts needed to meet the climate crisis head on.

The Trump administration is instead doing everything it can think of to try and prop up the failing coal industry. It’s not working, and coal is still on it way out, but President Trump is still wasting precious time that would be much better spent on ramping up clean energy across the country.

In his speech, Trump will also likely ignore the remarkable economic benefits of renewable energy, especially that the US clean energy industry means jobs, with already more than 100,000 working in the wind sector, 250,000 working in solar, and more than 2 million making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. And the nascent US offshore wind sector offers the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs up and down our coasts.

The administration is moving full speed backwards on transportation emissions

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the US, making it more important than ever to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and reduce the amount of planet-warming emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere. (Plus I like saving money—and driving a cleaner, more fuel-efficient car helps consumers do that as well.)

The president and his administration, however, are still moving ahead with their plans to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards for cars and trucks and halt progress on reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

My colleagues cranked the numbers on what this rollback would mean and it is truly staggering, especially when it’s taken together with the administration’s threat to void state regulations on vehicle emissions. As senior UCS vehicles analyst Dave Cooke points out, rolling back these standards will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online. These inefficient cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010. And it will cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back.

It’s a safe bet that the president won’t mention any of this. And, for good measure, he will also likely fail to mention his desire to get rid of the electric vehicle tax credit, which makes it easier and more affordable to buy a cleaner car.

Fossil fuel companies are responsible, but still getting special treatment

Trump definitely won’t bring up the fact that fossil fuel companies have known for at least 50 years that their products—oil, gas, and coal—cause global warming. Or that companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron have spent decades and millions of dollars intentionally manufacturing doubt about climate science and lobbying to block sensible climate policy—and are still playing dirty even today as the costs of climate change grow.

Just this past fall, BP poured $13 million into a campaign opposing a carbon pricing measure in Washington state—while simultaneously publicly claiming to support a carbon tax. Other major fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, still fund industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to do their dirty work lobbying for anti-climate policies.

Meanwhile regular people living through the disruptive impacts of climate change are currently paying for it with their tax dollars. All while fossil fuel companies continue to cash in, plan for and envision minimal disruption to their business models, and avoid paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.

The administration is betraying farmers, workers, and children

Regulatory rollbacks and putting profits over the interests of the public don’t just affect pollution and the environment. They also impact the food we eat and the people who bring it to us, from farm to fork.

In his speech, Trump won’t mention that he and his Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have repeatedly favored ideology and the agribusiness industry while disregarding science—but that’s exactly what UCS has found. This not only restricts the products and practices that would make us healthier but also ignores the very people who feed us. Small farmers, workers, and children all lose when the administration betrays their interests for the profits of big agribusiness companies, from chemical giant Dow to multinational poultry and pork conglomerates.

Rolling back school lunch rules for the nation’s children or threatening to deny food assistance to immigrant families and low-wage workers is not worthy of this nation. Undermining the USDA’s research agencies, catering to the chemical industry, and waging a disastrous trade war threatens the future for farmers, consumers, and communities.

What the country needs is a food policy that supports public health, ensures that everyone gets the nutrition they need, and reduces the impact of agriculture on the environment and the planet.

Investing massive amounts of money in nuclear weapons is just wrong

Spending over a trillion dollars to re-build the entire nuclear arsenal while walking away from highly successful nuclear arms agreements with Russia is, well, a really bad idea. So is saying that one’s nuclear button is bigger. But the president probably won’t admit that, or indicate that doing so would take the country backwards and greatly increase the chance of nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons still pose an existential threat to our nation and the world. We should be doing all we can to reduce that threat, not just “win” another arms race. Instead the administration just announced that it plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty—an agreement negotiated by President Ronald Reagan which eliminated a whole class of lethal weaponry and made the world a much safer place.

Bellicose rhetoric and building newer, more enhanced nuclear weapons won’t lessen the danger either. We need to be leading the world to reduce the nuclear arsenals, not increasing the odds of nuclear war.

Share the #RealSOTU

It can be hard to listen to the president when we’ve learned to expect an avoidance of essential truths like these.

But I’ll be watching his speech nonetheless, live-tweeting using the #RealSOTU hashtag, and highlighting some of the crucial facts that the president will not.

I hope you can join me.

Will Washington Step Up on Climate in 2019?

Photos left to right: Washington Department of Commerce, iStockphoto/m-imagephotography

While the majority of Washingtonians are worried about climate change and support taking steps to reduce heat-trapping emissions,  it’s no secret that the state has struggled to adopt many big-ticket policies on this issue. (Voters rejected initiatives in 2016 and 2018 to place fees on the state’s biggest emitters of global warming emissions; the Legislature has failed to pass previous proposals from Gov. Inslee to put a price on emissions, and a court also struck down an Inslee administration regulation tackling emissions.) However, I’m not one to linger on past failure, and fortunately this year has brought new opportunities that give me hope Washington lawmakers will seize the moment and take much-needed steps to curtail the state’s global warming emissions.

Washington needs to move quicker on climate

Two recent reports paint a clear picture of why Washington so urgently needs to change course on climate change. In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the UN body responsible for assessing science related to climate change—released a special report outlining the impacts of a global average temperature increase of 1.5°C versus 2°C (above pre-industrial levels), and pathways to limit temperature increases to that level. The report’s findings highlight that the next decade is critical for making dramatic cuts in heat-trapping emissions and that emissions around the world will need to reach net-zero by mid-century to keep global average temperatures from crossing dangerous thresholds.

More recently, Washington’s Department of Ecology released the latest inventory of climate change emissions in the state through 2015. The report shows that emissions climbed more than 6% between 2012 and 2015, with increases from transportation and electricity generation. While some factors are outside of policymakers’ control (e.g., 2015 was a drought year with lower than typical electrical generation from hydroelectric dams), the numbers do not paint a picture of a state heading quickly in the right direction. Hopefully the juxtaposition of these findings further motivates lawmakers to take serious action in 2019.

Creating a market for cleaner transportation fuels

Emissions from transportation represent the largest portion of global warming emissions in Washington (42.5%). There are many strategies needed to significantly cut these emissions and one of the biggest is cleaning up Washington’s fuel supply. UCS is strongly supporting House Bill 1110, which would create a clean fuel standard. The standard would require petroleum refineries and fuel importers to reduce the average carbon intensity of the fuels they sell in Washington by 10 percent by 2028 (compared to 2017).

Refineries and fuel importers could meet the standard by blending low-carbon biofuels into the gasoline or diesel they sell and by purchasing credits generated by providers of lower-carbon fuels, including electricity, renewable diesel, and renewable natural gas.

The standard would create a dependable market for cleaner fuels, facilitating steady investment into research, development, and deployment of low-carbon fuels that are necessary to fully decarbonize the transportation sector in coming decades. Similar programs exist in California and Oregon and a recent expert analysis showed enough clean fuels would be available by 2028 to meet the proposal in House Bill 1110. I am personally excited that a clean fuels program would support investments to speed the transition to electric vehicles, which is playing a growing role in cleaning up our transportation fuel system.

Phasing out fossil fuels from electricity generation

While Washington produces a lot of electricity cleanly from hydropower, the state also uses electricity from coal and natural gas. In 2015 these fossil fuels supplied about 30% of Washington’s electricity, representing about a fifth of the state’s total global warming emissions. Senate Bill 5116 and House Bill 1211 would ban electricity produced from coal by 2025 and require that all electricity sold in the state be generated from renewable and carbon-free sources by 2045. Fortunately, the cost of renewable energy has dramatically declined in the past decade. In fact, clean energy like solar and wind power is now cheaper than natural gas, coal, or nuclear power.

Supplying all of Washington’s electricity from renewable and zero-carbon sources is a bold goal, but achieving it is within reach. Key strategies for eliminating fossil fuels include more efficient use of electricity, greater use of energy storage technologies, access to a wider and more diverse supply of renewable technologies, increased flexibility of electricity users to shift demand, and better coordination of renewable resources among Western states.

Momentum is building among states, cities, and utilities to commit to 100% clean electricity. In September, California adopted a law committing to 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. Then, in December, Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electric utilities, announced it would supply all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. Washington already has a leg-up toward reaching this goal thanks to its abundant supply of carbon-free hydropower. Now is the time for the state to stake its future to an electricity supply free of fossil fuels.

More opportunities on electric vehicles, efficient buildings, and “super” pollutants

Washington legislators have introduced many additional bills that would address different pieces of the state’s climate change puzzle. A few that I am most closely following relate to:

  • Electric vehicles: SB 5336 would further promote electric vehicles (EVs) by requiring automakers to offer an increasing share of EVs for sale, authorizing electric utilities to build EV charging infrastructure, and renewing an expired EV sales tax credit.
  • Energy efficiency of buildings: SB 5293 and HB 1257 would help create more energy efficient buildings by setting new standards for large, commercial buildings and allowing local governments to adopt better codes for new residential construction, among other provisions.
  • “Super” pollutants: HB 1112 would cut emissions of a highly-potent category of heat-trapping gases used in refrigeration, known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

There is no shortage of opportunities for Washington to act on climate change in 2019. Lawmakers have stepped up to the plate by offering many important proposals. The question is whether they succeed in passing these bills to notch some important victories for our climate—Washington, I’m rooting for you!

Photos left to right: Washington Department of Commerce, iStockphoto/m-imagephotography