UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

Top Clean Cars and Trucks of 2018

Some of the cleanest cars you can buy today are powered by electricity, though the emissions of an electric vehicle (EV) varies depending on where it is plugged in. Even though parts of the U.S. still partially rely on coal fired power, the average EV sold in the U.S. produces the emissions equivalent of a gas vehicle that gets 73 MPG, and over 70 percent of Americans live in an area where driving an EV results in fewer emissions than a 50 MPG gas-powered vehicle. Check out how electric vehicles (EVs) fare in your neck of the woods with this interactive tool that will calculate an EV’s emissions via zip code.

Looking for the most fuel-efficient SUV or pickup truck? Read on as I’ll detail the most fuel efficient vehicles in each of these classes below.

1. Toyota Prius Prime (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) – 133 MPGe running on electricity + 54 MPG running on gas

Image via Toyota

This isn’t necessarily the most exciting vehicle on the planet, but the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime offers serious fuel economy and a modest electric range at a reasonable price (from $27,100 before any federal or state credits or rebates). The 2018 Prime is equipped with both a fuel-sipping 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that runs off an 8.8 kWh battery pack that can be recharged in just 5 hours from any regular outlet, or around 2 hours from a 220V outlet (the type of outlet used by home appliances like a washer/dryer. For more info on different types of EV charging, head here). But even when out of juice, the Prime will still achieve a city/highway combined 54 mpg when running off gasoline alone. Overall, EPA gave the 2017 Prime an estimated fuel economy rating of 133 MPGe making it one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles that still uses gasoline today.

 

2. Nissan Leaf (Battery Electric Vehicle) – 112 MPGe 

Image via Nissan

If you’re ready to ditch gasoline for good, you may want to check out the 2018 Nissan Leaf. The all-new Leaf not only got a style upgrade, but it also got a 40-kWh battery that provides an EPA-estimated 151 miles of all-electric range and a fuel economy rating of 112 MPGe. This is a big improvement from the original Leaf’s 84-mile range, and enough of a range boost that will make the Leaf work for even more people’s driving needs. Charging at home or on-the-go should be easy for Leaf owners as well. The Leaf can be fully charged in as little as 40 minutes with DC fast fast charging, or charged in around 8 hours via level 2 (220V) charging. Starting at $29,900, the Tennessee-built Leaf is cheaper than many of its all-electric competitors, though has slightly less range than the Chevy Bolt (238 miles) or Tesla Model 3 (220 miles).

 

3. Honda Clarity PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle) – 110 MPGe running on electricity + 42 MPG running on gas

Image via Honda

Like the Prius Prime, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) includes both a gasoline engine and an electric motor powered by a 17 kWh battery pack, which is good for an EPA-estimated 48 miles of all-electric range. When the electric range is exhausted, the Clarity PHEV relies on an efficient 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that produces a 42 mpg, which is very good for a big sedan. The Clarity PHEV base price is $33,400, but don’t forget about the $7,500 federal tax credit, which can knock the sticker price down to $25,900. Overall, the Clarity PHEV offers the best pure electric range of any plug-in hybrid sedan and should be able to compete with other PHEVs like the Toyota Prius Prime, Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, and Chevy Volt.

 

4. Chevy Bolt (Battery Electric Vehicle) – 119 MPGe 

Image via Chevy

The Bolt was MotorTrend’s Car of the Year in 2017, will go 0-60 in just 6.5 seconds, and has an estimated all-electric range of 238 miles. The 2018 Bolt EV remains largely the same, and starts at $37,495. Of course, this price can be lowered by qualifying for the $7,500 federal tax credit and any other state EV credits or rebates. Interested in what EV incentives apply in your neck of the woods? Head over here for a handy guide. The Bolt’s battery pack can gain 90 miles of charge in just 30 minutes from DC fast charging and a full charge from empty will take about 9 hours via level 2, 220V charging. The Bolt charge time shouldn’t be a deal breaker considering the vast majority of EV charging is done at home – and mostly overnight. It’s also important to note that EV drivers typically don’t need a full charge every time they plug-in. If you drive 50 miles in a day, for example, then you only need to replace that 50 miles of lost range, which can happen in a matter of minutes from a DC fast charger or hours from a level 2 charger.

 

5. Tesla Model 3 (Battery Electric Vehicle) – 130 MPGe

Image via Tesla

There’s not too much to say about the Model 3 that hasn’t already been said. The Model 3 remains one of the most exciting clean vehicles on the market. Just how clean depends on where you plug-in, but UCS analysis has found that for over 70 percent of Americans, driving the average EV results in fewer emissions than a 50 MPG gasoline vehicle. The Model 3 comes with either 50 kWh or 75 kWh battery pack that gives the sedan a range of 220 miles or 310 miles, respectively, and can be fully charged in around 12 hours from level 2 (220V) charging or up to a 50 percent charge in 20 minutes via Tesla’s network of supercharger charging stations. Of course, Tesla has had some trouble meeting the 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders, but they are still taking reservations if you want to get in line and wait an estimated 12-18 months for one of the most hyped electric vehicles of all-time.

 

6. Hyundai Ioniq PHEV – 119 MPGe running on electricity + 52 MPG running on gas

Image via Hyundai

The Ioniq is Hyundai’s first foray into the electric vehicle market and offers a great alternative to the Toyota Prius Prime at a comparable price – the 2018 Ioniq PHEV starts at $25,835 and the Prime starts at $27,100. The Ioniq also marks the first-time American car buyers will be able to choose between a conventional hybrid, a plug-in electric hybrid, or a battery electric version of the same model. Giving consumers a family of clean options in the same vehicle is a clever move by Hyundai, and one that other automakers may seek to duplicate in their efforts to make electric drive more mainstream.

The 2018 plug-in hybrid version of the Ioniq includes an 8.9 kwh rechargeable battery pack that provides more than 25 miles of all-electric range and can be fully charged in two hours and 18 minutes from a Level 2 charger. Given its inoffensive styling and techno-inclusions like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless smartphone charging, the Ioniq may challenge the Prius for hybrid sedan market share—a welcome sight for clean car enthusiasts everywhere. Also, the gas-only version of the Ioniq gets a best-in-class 58 combined MPG!

 

7. Ford F-150 Diesel – 30 MPG (estimated)

Image via Ford

Truck sales continue to outpace passenger vehicle sales. Ford, for example, sold more than 820,000 F-series trucks in 2016, which is more than double the sales of the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car. So it’s critical that manufacturers improve the fuel economy of pick-ups to meet both the consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles and the demands of the federal fuel economy standards. So, it’s exciting to see the first F-150 with a diesel engine and 10-speed transmission heading to showrooms this spring, because it is expected to be the first full-size pickup to crack the 30 MPG barrier. This MPG doesn’t come at the expense of towing power either. The 2018 F-150 is expected to deliver a maximum tow rating of 11,400 pounds, which beats its closest rival, the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel, by over a ton and puts it in the upper echelon of all light duty pickups. In addition to the diesel, Ford recently announced plans for an F-150 hybrid, set to hit the market in 2020.

 

8. Lexus RX 450h – 30 MPG

Image via Lexus

Just because you may need an SUV doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to sacrifice fuel economy. The 2018 Lexus RX 450h gets a respectable 30 combined MPG and offers a 3 row configuration that can fit 7 or 8 passengers and a decent amount of cargo space. The standard all-wheel drive on this hybrid model is powered by a 308 horsepower V6 motor, and comes with the luxury amenities Lexus is known for. While not exactly a bargain, this model can transport a whole lot of people and stuff while achieving the same fuel economy as the similar sized Land Rover Discovery (22 MPG) or BMW x5 (16 MPG).  If this model is out of your price range, you may want to check out the Toyota Highlander I highlighted in this post.

Pruitt’s EPA Attempts to Undermine California’s Leadership on Vehicle Standards

The current EPA administration has repeatedly mischaracterized California’s authority and role when it comes to vehicle emissions standards—here is what that really means for California and the country writ large.

For the current Administration, “One National Program” means “One WEAKER Program”

On Tuesday of this week, Scott Pruitt responded to questions from Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ed Markey (D-MA) regarding vehicle emissions standards, declaring to a Senate Committee Hearing on EPA Oversight that “a national program is essential.” Yet in December, he declared that part of the ongoing midterm review of those standards could be revoking California’s waiver to maintain the current standards through 2025.

Similarly, last Thursday Assistant EPA Administrator Bill Wehrum, who leads the Office of Air and Radiation in charge of setting vehicle emissions standards maintained that “[t]he overarching goal of [ongoing conversations with California] is to maintain or retain one national program,” yet noted in the same line of questioning that the talks were held “with the intention and the goal of trying to achieve agreement as to whether changes should be made to the current (federal) standards.”

Just a heads-up to the EPA:  California already determined that the current standards remain appropriate.  And for that matter, the previous administration did so as well.  States who follow California’s program agree, which is why many have already intervened against any weakening.  So, if the current Administration wishes to make any changes to the program, it is they who are tampering with “One National Program.”  So much for that “essential” element, I guess!

Why does California get to set its own standards?

California was the first area of the country to encounter the problem of automotive pollution, and they were also the first region to take action.  Yet in doing so they encountered not just resistance by the auto industry towards regulation of those emissions, but denial by the industry such emissions were even a problem, and collusion by manufacturers to curtail the invention and adoption of emissions control devices, which I detailed in our report Time for a U-turn.


Fighting California’s standards is just one event in the timeline of automakers’ resistance to regulations. Learn more.

When Congress finally acted to regulate emissions from vehicles, they carved out an exemption for California to set its own, stronger emissions standards, recognizing its past leadership on the issue—an action which, again, the auto industry fought.  In the development of the Clean Air Act, this exemption was maintained, and in amendments to the Act this provision was expanded so that not only could California request a waiver to set its own standards stronger than those set by the federal government, but any other state could adopt California’s stronger standards.

Today, 12 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s passenger vehicle emissions standards—altogether, 1/3 of the market for passenger cars and trucks has committed to California’s standards.

The need for this leadership is critical—despite continued progress on mobile source emissions, California continues to be home to significant air quality issues, and they are at the front line of the fight against climate change, having already been affected by an extended wildfire season and severe drought amplified by global warming.

This map from the Blue-Green Alliance depicts manufacturing facilities around the country who manufacture technologies to improve vehicle efficiency, showing the breadth of investment in strong standards.  These facilities employ over 288,000 workers and are spread across 48 states.

Walking back from strong standards cedes U.S. leadership

Administrator Pruitt mistakenly characterized California’s leadership as some sort of authoritarian rule (“Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country.”), when the state is simply protecting its inhabitants.  It also misses the point of setting a high bar for the country as a whole.

When the current EPA administration talks about changing the standards already finalized by California and the previous administration, it does so at the peril of investment in innovation in the United States.  The European Union is moving forward with stronger standards, regardless of what happens in the U.S.  Some countries are even looking past internal combustion engines altogether.  China, too, is setting both strong emissions targets and its own zero emission vehicles goals.

When other countries set these strong targets, the U.S. is ceding its leadership to those regions, and with it, a greener economic future.  Ford, for example, is betting heavily on an electrified future…in China.  Those are investments in next-generation vehicles that are being built abroad instead of North America.  Volkswagen, General Motors, and others are all following suit.  Automotive suppliers will move to those more advanced markets, too.

Manufacturers can meet the 2025 standards that were affirmed last year—California knows it, and frankly so do the auto companies.  If the administration is serious about a “data-driven” mid-term review, 1) we already had one of those and 2) we know it comes down on the side of strong standards.  If instead the administration undermines the data with political hullabaloo, California and the states that have already finalized the adoption of the current 2025 standards may end up being the backstop the rest of the country needs to ensure we don’t lose out on the jobs, fuel savings, and emissions reductions that strong standards provide.

We have One National Program now—if the EPA chooses to undo that by weakening the federal standards, it is Administrator Pruitt who will be responsible for unraveling the cost-effective, unified program currently protecting consumers and the public and in place today in large part due to strong state leadership.

BlueGreen Alliance and NRDC

Donald Trump’s State of the Union: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In his State of the Union address to Congress, President Trump exaggerated the benefits of the Republican tax cut bill to average Americans, overlooked the harm that will result from his push to weaken public health and worker safety protections, and disregarded the serious concerns expressed about key elements of his forthcoming infrastructure proposal.

Meanwhile, he failed to even mention a host of other issues where actions being taken by his administration are threatening the health and well-being of all Americans, including the assault on science-based policymaking at federal agencies, the dismantling of strategies to limit and respond to the mounting impacts of climate change, and the dangerous changes being considered to US nuclear weapons policy that would make nuclear war more likely.

Of course, President Trump’s words and actions have contributed to a number of other disturbing trends, including increased expressions of bigotry and racism, a lack of kindness and common decency, growing disrespect for facts and expertise, and a focus on short-term gain for the powerful and wealthy at the expense of longer-term investments for the public benefit. UCS president Ken Kimmell has more to say about that.

Trump’s tax cuts: largesse for the most fortunate endangers benefits for the rest of us

President Trump waxed eloquent last night about the tax cuts he signed into law in December, whose benefits go overwhelmingly to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. While the jury is out on how much of this windfall may eventually trickle down to middle- and working-class Americans, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the tax cuts will increase the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next decade. This will increase pressure for cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, food assistance, and other programs that benefit low- and middle-income families, along with reduced investments in scientific and medical research, education and job training, infrastructure, and other public goods.

Federal government investments in science research and innovation have led to discoveries that have produced major benefits for our health, safety, economic competitiveness, and quality of life.  This includes MRI technology, vaccines and new medical treatments, the internet and GPS, earth-monitoring satellites that allow us to predict the path of major hurricanes, clean energy technologies such as LED lighting, advanced wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, and so much more. The work of numerous federal agencies to develop/implement public health and safety protections against exposure to toxic chemicals, air and water pollution, and workplace injuries has also produced real benefits to the American people.

The threats to these federal programs aren’t hypothetical; they were spelled out clearly in President Trump’s FY18 budget proposals last spring, which UCS president Ken Kimmell aptly called “a wrecking ball to science.” Other UCS colleagues detailed the devastating impacts of these proposed budget cuts on the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationworker health and safety, the Forest Service, and early career scientists.

While these cuts have yet to come to fruition (in large part because Congress has been unable to agree on anything other than very short-term spending bills), indications are that President Trump intends to put many of them forward again when he unveils his FY19 budget as early as February 12. The higher deficits resulting from the tax bill will almost certainly be cited by some in Congress as a reason to make these cuts.

“Regulatory rollbacks” = less protection for all Americans

Last night, President Trump touted his success in rolling back a number of science-based safeguards, claiming that “we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”  While there’s no doubt his administration has been hyperactive on this front, there’s also no doubt who benefits from slashing protections for workers and average Americans: the banks, chemical companies, coal and oil producers, and other corporations whose harmful behaviors led to the regulations in the first place.

At a White House photo op event last month heralding his push for deregulation, President Trump announced that he has canceled or delayed more than 1,500 planned regulatory actions, “more than any previous president, by far,” and said “we’re going to cut a ribbon because we’re getting back below the 1960 level and we’ll be there fairly quickly.”  Of course, not everything was hunky-dory back then, as UCS senior writer Elliott Negin reminds us: “smog in major US cities was so thick it blocked the sun. Rivers ran brown with raw sewage and toxic chemicals. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and at least two other urban waterways were so polluted they caught on fire. Lead-laced paint and gasoline poisoned children, damaging their brains and nervous systems. Cars without seatbelts, air bags, or safety glass were unsafe at any speed. And hazardous working conditions killed an average of 14,000 workers annually, nearly three times the number today.”

At the White House event last month, President Trump assured us that “We want to protect our workers, our safety, our health, and we want to protect our water, we want to protect our air, and our country’s natural beauty.” But as my colleague Yogin Kothari points out, it is the very regulations that President Trump and his appointees are assailing “that keep our air and water clean, our food safer to eat, our household products and our kids’ toys safer to play with, and our workers safer at work. And it is these regulations that can and should have the greatest positive impact on low-income communities and communities of color, who are often disadvantaged and facing some of the worst public health and environmental threats.”

Infrastructure: the devil is in the details

Last night, President Trump said “I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need,” and White House officials have signaled that he will be putting forward a detailed infrastructure proposal to Congress within the next few weeks. The need for a robust and equitable infrastructure package has never been greater; in its latest comprehensive assessment of the nation’s infrastructure conditions and needs, the American Society of Civil Engineers says that to bring our infrastructure up to a B grade from its current D grade, we need to invest $4.6 trillion by 2025 – some $2 trillion more than the estimated funding now in place.

At first blush, President Trump’s promised infrastructure plan may sound like it’s responsive to that need; but a closer look reveals serious concerns. A White House memo leaked last week indicates that only about 20 percent of these funds would be direct federal investment, with the rest needing to come from state and local governments and private sector investment. Even worse, a White House adviser told the US Conference of Mayors last week that the federal share of the funds would be offset by cuts to existing programs such as Amtrak and mass transit (talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul!).

Another leaked memo indicates the Trump administration will seek radical changes in environmental and other permitting procedures for new infrastructure projects, falsely claiming that these procedures—rather than the investment shortfalls noted above—are the source of the woeful state of our nation’s infrastructure. Scott Slesinger of NRDC charges that “the leaked provision would repeal critical clean air, clean water and endangered species protections and undermine basic environmental statutes. It would also set up a process guaranteed to neuter public input into federal actions and give agency heads free reign to virtually exempt any project from the National Environmental Policy Act, free from court challenge.”

While the leaked White House memos raise serious concerns, it is Congress that will determine the final shape and scale of any infrastructure bill. As my colleague Rob Cowin notes, any infrastructure bill must go beyond traditional investments in highways, bridges, and water projects, by seeking to ensure that our nation’s infrastructure is made increasingly resilient to the worsening impacts of climate change, as well as accelerating deployment of renewable energy, energy storage, and smart grid technologies that can enhance electricity system resiliency, while creating jobs and reducing environmental impacts. An infrastructure package that neglects these vital priorities, cuts other worthy programs to fund new investments, or attempts to gut important environmental review safeguards is not worth supporting.

President Trump’s assault on science and federal agency scientists

The importance of science to American prosperity, well-being, and international leadership went unmentioned in Trump State of the Union address. This is unsurprising, as President Trump’s administration and the 115th Congress have been actively dismantling science-based health and safety protections, sidelining scientific evidence, and undoing recent progress on scientific integrity. More than a year after taking office, President Trump has failed to appoint a presidential science advisor, and three-quarters of the key science and technology positions across the government also remain unfilled.

As my colleague Genna Reed put it recently in an article in Scientific American: “In its first year, the Trump administration has amassed a dismal record on science and science advice. Throughout the federal government, political appointees have misrepresented scientific information, overruled the recommendations of scientific experts, scrubbed scientific content from websites, and even reportedly forbidden some staff from describing their work as “science-based” in budget documents.”

UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy maintains a running list of Trump administration attacks on science—disappearing data, silenced scientists, and other assaults on scientific integrity and science-based policy. Among them:

  • A ban on employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based” in documents being prepared for next year’s budget.
  • Attacks by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on the independence of EPA’s scientific advisory committees, by ordering that no scientists receiving EPA grant funding could serve on EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Board of Scientific Counselors, or Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. (UCS and Protect Democracy have teamed up to challenge this directive in court).

Unfortunately, these are but a few examples of the administration’s abuses of science—and federal agency scientists—since President Trump took office, and new ones seem to come to light each month. These actions are doing long-term damage to the capability of these agencies to fulfill their mission, and causing real harm to public health and safety; it’s no wonder the president doesn’t want to talk about them.

Ignoring the climate crisis

Despite his brief shout-out to “everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else” from the damages caused by last year’s extreme weather events, President Trump continued to ignore the role of human-induced climate change in worsening those impacts. A federal government report outlines how the costs of these and other natural disasters exceeded $300 billion last year, setting a new US record that blew past previous totals. President Trump’s omission of these facts is not surprising, as he and his administration have been working overtime to dismantle federal government strategies to limit and respond to the mounting impacts of climate change.

Ignoring the advice of other world leaders, the CEOs of hundreds of major corporations, Pope Francis, and many other important voices, President Trump last June announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, jeopardizing the health and prosperity of every American as well as people all over the world.  Fortunately, not one country has indicated that they will follow President Trump out the door; in fact, during last November’s climate summit in Germany, Syria announced that it intended to join all the other countries of the world in the agreement, rather than be lumped in with the United States as a climate scofflaw. And the ‘We Are Still In’ coalition of US states, cities, businesses, and other sub-national actors was at the climate summit in full force, unveiling America’s Pledge, committing to meet the US Paris Agreement emissions reduction goals despite the irresponsible and short-sighted actions of President Trump and his administration.

On the domestic front, the Trump administration has systematically moved to roll back President Obama’s climate action plan, including by repealing the Clean Power Plan, announcing a review of the highly successful clean car standards, and undercutting the agreement reached in 2016 with Canada and Mexico to sharply cut oil and gas sector methane emissions. What do these actions have in common?  They all put the short-term economic interests of favored corporate interests ahead of the health, security, and prosperity of the American people. While these and other harmful actions are being challenged in court and are being partially offset by the leadership of US states, cities, and businesses, they will make it more difficult to meet the ambitious temperature limitation goals in the Paris Agreement, and are harming America’s reputation across the world.

Increasing the threat of nuclear war

Finally, while President Trump made extensive remarks last night about the security risks posed by North Korea and Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, he failed to mention that his administration is poised to revise America’s nuclear weapons policy in ways that would intentionally lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. As my colleague Lisbeth Gronlund notes, “Every US president since the end of the Cold War has explicitly reduced the role, the types and the number of US nuclear weapons. This leaked draft lays out a policy that does exactly the opposite. It would increase the risk of nuclear use and reduce national security.”

The yawning gap between rhetoric and reality

So there you have it. While President Trump called for American pride and unity in his State of the Union address, and claimed his actions are bolstering our nation’s security and prosperity, there is a yawning gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

One year in to his administration, the damage being done is clear. But like my colleague Rachel Cleetus, I see grounds for hope as well – not only on the issues discussed above, but in the growing resistance to the threats this administration poses to our democracy, our values, and our basic human rights.

Governor Brown Aims to Boost California’s Leadership on Electric Cars

Image of California's Capitol Building

California has long been seen a leader on EVs of all kinds – plug-in hybrids, battery electric and fuel cell vehicles. The state established the first requirements for zero emission vehicles in 1990 and has been pushing the industry forward ever since. Governor Brown’s executive order last week gives another jolt to EV deployment in the state with a call for $2.5 billion in investments in infrastructure and consumer incentives over the next 8 years with the aim of reaching 5 million zero emissions vehicles by 2030 and the build out of 250,000 charging stations and 200 hydrogen refueling stations by 2025. The legislature will weigh in over the coming months about spending decisions including committing $200 million/year from Cap and Trade revenue for vehicle incentives.  Reaching mass market adoption of EVs means making them affordable and convenient for less affluent drivers and addressing the needs of those without dedicated off-street parking. The Governor’s proposed investment plan faces this challenge head on.

Here are 4 reasons why Governor Brown’s Executive Order is important.

(1) California – and the rest of the world – can’t tackle climate change without a revolution in the transportation sector

California Climate Emissions. Source: 2015 data reported in California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan, November 2017.

Transportation accounts for nearly 40% of California’s climate emissions. And that’s not including the emissions from producing gasoline and diesel from crude oil.  Including those sources pushes transportation to about half of all global warming emissions in the state.

Nationally, while transportation is a lower share of overall emissions than in CA, the trend in emissions is not encouraging.  Transportation recently overtook the electricity sector as the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country.

Source: EIA Monthly Energy Report (12 month total)

(2) Electric vehicles are cleaner than gasoline vehicles today, and they will only get cleaner

Making our gasoline cars cleaner is absolutely critical to getting us on track toward our climate goals – which is why UCS is doing everything we can to protect the important federal global warming emission and fuel economy standards currently on the books (If these are important to you too – tell your automaker to support strong standards).  But as we look ahead, electric vehicles will become more and more important to achieve deep emission reductions and transition away from oil.

This map shows how EVs compare to gasoline vehicles today on global warming emissions.  For example, in California, a gasoline vehicle would have to achieve a fuel economy rating of 95 mpg to have the same emissions as an electric vehicle charged on California’s electricity grid.  As the grid gets cleaner with more solar and wind power and less coal and natural gas  – so will EVs.

Fuel economy rating a gasoline vehicle would need to achieve to have similar emissions to an EV, based on electricity grid emissions data from 2014. For more about this map, see my colleague David Reichmuth’s blog post.

(3) California needs millions of EVs on the road to meet our 2030 climate targets

California committed to cutting its global warming emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 with the passage of Senate Bill 32. As noted above, with transportation emissions nearly 50% of the state’s total that means major progress is needed in reducing emissions from our cars and trucks.  Modeling from state regulators shows that even with continued steady progress in reducing emissions from new gasoline vehicles, at least 4.2 million zero emission vehicles (plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel cell vehicles) would need to be deployed in CA to meet climate and air quality goals.

Source: ARB Mobile Source Strategy Cleaner Technologies and Fuels Scenario (p. 66). Note: This is an illustrative scenario of the magnitude of adoption needed for plug-in hybrid, battery electric, and fuel cell vehicles.

This is just one scenario based on assumptions across all different sectors of the economy. Achieving Governor Brown’s new goal of 5 million zero emission vehicles by 2030 would help ensure California is achieving the state’s economy wide goals, while acting as a catalyst for accelerating EV adoption outside of the state as California leads by example.

(4) These investments target the most important barriers to owning an EV: upfront costs and access to charging

EV sales in California account for roughly half of all sales in the US. This is due to a combination of factors including the regulatory and financial incentives in place today.  But keeping up that momentum over the next decade to reach the 5 million vehicle mark means average new EV sales need to average about a 19 percent year over year growth (see figure).  For comparison, year over year sales growth between  2016 and 2017 was about 24%.

To make this happen, EVs need to become more affordable to more people and owners need a place to plug-in.

On the first measure, affordability, the good news is that EVs are cheaper to fuel, saving an average of $800 on fuel costs compared to a gasoline vehicle and prices of EVs are continuing to fall.  EVs are likely to reach price parity with gasoline vehicles sometime in the next decade.  But EVs still cost more than comparable gasoline vehicles today, so consumer incentives are critically important for accelerating their adoption.

Cap and trade funds have provided the bulk of the incentive funds to date for consumer rebates in CA, but the program has been subject to waitlists and uncertainty in the annual budget appropriations process.  A commitment by the Legislature and Governor of at least $200 million per year for rebates would go along way towards creating greater stability for the program and ensure support during a critical time of the market.

Charging infrastructure is also a must.  Single family home owners often have a place to park and plug in, but those in condos and apartments often face a more difficult challenge. Brown’s proposed investments in infrastructure through the California Energy Commission would provide steady investment over the next 8 years and supplement the proposed utility investments and VW settlement funds being directed towards building a charging network that can support 5 million vehicles.

Importantly, the executive order also calls for actions to increase investment in low-income and disadvantaged communities.  These communities often suffer the most from air pollution and deploying EVs in these communities is an important priority for reducing emissions where it is needed most and where it will have the biggest impact. Higher vehicle rebate amounts that exist for lower income households helps ensure more people can take advantage of the direct benefits of owning an EV while current income limits on rebate eligibility help stretch the dollars where they are need most.  Additional cap and trade funded programs to increase EV ownership in disadvantaged communities such as vehicle replacement programs and electric car sharing projects provide addition opportunities for deploying EVs more widely across all communities in the state.

Leadership from California mayors on climate change, air quality, and public transit

Photo: Flickr/Atomic Taco

What do the Super Bowl, national parks, and California mayors have in common? If you guessed electric buses, you’re right.

This Sunday, electric buses will shuttle people to and from downtown Minneapolis, another example of this technology being adopted in cold climates. Elsewhere, Zion National Park recently completed a 3-month trial of electric buses and Yosemite recently became the first national park to purchase electric buses.

And yesterday, 16 mayors wrote members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) urging them to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission transit buses in cities across the state.

Whether in Minnesota, Utah, or California, electric buses offer significant benefits for air quality and climate change compared to diesel and natural gas buses. And the impacts of pollution from heavy-duty combustion vehicles are large, despite these vehicles making up a small fraction of vehicles on the road. This is one reason so many cities across the country are beginning to adopt zero-emission buses.

Mayors standing up for the people’s electric vehicle

The mayors’ letter comes as CARB has proposed a timeline for phasing in zero-emission buses across the state. This proposal has been met with pushback from the natural gas industry, which has more than 50 percent market share of buses in the California transit industry, the result of natural gas buses being the only alternative to diesel for many years.

Mayors writing CARB are from cities large and small across the state and represent nearly 8 million Californians. The letter follows a pledge made by 12 mayors of major cities across the world to buy only zero-emission buses from 2025 and on. And as attention focuses on the State of the Union address tonight, California mayors’ call for action on zero-emission buses highlights the important role cities and local governments play in air quality and climate change.

Zero-emission technology is here and ready

Mayors from 16 cities wrote the California Air Resources Board asking for strong action on zero-emission buses.

Commitments to zero-emission buses are achievable due to rapid advances in battery and fuel cell technologies and the increasing cost effectiveness of these vehicles. Zero-emission buses have fuel efficiencies many times greater than combustion technologies, in some cases as much as eight times better; ranges of more than 200 miles; and total costs of ownership that are competitive with diesel and natural gas vehicles.

California’s current state budget provides at least $35 million to offset the incremental purchase costs of zero-emission buses. Transit agencies are also likely to significantly benefit from proposed investments by Southern California Edison ($554 million), Pacific Gas and Electric ($210 million), and San Diego Gas and Electric ($150 million) to provide charging infrastructure for heavy-duty electric vehicles such as buses.

Regarding performance, this past week I rode on a battery electric bus that traveled 300 miles in one day, complete with stop and go LA traffic, long grades uphill, and over 50 people on board. The bus was able to recharge in just a few hours.

Perhaps the biggest testament to the readiness of battery electric buses is the large-scale deployment of these vehicles in China: 115,00 were sold in 2016 and 90,000 were sold in 2017. Shenzhen’s entire 16,000 bus fleet recently reached full conversion to electric buses, which is more than all the transit buses in California (~10,000).

The range of zero-emission buses is farther than you may think.

What’s being proposed by CARB?

CARB’s proposal calls for 25 percent of new bus purchases to be zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2020; 50 percent in 2023; 75 percent in 2026; and 100 percent in 2029. Transit agencies with 30 to 99 buses don’t have to comply until 2023 and transit agencies with less than 30 buses don’t have to comply until 2026. CARB’s proposed standard rewards transit agencies that have been early adopters of zero-emission buses by extending their eligibility for purchase incentives.

It is important to put purchase standards in the context of fleet turnover, which is about 14 years per bus, or an average of 7 percent annually. This means a purchase standard of 25 percent would result in roughly 2 percent of the overall fleet being converted to zero-emission vehicles. With 14-year vehicle turnover rates, CARB’s proposed timeline of 100 percent of purchases by 2029 would actually make it difficult to achieve the goal of all transit buses being zero-emission by 2040. And while standards beginning in 2020 may seem soon, this timeline ensures the transition is gradual.

The importance of clear targets

While CARB has yet to implement standards for zero-emission transit buses, it has been developing the most recent version of these targets over the last two years; previous versions of this standard that were never implemented date back 10 years, before zero-emission technology was at the scale it is today.

Several transit agencies have already made commitments to fully convert their fleets to zero-emission buses. The possibility of action by CARB has likely played a role in many of these decisions. In a recent report outlining its goal to adopt 144 zero-emission buses by 2032, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) cites CARB’s intended standard of all zero-emission transit buses by 2040 as a motivating factor in developing its plan.

In all, buses are an important step in extending zero-emission technologies to other types of heavy-duty vehicles. Leadership from California mayors and CARB on transit buses will set us on the right path for reducing emissions from school buses, delivery trucks, beverage trucks, port trucks, and more. If your mayor wrote CARB asking for action on zero-emission buses, send them a note or tweet to thank them. And if they aren’t on the letter, talk to them about the importance of zero-emission transit buses and ask them to support their deployment in your community.

Latest EPA Automaker Reports Show Compliance with and Success of Standards

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Today, EPA released its annual reports on new passenger vehicles. One report (Trends) highlights the historical trend in fuel economy for cars and trucks over time, while the other report (Compliance) discusses the progress of manufacturers towards meeting global warming emissions regulations now under attack by industry and this administration.

Fuel economy of the fleet has once again improved, from 24.6 mpg in 2015 to 24.7 miles per gallon (mpg) in 2016. Thanks to strong standards, every type of vehicle (car, truck, SUV) has gotten more efficient; however, consumers are choosing to purchase more SUVs, which is acting to diminish the levels of improvement we need to see to reduce global warming emissions in line with our long-term climate goals.

Taken together, the key findings from both reports are clear:  1) every type of vehicle is getting more efficient, driven by strong standards, and that’s great news for consumers; 2) despite a meager overall improvement in fuel economy, manufacturers continue to comply with the standards; and 3) there’s still a huge opportunity for future fuel economy improvements, as manufacturers continue to bring newly redesigned vehicles to market.

All types of vehicles are getting more efficient

Increasing sales of SUVs are making it more difficult to achieve our climate goals, but strong standards pushing all vehicle classes to be more efficient continue to be key to reducing our climate impacts.

The Trends report shows clearly that the regulations are doing what they were intended to do—every single class of vehicle is getting more efficient, including the fast-growing SUV segment.  In fact, every class of vehicles except vans/minivans achieved record levels of fuel economy in 2016.  This is critical both to provide consumers with fuel-efficient choices no matter what type of vehicle in which they might be interested and to diminish the negative impacts on the climate resulting from a more truck-centric vehicle mix.

The class of car-based SUVs that are so popular right now (including the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue) actually showed the greatest year-over-year improvement.  This is not surprising—Ford CEO Jim Hackett acknowledged that fuel economy is one of the major reasons why crossover sales are doing so well.

Some automakers claim that selling more SUVs means consumers don’t care about fuel economy, but the numbers tell a different story.  Consumers continue to show that fuel economy is important, particularly when it comes to SUVs—the Consumer Federation of America showed that SUVs which saw a marked improvement in fuel economy (+10% mpg or better) outsold their competitors.

Automakers are complying with the standards

All large-volume manufacturers are entering the 2017 compliance year with a massive bank of credits to draw upon to aid with compliance during a lull in product turnover.

As I’ve reported in many years past, the industry as a whole has been ahead of the regulatory targets—this means that they have built up a bank of overcompliance credits, which many of them are now drawing upon.  Some in the media may seize on this and say that this means the automakers are not complying with the rules—however, that ignores the way the rules work or how vehicles are planned.

Manufacturers are measured on compliance over a 5-year period because that is the typical product cycle of a single vehicle.  Once every five years (give or take), a vehicle will undergo a “redesign” where major changes occur—this includes body shape and major crash safety structural elements as well as the size and efficiency of the engines, which set the performance characteristics and, importantly, fuel economy.  Once in the middle of a product cycle, a vehicle will receive a “refresh” where they may make cosmetic alterations, maybe make some minor changes to the powertrain (like a new transmission or maybe bringing over an additional engine that’s used in another vehicle built on the same platform), but largely the fuel economy and emissions of a vehicle are fairly constant over its five-year lifetime.

This means that manufacturers need to use a credit bank to compensate for the fact that a vehicle largely doesn’t improve much over the course of its lifetime—a vehicle will typically earn credits early on for overcompliance when the technology is new, and that overcompliance can then be used to compensate for any shortfalls that occur as the vehicle “ages” before its next major update.

From 2009 to 2014, manufacturers turned over new vehicles at an accelerated pace in the first few years of the regulation to introduce some new technologies, but that has declined now for 2015 through 2017.  This will correct itself for 2018 through 2020, when again these older vehicles are all redesigned.

Today, the fleet is older than usual, so while in a couple years there will be a large opportunity to add new technologies, the Compliance report shows manufacturers are dipping into their credit banks today as planned to compensate for the age of the vehicles.  And because of the early turnover in the first few years of the regulations, the industry was well-prepared by banking hundreds of millions of tons of credits, more than enough to help ensure compliance for years to come.

Manufacturers are investing in efficiency at different rates

Consumers are some of the biggest beneficiaries from these rules, having saved well over $50 BILLION since new standards went into effect thanks to rules designed to make every vehicle type more efficient over time.  And that will be even more important as these more efficient options make their way to the secondary market.  But not all manufacturers are investing equally in providing their consumers more efficient choices.

The Trends report shows that in terms of overall fuel efficiency, Mazda is at the head of the pack.  While some of this is related to its somewhat car-heavy fleet, it continues to focus on improving its conventional gas-powered engines, and deploying these engines broadly across all vehicles.  And they aren’t resting on their laurels, either, having announced the next generation of their engines, bringing diesel-like efficiency to a gas-powered engine.

Unfortunately, Toyota continues to fall behind the rest of the pack, seeing absolutely no improvement in fuel economy compared to last year, which fell short of the year prior—in 2013, Toyota had the 3rd most efficient fleet; for 2016, they have now dropped to 9th, ahead of only Mercedes and the Detroit Three.  While many associate Toyota with efficiency thanks to its Prius family of hybrids, this fall from grace is because Toyota has not made similar investments to improve its trucks and SUVs.  In fact, its Tundra pick-up and 4Runner SUV have been using the same engines since 2010 and 2009, respectively, with the 4Runner one of just three vehicles being sold today still using an outdated 5-speed automatic transmission!

The Compliance report makes clear that no major manufacturer is in danger of falling out of compliance (as I noted at the start), even if some of them are relying more heavily upon their credit bank.  But manufacturers like Hyundai and Honda are much better positioned than most not just because they have such a massive bank of credits, but because they have continued to deploy steady improvements across its entire fleet instead of banking on a single green “halo” vehicle like the Toyota Prius.

Manufacturers have a wide range of technologies available to reduce fuel use and emissions, but many “off the shelf” technologies have still not been widely deployed.

The technology assessments in the Trends report indicate clearly that while manufacturers are making progress introducing and improving technologies for conventional vehicles, they have on the whole been slow at deploying those technologies across the fleet.  This is why we continue to emphasize the ability for manufacturers to continue to comply with the regulations well into the future with continued advancement of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

Leaders show industry’s capabilities, while laggards exemplify industry’s past

Last month, we released a report documenting the auto industry’s well-established history of fighting automotive regulations. For better and worse, today’s Trends and Compliance reports encapsulate both where the industry could be headed and the historical pull towards resisting that change.

The indicators I’ve laid out above all show that the standards are achievable and important for both consumers and the climate. Every class of vehicles is getting more efficient, and many in the industry continue to invest in that progress, driven by these standards.  And, because SUVs and trucks represent a growing share of the market, these standards remain as important as ever to ensure continued fleetwide efficiency improvements—the fleet mix shift acts as a drag on achieving our climate goals, so weakening the standards could set us backwards, as occurred in the 1990s.

At the same time, manufacturers are trying to seize upon misinformation about how the standards work and their ability to comply to weaken the rules.  It’s critical that they stop this nonsense so we can continue the progress already set forth.

The Trends and Compliance reports released today indicate that automakers are well on a path to comply with regulations that will nearly double the efficiency of the passenger vehicle fleet by 2025—so instead of fighting it, let’s focus on achieving it and then figuring out what lies beyond so we can continue to meet our climate goals.

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A billion dollar policy for electric vehicles that you probably haven’t heard of

Combined, Pacific Gas and Electric (16 million people), Southern California Edison (15 million people), and San Diego Gas and Electric (3.6 million people) provide electricity to nearly 90 percent of California’s 39 million people.

Two years ago, California passed Senate Bill 350, requiring 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. This was big news. Hawaii had just passed a similar bill requiring 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. There was a lot of well-deserved excitement around these renewable portfolio standards.

One section of the California bill that didn’t get a lot of attention outside of policy circles, however, requires electric utilities in the state to come up with plans to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.” The bill recognized the critical role electric cars, trucks, and buses must play to meet air quality, climate, and public health goals.

Fast forward two years and we’re in the middle of what could be the largest single investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States to date. Over $1 billion of investments have been proposed over a five-year period by the three large, investor-owned utilities in California: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).* For comparison, the Volkswagen “dieselgate” settlement will result in $800 million of charging infrastructure in California over ten years.

The so-called “SB 350 transportation electrification” plans are currently being reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and I’ve been representing UCS in this public process. Here’s a snapshot of the process, which has already spanned several months and several thousand pages of documents.

What’s going on?

In January, PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E submitted plans for advancing transportation electrification in their service territories. The plans mostly focus on providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. SCE and SDG&E also proposed new charging rates for electric vehicles to address “demand charges,” which increase bills for large draws of electricity at once, but depending on how they are structured, may discourage the use of electric vehicles.

The utilities submitted projects for “priority review” and “standard review.” Priority review projects were designed to speed up decisions on smaller, “non-controversial” projects. These projects were limited to one year in duration, costs of less than $4 million per project, and no more than $20 million in priority review projects per utility. The idea is that lessons learned from these short-term projects can guide future investments. Standard review projects are larger in scope and subject to the full evidentiary hearings typically associated with proceedings at public utility commissions.

Proposals from PG&E and SCE focus mostly on charging infrastructure for trucks, buses, and heavy-duty equipment, while SDG&E’s proposal focuses mostly on residential charging infrastructure. The CPUC made it clear from the onset that utilities’ proposals should not merely be an expansion of existing pilot projects, which focus on light-duty vehicles.

Senate Bill 350 also provided guidance that utilities’ proposals should benefit communities most impacted by air pollution. This also explains the focus on heavy-duty vehicles in proposals from PG&E and SCE. Heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately contribute to air pollution, making up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but 33 percent of NOx emissions (harmful alone but is also a precursor to smog) and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants combined.

What’s next?

The CPUC recently released a proposed decision on the priority review projects; a final decision is expected as early as the second week of January. The proposed decision would approve 15 of the 17 priority review projects totaling nearly $43 million. Projects proposed for approval include infrastructure for electric school buses, delivery trucks, airport ground equipment, transit buses, truck stops, and park-and-ride parking lots.

A decision on the standard review projects is expected in May 2018. SDG&E’s proposal would support 90,000 residential electric vehicle chargers. Proposals from SCE and PG&E would support charging infrastructure for up to 15,000 and 5,000 electric trucks and buses, respectively. Approval of these projects would be significant, but compared to the 25 million automobiles and 1.5 million trucks and buses operating in California, it would be just one step towards reducing global warming emissions and air pollution to safe amounts.

A major investment in electric vehicle infrastructure couldn’t come at a better time. Sales of passenger electric vehicles are growing. Manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles are offering a wide array of electric vehicles, and fleets such as transit agencies and delivery companies are increasingly adopting electric buses and trucks. In all, availability of charging infrastructure and fair electricity rates is critical to the continued uptake of these clean vehicles.

*Note, publicly-owned utilities are not under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and thus were not required to submit plans, nor were Community Choice Aggregators (e.g., Marin Clean Energy) who don’t own infrastructure related to electricity generation or distribution. Small, electrical corporations were required to submit plans, which are being considered separately from those of the three large, investor-owned utilities.

Image: California Energy Commission

Automakers’ Long List of Fights Against Progress, and Why We Must Demand Better

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

Today, we are releasing a report documenting the long, sordid past of the auto industry, who has fought regulation tooth and nail at every turn. From pollution control to seatbelts and air bags to fuel economy, the industry has spent the vast majority of the past 7 decades doing whatever it can to wriggle out of government regulations, at the expense of the American public.

Cars have drastically improved, but not without a fight

Time for a U-turn looks at the tactics that automakers consistently deploy to fight against federal rules and standards that deliver better cars to the nation, tactics like exaggeration, misinformation, and influence. It also outlines concrete actions that automakers can take to leave behind their history of intransigence, and ensure that their industry rises to the challenges of the 21st century.

There is no doubt that the cars built today are significantly improved over the vehicles from the 1950s:

  • today’s safety standards require not just airbags and seatbelts but also features like crumple zones which help to minimize occupant injury;
  • tailpipe pollution standards have dramatically reduced the emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants like volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides; and
  • fuel economy and global warming emissions standards have saved consumers about $4 TRILLION dollars in fuel, severely reducing both the demand for oil and impact on climate change.

It’s clear when put to the task, automotive engineers have been more than capable of meeting whatever challenge is laid in front of them, resulting in a tremendous positive impact for the public.

Unfortunately, the industry has a long history of putting its lobbyists to work instead, promoting misleading claims and interfering politically to weaken or delay the standards that protect the public.

Automotive Chicken Little and a “Can’t Do” Attitude

One of the most frustrating aspects of the volumes of research I did for this report was the sheer repetition of the arguments.  According to the auto industry, any type of regulation would force them out of business…and yet they are still here.  Here are a few examples:

“[I]f GM is forced to introduce catalytic converter systems across the board on 1975 models . . . it is conceivable that complete stoppage of the entire production could occur, with the obvious tremendous loss to the company, shareholders, employees, suppliers, and communities.” – Ernie Starkman (GM) in his push to weaken the 1975 tailpipe emissions standards put in place by the Clean Air Act.

Not only was Starkman wrong that catalytic converters would shut down GM, but they proved so popular that GM actually used them in its advertising in 1975!

“Many of the temporary standards are unreasonable, arbitrary, and technically infeasible. . . . [If] we can’t meet them when they are published we’ll have to close down.” – Henry Ford II (Ford), responding to the first motor vehicle safety standards.

Clearly, Ford did not have to close down.  In fact, Ford proved more than capable of meeting these “unreasonable” requirements by using features like safety glass and seat belts, which are commonplace today.

“We don’t even know how to reach [35 miles per gallon by 2020], not in a viable way.  [It] would break the industry.”  — Susan Cischke (Ford), discussing the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) that have led to the strong standards we have today.

Not only have strong fuel economy standards not broken the industry, but today it is thriving, with three consecutive years of sales over 17 million, an historic first for automakers.  And because of standards that drive improvements across all types of vehicles, we are not only on track to meet the requirements of EISA but doing so in spite of a growing share of SUVs and pick-ups.

Fighting the Science

Of course, even worse than the repetitive “sky is falling” attitude that has proven false at every turn is the assault on science that automakers have used in the past, seeking to eliminate policy action by diminishing either the solution or the problem:

“We believe that the potential impact of [fuel economy standards] on the global issue of planetary warming are [sic] difficult to demonstrate.” – Robert Liberatore (Chrysler)

Believe it or not, after James Hansen’s Congressional testimony in 1988, there was bipartisan support on the Hill to address climate change, including from transportation-related emissions.  Mr. Liberatore used an argument straight out of today’s Heritage Foundation claiming that fuel economy standards in the United States won’t have an impact on a global problem.  This flew in the face of science then, just as it does now.

“The effects of ozone are not that serious . . . what we’re talking about is a temporary loss in lung function of 20 to 30 percent.  That’s not really a health effect.” – Richard Klimisch (American Automobile Manufacturers Association).

In 1996, the EPA was moving forward to strengthen air quality standards for ozone (related to smog) and soot (particulate matter).  In order to push back on this solution, automakers campaigned against there even being a problem to address, claiming that a little loss in lung function wasn’t a big deal.  Needless to say, the EPA ignored this ridiculousness and implemented stronger standards. However, even these stronger standards did not fully address the problem, pushing the Obama administration to move forward on strengthening the standards further still.

Breaking the Cycle?

After the Great Recession, automakers seemed to turn over a new leaf, working closely with the Obama administration to craft stringent fuel economy and emissions standards that would drive efficiency improvements across all types of vehicles, including SUVs and pick-up trucks.

“[The industry has] had a change of heart, but it’s fairly recent. We had data about consumers’ preferences about fuel economy, but we chose to ignore it; we thought it was an anomaly. But it’s by having a bias against fuel economy that we’ve put ourselves in the pickle we’re in now.”  — Walter McManus (ex-GM), speaking about a shift in automaker thinking.

Unfortunately, this awakening seems to have been short-lived, as automakers are now urging the current administration to weaken the standards with the same types of tactics we’ve seen before:

  • Automakers are using direct political influence, sending a letter to the Trump administration to withdraw EPA’s determination that the strong 2025 standards remain appropriate.
  • Automakers are again exaggerating the facts, claiming widespread catastrophe if the EPA does not alter the standards based on a widely debunked study and ignoring the findings of a more thorough (albeit still conservative) report they themselves funded because it doesn’t fit their messaging.
  • Industry is pushing to expand the midterm review to include lowering the 2021 standards while acknowledging that lowering the 2021 standards would have no impact on their product offerings and simply is a form of regulatory relief “any way we can get it” (Chris Nevers, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers).

Despite talking a good game about being “absolutely committed to improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions for our customers” (Bill Ford, 2017), Ford and other automakers are engaging in the same intransigence we’ve seen over the past seven decades.

It’s time for automakers to end this multidecadal war against regulation and start siding with progress.  To build back trust and leave this history behind, automakers must seize this opportunity and:

  • support strong safety and emissions standards and keep the promises they made to the American people to build cleaner cars;
  • distance themselves from trade groups that seek to undermine today’s standards, and make it clear that these groups do not speak for all automakers on issues of safety and the environment; and
  • cease spreading disinformation about the standards and their impacts.

Pruitt’s War on the Planet and the EPA—and What Congress Can Do About It

We have now endured almost a year with Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His tenure is unprecedented—a full frontal assault on the agency he heads, and a retreat from the mission he is charged by law to advance. And thus far, Administrator Pruitt has not had to account for his actions.

But an accountability moment is nearing: for the first time since his nomination, Mr. Pruitt will appear before Congress to offer an update on the status of work at the agency—first before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on December 7, and next before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 31. These oversight hearings offer a critical opportunity for leaders on both sides of the aisle to ask tough questions, demand responsive information rather than platitudes, and voice their disapproval about how Administrator Pruitt has run the EPA.

Here are key topics for our elected representatives to focus on:

Mr. Pruitt’s empty “back to basics” promise

During his nomination hearing last January, Administrator Pruitt knew he would be questioned about his commitment to EPA’s mission and his repeated lawsuits against EPA when he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He came equipped with a clever counter-narrative. He claimed that he would make EPA a more effective agency by de-emphasizing “electives” such as climate change. He promised to steer the agency “back to basics” by focusing on core responsibilities such as enforcing clean air and water laws and cleaning hazardous waste sites.

Members of Congress should compare that promise to Administrator Pruitt’s actions over the past year. Almost immediately after taking office, he signed off on a budget that would cut EPA by 31 percent, despite the absence of any financial exigency requiring such draconian action. A few weeks later, he approved plans to lay off 25 percent of the agency’s employees and eliminate 56 programs. The proposed budget cuts target not only items Pruitt may think of as electives, but also basic bread-and-butter functions. For example, he proposed to strip $330 million from the $1.1 billion Superfund program and cut funding for the Justice Department to enforce cases.

And, in a clear contradiction of his testimony that he would work more cooperatively and effectively with state environmental protection agencies, he proposed to cut the grants that EPA gives to states for enforcement by 20 percent.

We are already starting to see the results of this effort to hollow EPA out from within. Experienced and talented career staff are leaving the agency in droves. The Chicago EPA office, for example, has already lost 61 employees “who account for more than 1,000 years of experience and represent nearly 6 percent of the EPA’s Region 5 staff, which coordinates the agency’s work in six states around the Great Lakes.” This means, among other things, a smaller number of inspectors and likely an increased number of businesses operating out of compliance with clean air and water laws.

With less staff and fewer experienced staff members, it is no surprise that EPA has seen a roughly 60 percent reduction in the penalties it has collected for environmental violations compared with the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations at comparable stages in their respective terms. And while the Obama administration cleaned up and de-listed 60 hazardous waste sites and added 142 sites over eight years, so far the EPA, under Mr. Pruitt, is far off that pace, deleting just two sites and adding only seven.

Perhaps most troubling, civil servants have been deeply demoralized by the combination of proposed cuts and constant statements by the president and Administrator Pruitt denigrating the agency as a job killer, which it is not. As one staffer said in a recent publication entitled EPA under Siege “I think there’s a general consensus among the career people that, at bottom, they’re basically trying to destroy the place.”

Said another: “Quite honestly, the core values of this administration are so divergent from my own, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity [for retirement]….I found it difficult to work for an agency with someone who is so disrespectful of what we do and why we do it.”

Members of Congress should question Mr. Pruitt about his “back to basics” promise. They should ask why he advocated for such deep budget cuts, layoffs, and buyouts, and demand that he explain with specificity how the agency can possibly do better with such drastically reduced resources. Congress should also require Mr. Pruitt to provide clear, apples-to-apples comparisons of the record of environmental enforcement during his tenure with that of his predecessors, as measured by inspections, notices of violation, corrective actions, fines and litigation.

Administrator Pruitt’s “Law and Order” charade

Administrator Pruitt put forth a second narrative during his confirmation hearing. He promised  to restore “law and order” to EPA, claiming that the EPA had strayed beyond its statutory authority during President Obama’s tenure.

The record tells a very different story. In less than a year, Mr. Pruitt’s actions have repeatedly been found by courts to be “unlawful,” “arbitrary,” and “capricious.”

One example is particularly instructive. At the end of the Obama administration, the EPA issued a final rule requiring operators of new oil and gas wells to install controls to capture methane, a highly potent contributor to global warming. The rule was set to go into effect in early 2017. Administrator Pruitt unilaterally put the rule on hold for two years to allow EPA to conduct a sweeping reconsideration. This, the court found, was blatantly illegal, because it attempted to change the compliance date of a rule without going through the necessary rulemaking process.

Unfortunately, this tactic has become a pattern, as Mr. Pruitt has sought to put on hold many other regulations he doesn’t care for, including rules intended to reduce asthma-causing ozone pollutiontoxic mercury contamination in water supplies, and a requirement that state transportation departments monitor greenhouse gas emission levels on national highways and set targets for reducing them. Environmental nonprofit organizations and state attorneys general have had to sue, or threaten to sue, to stop this illegal behavior.

The EPA’s lawlessness is not confined to official acts, but also concerns the administrator personally. In an obvious conflict of interest, Mr. Pruitt played a leading role in the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. Yet, just a few months before taking over at the EPA, Mr. Pruitt had led the legal fight against the rule as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

In effect, he played the role of advocate, then judge and jury, and ultimately executioner, all in a matter of a few months.

In addition, Administrator Pruitt is under investigation for misusing taxpayer dollars for $58,000 worth of private chartered flights, and has wasted $25,000 of taxpayer money to build himself a secret phone booth in his office.

Congress needs to ask Mr. Pruitt how he can be said to have restored respect for the law at the EPA, when the EPA (and perhaps Administrator Pruitt personally) have been flouting it. They need to ask him about what role he played in the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and how he can square his conflicting loyalties to the state of Oklahoma (which he represented as an attorney) and to the American people (who he is supposed to represent as head of the EPA). Congress should also investigate his personal use of taxpayer funds and his penchant for cutting corners on legally mandated processes.

An “Alice in Wonderland” approach to science

The EPA’s five decades of success rest on its longstanding commitment to the best available science, and to its well-trained professional scientists who deploy that science. Administrator Pruitt has taken a wrecking ball to this scientific foundation.

First, he ignores staff scientists when their conclusions do not support his deregulation agenda. On the crucial scientific question of our time—climate change and what is causing it—Mr. Pruitt says he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary cause. Of course, this statement runs directly counter to the conclusions of EPA scientists (as well as those of the recently issued US Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report). And, in one of his first policy decisions, Administrator Pruitt overturned EPA scientists’ recommendation to ban a pesticide (chlorpyrifos) that presents a clear health risk to farmers, children, and rural families.

But Mr. Pruitt is not only ignoring staff scientists, he is also sidelining and suppressing advice from highly credentialed and respected scientists who advise the EPA. Last summer, he sacked most of the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors, a committee of leading scientific experts that advises the EPA about newly emerging environmental threats and the best use of federal research dollars. And he has used this as an excuse to suspend the board’s work indefinitely.

More recently, he issued a new policy which states that a key outside Science Advisory Board will no longer include academic scientists who have received EPA grants in the past, under the purported theory that the grants render them less objective. Yet, Administrator Pruitt will fill these posts with industry scientists who are paid exclusively by industry, and with scientists who work for state governments that receive grants from the EPA. This new policy has enabled Mr. Pruitt to fill these boards with scientists who are clearly aligned with industry, scientists such as Michael Honeycutt, who has railed against EPA limits on soot and even testified before Congress that “some studies even suggest PM [particulate matter] makes you live longer.”

Administrator Pruitt’s attack on science also includes the EPA deleting vital information from agency websites. For example, the EPA has deleted key information about the Clean Power Plan, even though the agency is in the middle of a public comment process on whether to repeal that rule, and what to replace it with. The EPA has also eliminated information on the “social cost of carbon” and the record of its finding that the emission of greenhouse gases endangers public health.

These deletions seem designed to make it more difficult for the scientific community, and members of the public, to access the scientific information that stands in the way of Mr. Pruitt’s agenda.

Congress needs to probe deeply on these multiple ways that Administrator Pruitt has diminished the role of science at EPA. Representatives and senators should make him explain why he thinks he knows more about climate science and the harms of pesticides than his scientists do. They should demand that he explain why it is a conflict of interest for academic scientists who receive EPA grants to advise the EPA, but not for state and tribal scientists who receive these grants, or industry-paid scientists. And Congress must find out why so much valuable information about climate science, the social cost of carbon, and other matters have vanished from EPA websites.

Making the world safe for polluters

In December 2015, more than 190 countries, including the United States, approved an agreement in Paris to finally tackle the greatest challenge of our time—runaway climate change. Donald Trump pledged to pull the United States out of this agreement when he ran for office, but for six months into his term, he did not act on the pledge, and there was an internal debate within his administration.

Mr. Pruitt led the charge for the US withdrawal from that agreement. He has followed up on this by going after almost every single rule the Obama administration had put in place to cut global warming emissions. This includes the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the “re-opening” of the current fuel economy standards that are now on target to roughly double cars’ fuel efficiency by 2025, the repeal of data gathering on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, and tampering with how the EPA calculates the costs of carbon pollution, among many other actions.

But Administrator Pruitt’s rollback of safeguards is not limited to climate-related rules; it also includes cutting or undermining provisions that protect us all from more conventional pollutants. He has started the process of rescinding rules that limit power plants from discharging toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead into public waterways; regulate the disposal of coal ash in waste pits near waterways; and improve safety at facilities housing dangerous chemicals.

The breadth and ferocity of these rollbacks is unprecedented. Congress needs to push back hard. For starters, representatives and senators need to demand that Mr. Pruitt explain how it fits within his job duties to lobby the president against one of the most important environmental protection agreements ever reached. Similarly, they need to highlight the impacts on human health and the environment from all of the rollbacks that Administrator Pruitt has initiated, and force him to explain how the EPA can be advancing its mission by lowering environmental standards.

Congressional oversight is needed now more than ever

Many aspects of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure are truly unprecedented. However, he’s not the first EPA administrator to display fundamental disrespect for the agency’s mission. As one legal scholar has noted, during the Reagan administration there were “pervasive” congressional concerns that former Administrator Anne Gorsuch and other political appointees at the agency “were entering into ‘sweetheart deals’ with industry, manipulating programs for partisan political ends, and crippling the agency through requests for budget reductions.”

Congressional oversight back then was potent: among other things, Congress demanded that the EPA hand over documents about the apparently lax enforcement of the Superfund law requiring cleanups of hazardous waste sites. When the EPA head refused to comply with those demands, Congress held Administrator Gorsuch in contempt. Senators, including Republicans such as Robert Stafford and Lincoln Chaffee, publicly voiced their alarm. Eventually, President Reagan decided Ms. Gorsuch was a liability, and he replaced her with William Ruckelshaus, EPA’s first administrator under President Nixon, and a well-respected moderate who stabilized the agency.

These oversight efforts were “the decisive factor in causing Ms. Gorsuch, as well as most of the other political appointees at the agency, to resign.”

It may be too much to expect that the current, polarized Congress will exhibit the same level of tough, bipartisan oversight it did in the Reagan era. Yet, bipartisan support for vigorous environmental protection remains strong today and some Republican leaders have already called upon Administrator Pruitt to step down. It is high time for Congress to do what it can to ensure that Mr. Pruitt’s EPA does not continue to put the interests of a few industries ahead of the clean air, water, and lands that the agency is mandated to protect.

The EPA Knows Glider Trucks Are Dangerously Dirty: It’s Time to Keep Them Off the Road

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards. Photo: Jeremy Rempel. CC-BY-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

Today, I am speaking at a public hearing at EPA to push back on the agency reopening a “zombie truck” loophole. I wrote about the political motivations behind the attack on public health previously, but we now have even more information about exactly how dirty these trucks are from an interesting source: the EPA itself.

A reminder about what is at stake

Glider vehicles are brand new trucks that are powered by a re-manufactured engine.  While they look like every other new truck on the outside, on the inside they have engines which were manufactured under weaker pollution standards than other new trucks. Because they are resurrecting these older, more highly polluting engines from the dead, they are sometimes referred to as “zombie trucks.”

While initially glider trucks were used to replace vehicles whose bodies had been damaged, more recently a cottage industry has sprung up selling about 20 times more trucks than historic levels solely to bypass pollution restrictions.

In the “Phase II” heavy-duty vehicle regulations, the EPA closed the loophole that allowed these awful pollution spewers to be manufactured in the first place. However, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has proposed repealing this action, reopening the loophole primarily to benefit a company with political ties.

Dirty science for dirty trucks

In support of this repeal, Fitzgerald Trucks (the manufacturer requesting the loophole be reopened) submitted the results of a slapdash series of tests it claimed were from independent researchers.  However, the tests were paid for by Fitzgerald and conducted using Fitzgerald’s equipment in Fitzgerald’s facilities.  The results of the tests were incomplete and indicated that the work was sub-standard. However, we didn’t know just how unscientific the research was until EPA technical staff posted a memo detailing a meeting with the researchers.  Here are just a few of the absurd shortcomings in the tests:

  • Researchers did not use industry standard test procedure, so any numerical results could not be directly compared with regulatory requirements or literally any other research in the technical literature.
  • Researchers did not actually take samples of soot during testing, despite the fact that this is not just carcinogenic but one of the specific pollutants at issue with these engines which causes such detrimental health impacts.  Instead, they “visibly inspected” the test probe. Yes, you read that right–they just looked at it to see if it was dirty.
  • Researchers did not test under any “cold start” conditions. Like when you first turn on your car, this is when the engine emits elevated levels of pollution, which is why it is a standard part of regulatory tests for both cars and trucks.

Believe me when I tell you that I could not get my doctorate if my lab work were of that low quality.

Ignoring the EPA’s own technical data

While pointing to the subpar Fitzgerald / Tennessee Tech data, the EPA was actually aware of much higher quality data being done at its own facilities.  Instead of waiting for these tests to be completed, the politicos at EPA moved forward with the proposed repeal anyway.

Well, the results from those tests are in, and they are at least as bad as the EPA’s technical staff feared.  In fact, it may be even worse:

  • According to the test results, it appears that these engines actually exceed the legal limits they were initially designed for.  This means that the “special programming” of the engine Fitzgerald claims to do to the engines may result in greater fuel economy, but it means greater pollution, too.
  • The soot exhausted by these engines is so large that it caused a fault in the EPA’s equipment, after which the EPA had to adjust the throughput.  A good comparison to this is like when you have your volume adjusted for a TV program you like and then suddenly a really loud commercial comes on…except now imagine that commercial just blew out your speakers.

  • The two collectors on the left of this image are what happened when they first tried to collect the pollution from these vehicles; the two collectors on the right are what it looked like before the test.  Now imagine what that experience must be like for the lungs of a child with asthma.

The EPA had already projected that every year of production of glider vehicles at today’s levels would result in as many as 1600 premature deaths–this new data suggests that number could be even higher.

The science is clear, so closing this loophole should be the easy thing to do.

I am speaking today at the hearing against because I want to make sure EPA listens to its own scientists and closes this loophole, to abide by its mission statement and protect human health and the environment.  And today I will be among a chorus of dedicated citizens reminding the agency of its mission.

EPA

Vehicle Fuel Economy Standards—Under Fire?

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert, US Air Force

Last year, transportation became the sector with the largest CO2 emissions in the United States. While the electricity industry has experienced a decline in CO2 emissions since 2008 because of a shift from coal to natural gas and renewables, an equivalent turnaround has not yet occurred in transportation. Reducing emissions in this sector is critical to avoiding the effects of extreme climate change, and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions standards are an important mechanism to do so.

The most recent vehicle standards, which were issued in 2012, are currently undergoing a review. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is initiating a rulemaking process to set fuel economy standards for vehicle model years 2022-2025. At the same time, DOT is also taking comments on its entire policy roster to evaluate their continued necessity (including the CAFE standards).

A number of criticisms have been raised about fuel efficiency standards, some of which are based more in confusion and misinformation than fact. An intelligent debate about the policy depends on separating false criticisms from those that are uncertain and those that are justified.

In fact, as new research I did with Meredith Fowlie of UC Berkeley and Steven Skerlos of University of Michigan shows, the costs of the standards could actually be significantly lower than other policy analyses have found.

Costs and benefits of the regulations

What my co-authors and I have found is that automakers can respond to the standards in ways that lower the costs and increase the benefits.

Many policy analyses do not account for the tradeoffs that automakers can make between fuel economy and other aspects of vehicle performance, particularly acceleration. We studied the role that these tradeoffs play in automaker responses to the regulations and found that, once they are considered, the costs to consumers and producers were about 40% lower, and reductions in fuel use and GHG emissions were many times higher.

The study finds that the fact that automakers can tradeoff fuel economy and acceleration makes both consumers and producers better off. A large percentage of consumers care more about paying relatively lower prices for vehicles than having faster acceleration. Selling relatively cheaper, more fuel-efficient vehicles with slightly lower acceleration rates to those consumers allows manufacturers to meet the standards with significantly lower profit losses. Consumers that are willing to pay for better acceleration can still buy fast cars.

Debunking some common criticisms

One common criticism is that the regulations mandate fuel economy levels that far exceed any vehicles today. This misconception stems from the frequently quoted figure when the regulations were first issued that they would require 54.5 mpg by 2025. But, the regulations do not actually mandate any fixed level of fuel economy in any year. The fuel-economy standards depend on the types of vehicles that are produced each year. If demand for large vehicles is up, the standards become more lenient; if more small vehicles are sold, they become more strict. The 54.5 mpg number was originally estimated by EPA and DOT in 2012 when gas prices were high. EPA has since revised it to 51.4 mpg to reflect lower gas prices and higher sales of large vehicles. Taking into account flexibilities provided in the regulations and the fact that this number is based on EPA’s lab tests, which yield higher fuel economy than drivers experience on the road, the average target for 2025 is equivalent to approximately 36 mpg on the road. Fueleconomy.gov lists 20 different vehicle models that get at least this fuel economy today.

Another common but unjustified criticism of the standards is that they push consumers into small vehicles. The regulations were specifically designed to reduce any incentive for automakers to make vehicles smaller. The standards are set on a sliding scale of targets for fuel economy and GHG emissions that depend on the sizes of the vehicles. As a result, an automaker that sells larger vehicles has less stringent fuel economy and emissions targets than one that sells smaller vehicles. Research has shown that the policy likely creates an incentive for automakers to produce bigger vehicles, not smaller.

Two easy ways to strengthen the fuel economy standards

There are, of course, advantages and drawbacks to any policy, including today’s vehicle standards, which focus entirely on improving the efficiency of new vehicles.  Fortunately, there are improvements that can be made to the CAFE and GHG regulations to increase their effectiveness and lower costs.

The first is ensuring that automakers that violate the standards pay very high penalties. Companies who cheat steal market share from those that follow the standards, effectively raising the regulatory costs for the automakers that are playing fair.

The second improvement involves the way automakers are able to trade “credits” with each other.  These credits were created to equalize regulatory costs across companies. So, if one automaker finds it relatively easy to reduce emissions, it can reduce more than its share and sell credits to another automaker having trouble reducing emissions. This trading is currently negotiated individually by each pair of automakers, which raises the costs of the transaction. Creating a transparent market to trade these credits would help to achieve the target emission reductions at lower costs.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), which implements the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, is currently soliciting comments on regulations “that are good candidates for repeal, replacement, suspension, or modification.” The comment period ends December 1.

 

Dr. Kate Whitefoot is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She is a member of the NextManufacturing Center for additive manufacturing research and a Faculty Affiliate at the Carnegie Mellon Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. Professor Whitefoot’s research bridges engineering design theory and analysis with that of economics to inform the design and manufacture of products and processes for improved adoption in the marketplace. Her research interests include sustainable transportation and manufacturing systems, the influence of innovation and technology policies on engineering design and production, product lifecycle systems optimization, and automation with human-machine teaming. Prior to her current position, she served as a Senior Program Officer and the Robert A. Pritzker fellow at the National Academy of Engineering where she directed the Academy’s Manufacturing, Design, and Innovation program.

 

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

More Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Coming to Massachusetts

Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities today approved a proposed $45 million investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The investments in electric vehicle infrastructure come as part of a complicated rate case that involves a number of important issues related to rate design, energy efficiency and solar energy. But at least on the electric vehicle part, the utilities and the DPU got it right.

Why do we need more investments in electric vehicle infrastructure?

Electric vehicles are a critical part of Massachusetts’ climate and transportation future. Under Massachusetts’ signature climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state is legally required to reduce our emissions of global warming pollution by 80 percent by 2050.

Transportation is the largest source of pollution in Massachusetts, and it’s the one area of our economy where emissions have actually grown since 1990. Achieving our climate limits will require the near-complete transition of our vehicle fleet to electric vehicles or other zero-emission vehicle technologies.

The good news is electric vehicles are here, they are fun to drive and cheap to charge, and when plugged in to the relatively clean New England grid, they get the emissions equivalent of a 100 mpg conventional vehicle. EV drivers in the Boston area can save over $500 per year in reduced fuel costs. Electric vehicle technology has advanced to the point where mainstream automakers and countries like China and France are now openly talking about the end of internal combustion engine.

But while the future for EVs is bright, electric vehicles are still a very small share of the overall vehicle fleet. Nationally, EVs represent less than half of one percent of new vehicle sales. In 2012, Massachusetts committed to a goal of putting 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025. Five years later, we are still about 288,000 EV sales short of that goal.

What investments are coming?

One of the biggest challenges facing the growth of electric vehicles is limited infrastructure. People are not going to buy an EV if they don’t know where to plug it in. A survey of Northeast residents conducted last year found that limited access to charging infrastructure is one of the biggest obstacles to EV purchases.

We have had over a hundred years – and billions in public subsidies – to build the infrastructure of refineries, pipelines, and gas stations that service the internal combustion engine. New investments in charging infrastructure are critical to making EVs as convenient as filling up at a gas station.

Today’s decision will speed the transition to electric vehicles by making investments in charging infrastructure. These investments include more funding for infrastructure for people who live in apartment buildings, more fast charging infrastructure along highways, and increasing charging infrastructure in low income communities, and greater access to workplace charging.

Overall, the proposal anticipates the construction of 72 fast-charging stations and 3,955 “Level-2” home and workplace charging ports over the next 5 years. Of those charging ports 10 percent will be in low income communities, where utilities will also provide consumers with a rebate for charging stations. These investments will provide thousands of Massachusetts residents with access to EV charging stations.

The DPU did deny Eversource the right to use ratepayer funds for education and outreach. This is unfortunate, as our survey also found that most Northeast residents are not aware of the many incentives available for EV customers, both here in the Northeast and at the federal level.

What more needs to be done?

One big question that is left out of the decision today: how do we best manage EV charging to maximize the potential benefits to the electric grid.

The key issue is when does EV charging take place? If most people charge their EVs at night, or during times of high production of renewable electricity, then the transition to electric vehicles can make our electric system more efficient and speed the transition to renewables. This will mean significant cost savings.

On the other hand, if EV charging mostly happens during “peak” hours (such as morning and early evening), then adding more EVs onto the grid could strain existing electricity infrastructure and require additional investments in pipelines and power plants. This would both raise emissions and cost ratepayers money.

There’s a simple way to address this issue: provide a financial incentive for EV drivers to charge their vehicles during periods of low demand, a policy known as Time of Use Rates. The DPU decision today punts this issue, accepting the utility position that it will take time and additional data to determine how to best implement TOU rates. While we agree with the DPU that the most important priority is to get the charging infrastructure installed, this is an issue that we and others in the clean transportation community will be watching closely over the next few years.

Photo: Steve Fecht/General Motors

How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car in Your City?

Everyone can see what gasoline costs, but how much does electricity cost for recharging an electric car? Photo: Tewy CC BY 2.5 Wikimedia)

Most drivers know how much it costs to fill the tank with gasoline. It’s hard to miss the glowing numbers at the corner station.  But how much does it cost to recharge an electric car? And how much money do EVs  save drivers compared to gasoline-powered cars? To help answer these questions, our new report, “Going From Pump to Plug,” looks at the price of recharging an EV at home in the fifty largest cities in the US, as well at public charging stations.

Charging an EV at home can be much cheaper than gasoline

After comparing the findings for large cities across the US, the answer is clear: for every electricity provider we looked at, charging an EV is cheaper than refueling the average new gasoline vehicle.

Compared to using the average new gasoline car, driving on electricity would save on average almost $800 per year in fuel costs.

Find EV savings in your city:

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However, where you live and what electric rate plan you choose can change your savings. For almost all EV drivers, choosing a time-of-use (TOU) electric rate plan is needed to see the largest savings.

A TOU plan gives cheaper electric rates during off-peak periods (often late at night), with higher rates for using electricity during high-demand times. Because most EVs are parked at home overnight, TOU rates are a good fit for most EV drivers.

In some cities, especially in California, TOU rates are essential for saving money on fuel costs. For example, in my home in Oakland, CA, recharging using the standard electricity plan is equal to buying gasoline at $3.34/gallon, while using the TOU plan only costs the equivalent of $1.03/gallon.

Public EV charging costs are variable

Costs to charge at public charging stations varies considerably. Some stations are free, while others can cost over twice as much as home charging. However, the impact of public charger costs is often muted by the high preponderance of home charging.  For example, a San Francisco driver that uses higher-cost DC fast charging for 20 percent of charging would only see their average fuel costs increase from $0.78/gallon equivalent to $1.35/gallon.

Savings on maintenance, too

Drivers of battery electric vehicles also can have significantly lower maintenance costs. These EVs have no engine, so no oil changes, spark plugs, or engine air filter to change. Instead, the electric motors and batteries require little to no attention. This means less time and money spent on routine car maintenance. Comparing the Chevy Bolt EV to the Chevy Sonic gasoline car, the Bolt owner will spend over $1,500 less on scheduled maintenance over the first 150,000 miles.

Policies needed to ensure all can access these EV benefits

Electric vehicles can save drivers on fuel and maintenance costs, at the same time they help reduce global warming emissions and air pollution. However, good policies are needed to make sure that all can access the benefits of EVs.

  • Buyers need to be able to afford EVs. Currently, EVs cost more to manufacture compared to similar-sized gasoline cars. These manufacturing costs are coming down as EV production volumes increase and technology advances, but federal, state, and local purchase incentives are vital to accelerate the transition from gasoline to electricity.
  • Policies are needed to ensure that everyone can recharge an EV at a price lower than gasoline cost. Regulators and electricity providers should ensure that EV customers can access lower-cost electricity rate plans, which are key to making EVs a reliable and affordable alternative to gasoline vehicles. Solutions are needed for those who cannot charge at home and those that must drive long distances. Therefore, access is essential to reliable and affordable public charging, especially fast-charging stations. Also, public policies that improve charging options at apartments and multi-unit dwellings will broaden the base of drivers who can choose an EV.
  • Public policies should require manufacturers to produce higher volumes of EVs and encourage a greater diversity of electric-drive models and sizes. There are many more models of EVs available now as compared to just a few years ago, but there is still a lack of some types of vehicles with electric such as pickup trucks. Also, not all manufacturers offer EVs nationwide, making it more difficult for buyers to find and test drive an EV.

Policies like these can help ensure that everyone has access to EVs and can make personal transportation choices that both save them money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Will Automakers Walk the Talk on EVs? Four Things to Look for at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show

Chevy Bolt featured in the 2016 LA Autoshow. Photo: Dave Reichmuth

I’ll be attending this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show to check out the latest and greatest in vehicle technology. While the flashy presentations of the automakers will certainly grab attention, here are four things that I’ll really be paying attention to:

Are there more electric vehicle (EV) options?

The future of transportation is electric drive, but we are a long way from replacing all gasoline and diesel cars with EVs (both plug-in and fuel cell EVs). One barrier in the way of transitioning to electric cars is the availability of EV models. In California, EV sales have been increasing over the last few years, with plug-in sales reaching 4.5 percent of all cars and trucks sold in the state this year. This is a great start, but we’ll have to go a lot further to meet our air quality and climate pollution reduction goals. To get to higher levels of EV sales, we’ll need to start seeing more EV models and a larger selection of sizes and styles available. So, I’ll be looking for what new options are coming, especially in the larger-size vehicle segments like SUVs.

Will automakers showcase the available technologies powering cleaner, more efficient cars?

While the future is electric, many of the cars sold over the next 5 to 10 years will have a combustion engine. Making those conventionally-powered cars and trucks as clean as possible will be important to reduce air pollution and climate-changing emissions. The good news is that the technology needed to meet clean car standards is available and starting to be used by many automakers. This means I’ll expect to see more efficient engines like smaller, turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines replacing larger and thirstier naturally-aspirated engines.

Last year, Nissan showed off an innovative variable compression engine that promises both higher power and better efficiency, but hadn’t released a vehicle using it. Will this year see this engine go into production?

Many automakers are talking EVs. Who’s actually following through?

When I visited the show last year, I heard from automakers detailing plans to electrify their cars and saw a number of new EVs promised for 2017. But how much was talk and who actually followed through? Some companies did bring out successful EVs. A year ago, the Chevy Bolt EV was about to go on sale and just last month it became the sales leader for EVs. Toyota’s Prius Prime was also new to the market last November and is now a top-selling EV. On the other hand, cars like Hyundai’s Ioniq EV had an impressive press showing, but since then has been virtually nonexistent in the US market, with less than 400 sales this year to date.

In California, the division between EV market leaders and laggards is stark: For the first 9 months of 2017, 11 percent of BMW-branded vehicles were plug-ins and Chevrolet had over 14 percent plug-in sales! Over the same period, Honda had less than 0.3 percent electric drive sales, Hyundai sold just over 1 percent EVs, and Subaru sold more than 55,000 cars in the state without a single plug-in option available.

Both the Chevy Bolt EV (left) and Hyundai Ioniq BEV (right) were featured at last year’s LA Auto Show. However, General Motors has sold over 17,000 Bolts in 2017 so far compared to less than 400 sales for Hyundai’s Ioniq. 

There were also several concept and prototype EVs at the show during the last couple of years. Will any of them show up this year as production models? Our research into the EV market last year showed that there a number of automakers that are lagging their peers in making EVs available, despite claims of progress. Our report shows that even though most companies now offer electric vehicles, many are not truly available (especially outside California). The first step in catching up is to start making EVs in volume and marketing them like they do their gasoline cars.

What models are emphasized by the manufacturers?

The LA Auto Show starts with a preview for media, with press conferences and displays of the automakers’ latest offerings. Then, after the press and auto industry executives are gone, the show opens to the public, becoming a showroom for virtually every car, truck, and SUV on the market in the US.

It’s interesting to see what models the manufacturers emphasize for each audience. For example, in 2015, Audi featured a prototype of a full-size all-electric SUV on its stage for the press days, but it was gone by the public days. Last year, Nissan didn’t even show its electric car, the LEAF on the press days. Other brands, like Chevrolet and BMW grouped their electric offerings and called attention to them for both the press and public days.

This inconsistent effort by some manufacturers at an auto show is indicative of the larger struggle playing out within the major automakers. On one hand, the car companies acknowledge that EVs are the future of transportation and will be needed to meet global emissions and EV standards being set by countries around the globe. However, they also have decades of expertise in designing and making gasoline-powered cars and trucks. This provides a powerful incentive to resist the inevitable switch from oil to electricity as the primary fuel for our personal vehicles. That’s why it’s important that we have regulations and incentives in place that both ensure that gasoline vehicles are as clean as possible while also pushing the automakers to move as quickly as possible away from combustion altogether.

 

 

 

Hey Congress! Here’s Why You Can’t Scrap The Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

The fate of the federal tax credit for electric vehicles hangs in the balance. The House version of the GOP-led tax plan removes it entirely while the Senate version (as of Friday, November 17th) keeps it on the books. As lawmakers work to combine the House-passed bill with the Senate version, let’s examine why the EV tax credit shouldn’t be eliminated.

What is the federal tax credit for electric vehicles?

Section 30d of the tax code gives electric vehicle buyers up to $7,500 off their tax bill – or allows leasing companies to receive the credit and lease EVs for lower rates.

The credit is scheduled to phase out for each automaker that surpasses 200,000 EV sales. Some of the early entrants to the EV scene, like Tesla, General Motors and Nissan, are forecast to hit the 200,000 limit in 2018, while others, like BMW, Volkswagen, and Ford, are relying on the federal tax credit to offset the price of EVs that are set to hit dealerships in the next couple years.

What has America gotten for investing in EVs?

The EV tax credit has stimulated a market for vehicles that are cheaper to drive, pollute half as much, and offer a simply better driving experience compared to gas-powered vehicles. If you think that automakers would have produced EVs without the prompting of state and federal policy, may I remind you that automakers fought tooth and nail against seatbelts and air bags, improving fuel efficiency, and pretty much every other vehicle-related regulation that has ultimately benefitted public health and safety. Consumers deserve the opportunity to choose clean vehicles, and the federal tax credit has made that choice easier to make by offsetting the upfront cost of EVs that is often higher than comparable gas vehicles.

The tax credit has also spurred domestic automakers to get in on the EV game. American companies like General Motors and Tesla sell EVs in all 50 states, and are competing with foreign auto giants to become the global leader in EV sales. At a time when EV demand is poised to skyrocket in other countries, eliminating the federal credit will hamper domestic automaker efforts to both sell EVs on their own turf and maintain their global competitiveness.

Federal support for EVs won’t be needed forever

As I’ve previously discussed, the federal tax credit is the most important federal policy supporting the EV market, but won’t be needed forever. Battery costs are forecast to continue their decline, with some projections showing EVs becoming price competitive with gasoline-fueled vehicles in the mid-2020’s. By making EVs cost competitive today, the federal tax credit has helped EVs gain a fingerhold in a market monopolized by gasoline-powered vehicles that have had over a century to mature. Removing the credit now is premature, and will cause EV sales to suffer at a time when the market is just beginning to gain traction.

What will happen to the EV market without the credit?

Even if the federal tax credit is eliminated, the California Zero Emission Vehicle Program will still require automakers to sell EVs in California and the 9 other states that adopted the ZEV program. This program will require EV sales in states that comprised about a quarter of the U.S. vehicle market, so EVs will certainly remain available for sale. Other state support for EVs, like a $5,000 tax rebate in Colorado, will survive too. For state-level EV incentives in your area, check out this handy guide. EVs will also remain cheaper to drive, and a smart choice for millions of Americans who have a strong demand for the technology. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that one of the primary hurdles to more EV adoption is their price (along with access to charging in multi-unit dwellings and the lack of a cheap EV SUV (see Tesla Model Y). So taking away a policy that directly addresses this barrier will make it harder to own an EV, and it will hurt sales. Georgia removed a state tax credit for electric vehicles, and sales dropped an estimated 90% in the following months. I’m not expecting as dramatic as a drop if the federal credit is removed, but EV sales will drop because they will become more expensive and automakers will have less incentive to making them available in the U.S.

So, join UCS in telling Congress that you deserve more clean vehicle options, and that the EV tax credit is a key federal policy that makes it easier to own an EV. Also keep an eye on the UCS website for additional ways you can get involved, and if you are considering an EV, getting one now might be a good option if you are looking to save at least $7,500 of its sticker price.

Tesla, Electric Semi-Trucks and Equity

A truck believed to be Tesla's was spotted last month.

Today is the unveiling of Tesla’s electric semi-truck. There’s been a lot of interest in this truck since it was referenced last summer in Tesla’s master plan. As sales indicate, Tesla makes sought-after electric cars and the potential for the company to replicate this success in the heavy-duty sector is an exciting prospect for clean air and climate change.

While Tesla isn’t the first company to unveil an electric big rig, its likely the first one many people have heard about. Electric truck technology – spanning delivery trucks, garbage trucks, transit buses, school buses, and semi-trucks – exists and is ready to be deployed. The more people that know about these vehicles, the better for our climate and air quality.

As the unveiling nears, excitement about Tesla’s truck has been tempered by news about the company’s labor conditions and accusations of discrimination at the company. While zero-emission trucks are critically important, so are safe and equitable workplaces. Fair work conditions go hand-in-hand with the long-term success of any business.

My hope is that Tesla becomes recognized for the quality of its workplace as much as the quality of its vehicles. I personally believe this is possible.

Job agreements, like the one made between Jobs to Move America and the electric vehicle maker BYD, are one example of how companies can do good for their employees and communities. The Greenlining Institute found that with the right job-training and hiring efforts, truck and bus electrification can be a catalyst for economic opportunity in underserved communities and help overcome racial inequities in wealth and employment.

So why are heavy-duty electric vehicles important in the first place?

Trucks and buses make up a small fraction of vehicle population, but a large fraction of vehicle emissions. In California, for example, heavy-duty vehicles, make up 7 percent of vehicles, but 33 percent of NOx emissions from all sources, 20 percent of global warming emissions from the transportation sector, and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants, see here.

Note, heavy-duty vehicles are defined here as having gross vehicle weight ratings greater than 8,500 lbs, e.g., a small moving truck.

Electric trucks, whether manufactured by Tesla or anyone else, are essential to solving climate change and reducing air pollution. On California’s grid today, a heavy-duty electric vehicle with middle-of-the-road efficiency has 70 percent lower life cycle global warming emissions than a comparable diesel and natural gas vehicle. Electric vehicles also don’t have any tailpipe emissions of NOx, particulate matter, or other pollutants. What this means for communities, especially those near freight corridors, is lower risks from the harmful consequences of dirty air.

What about the performance of electric trucks?

We’ve already seen how Toyota’s fuel cell electric truck stacks up against a diesel truck in terms of acceleration. High torque (i.e., ability to move from a standstill) of electric motors compared to combustion engines is something all electric vehicles excel at.

Given the class leading acceleration and battery range of Tesla’s cars, we can expect similar high performance from its electric truck. Other manufacturers are operating or have unveiled battery and fuel cell semi-trucks with ranges of 100 miles (BYD, Cummins) to 200 miles (Fuso, Toyota, US Hybrid). If reports are true, Tesla’s semi-truck could travel 200 to 300 miles on a single charge.

Zero-emission trucks offered or in development from BYD, Cummins, Toyota, and Daimler (Mitsubishi Fuso).

Despite the image of long-haul, “over-the-road” trucking, 100 to 200 miles of range can meet the needs of many heavy-duty trucks with local and regional operations. A range of 300 miles would be the longest by 80 miles and put to rest any hesitations about range for many local/regional (“day cab”) applications.

In California, there are 20,000 semi-trucks serving ports in the state. So-called “drayage” trucks deliver cargo to and from ports and warehouses in the region and are excellent candidates for electric trucks with today’s range. Conversion of these trucks alone to zero-emission vehicles would have significant air quality benefits for communities near ports and warehouses.

Cross-country trucking is a bigger challenge for electric trucks, but success in local operations is the first step to proving the functionality and economics of moving freight over longer distances with zero-emission vehicles. Tom Randall at Bloomberg shows scenarios under which Tesla’s truck could make economic sense for day cab or over-the-road applications.

In all, the momentum we’re seeing across the industry for zero-emission trucks is incredibly exciting. And just as we hold manufacturers and policy makers accountable for clean air, we must do the same for good jobs.

Reddit Clockwise: BYD, Cummins, Toyota, Daimler

Seven States Take Big Next Step on Climate: Here’s the What, Why, and How

On Monday, November 13,  a bi-partisan group of seven states  (NY, MD, MA, CT,  RI, DE and VT), and the District of Columbia announced that they will seek public input on how to craft a regional solution to greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the region. An announcement to conduct listening sessions may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Here’s why:

First, this region has been successful at reducing emissions from the electric sector, but transportation is lagging behind, as this graph shows:

Source: Energy Information Administration Data

All of these states have committed to economy-wide goals that will be impossible to reach without ambitious policies to reduce pollution from transportation. Monday’s statement demonstrates that policy leaders understand that transportation is the next major frontier in the fight against global warming in the Northeast.

Second, a public conversation is necessary. For several years, these states have talked internally through their departments of energy, environment, and transportation, about how to cut transportation emissions. When I served as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, I was part of those conversations, and they have yielded a number of promising ideas.

But policies that are truly worthy and lasting can’t be hatched in isolation from the public. Public engagement is needed to get the best ideas out on the table, test assumptions, gauge political support, and persuade the skeptical. The states’ announcement shows that the states are serious, and that they are going about this in the right way.

Third, once the states announce a goal (as they have done here), and encourage the public to provide input to it, they create the expectation that action will follow: doing nothing becomes a much harder option. Once these listening sessions begin region wide, as they already have in Massachusetts, state leaders will see that their constituents want clean, affordable transportation, and that they are prepared to invest in that. Thus, the conversation will change from “whether” to implement a regional solution to “how” to do so.

In this regard, it is intriguing that on the day of the announcement, the states also released a white paper on one particularly promising approach—a regional “cap and invest” program.    A cap and invest program would build upon this region’s success with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped to dramatically lower emissions from the electric sector while creating jobs and reducing consumer costs.

The program would set an overall cap on regional transportation emissions, require fuel distributors to purchase “allowances” for the right to sell polluting fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and re-invest the proceeds in improved mass transit, electric cars and buses, affordable housing located near transportation centers, and other proven ways to make clean transportation available to all. The white paper does an excellent job of identifying how such a scheme would work under our existing fuel distribution network. (For more information on this approach, read my op-ed and the blog by my colleague Dan Gatti.)

I encourage UCS members and the public to attend these listening sessions and publicly support a bold regional solution. And I applaud the leaders of these states for taking a critical next step. State leadership, particularly when it is bi-partisan, is the way that the United States can best stay on track to meet its climate goals and assure an anxious world that we are still in the fight, notwithstanding the Trump administration’s abdication of leadership.

Pruitt Seeks to Reopen Truck Pollution Loophole per Cronies’ Request

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards, and you may never know…except for the plumes of pollution behind it, if it’s a glider vehicle. Photo: Jeremy Rempel. CC-BY-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

In a particularly scary development, the EPA just proposed to repeal part of the recent regulations on heavy-duty vehicles. The proposal would affect “glider vehicles” and would reopen a loophole so big you could, well, drive a truck through it…leaving a ridiculously large cloud of pollution in its wake.

What the heck is a glider?

Glider vehicles are trucks that are built from a refurbished engine and a brand-new chassis (called a “glider kit”).  They have been around for a long time and can serve a useful purpose—heavy-duty diesel engines are built to last hundreds of thousands of miles and are a significant part of the upfront cost of a vehicle, so if you crash your truck in the first couple years, it would be worth it to make sure you got the full lifetime use out of that powertrain.

The thing is, no one’s going joyriding in a semi—truck drivers are doing it for a living and generally try to take immaculate care of their vehicle, so one wouldn’t think these types of accidents are very frequent.  In fact, up until recently, only a few hundred such gliders were sold in a given year.

Glider sales on the rise…

That all changed in the past couple years, when members of the glider cottage industry decided to exploit a loophole.  In 2007 and 2010, EPA put into effect new pollution controls for heavy-duty vehicles which cut soot and smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 90 percent.  However, because there is a menagerie of truck types and uses, those regulations are based on emissions tests of the engine, not the vehicle.

Fitzgerald, the leading assembler of glider vehicles, decided to make a few bucks by building a brand around assembling new glider vehicles with old, polluting engines that predate the EPA’s regulations and then selling the trucks as new vehicles.  They and other glider assemblers even put out ads trying to increase the availability of these more polluting engines!

Glider vehicle assemblers typically offer the trucks at a significant discount compared to other new vehicles—it’s amazing at how much cheaper you can make a truck when you don’t care about how much pollution it’s spewing (about 25 percent cheaper, in fact).  This is one of the major complaints from the rest of the industry—it isn’t a level playing field.  In fact, most of the industry is opposed to glider vehicles.

…leads to a LOT of excess pollution

Of course, the public shouldn’t be too crazy about these trucks, either.  Thanks to that “pollution discount” for not meeting modern emissions standards, glider vehicle sales have gone through the roof—just a few hundred glider vehicles were sold a decade ago, but industry sales are now up to about 10,000 vehicles…and perhaps still on the rise.

So just how bad is it?  Virtually all of Fitzgerald’s vehicles are sold with a pre-2004 diesel engine.  Those engines emit upwards of 10 to 20 times the amount of soot and smog forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) of a brand-new engine.  By 2025, EPA’s own analysis shows that these gliders would be emitting about 300,000 tons of NOx and 8,000 tons of soot each year!

Putting that into perspective:

  • That amount of NOx is about 10 times that of the VW Dieselgate scandal (to date)…all in a single year!
  • These levels of NOx emissions would effectively cancel out the reductions in NOx made in passing EPA’s Tier 3 Emissions and Fuel Standards.
  • Small in numbers but not impact—despite representing just 5 percent of the long-haul trucks on the road, by 2025 these glider vehicles would emit about 1/3 of all soot and NOx pollution from long-haul trucks.
  • These excess emissions would have serious health impacts—if this loophole isn’t closed by 2025, these glider vehicles would result in up to 12,800 deaths that could have been prevented, not to mention countless additional emergency room visits and other health issues.

It’s also worth noting that the engines being put into these new trucks are engines that EPA had already previously found in non-compliance with the Clean Air Act because of the use of defeat devices.  That’s right–not only do these engines not meet today’s emissions standards, but they didn’t even meet the emissions standards in place when they were originally manufactured!

In the most recent heavy-duty vehicle standards, the EPA wisely closed this loophole by requiring all new vehicles, including gliders, to have an engine that meets the same model-year standard as the vehicle itself.  Recognizing the previous legitimate use of gliders, they even allowed a small-volume exemption for up to 300 vehicles, curbing the rampant exploitation of the loophole while still maintaining a volume that could keep companies like Fitzgerald in business.

Pruitt’s cronyism threatens public health

The EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is threatening to throw that all away by repealing the sections of the rule that closed the glider loophole.  And he is doing so at the behest of Fitzgerald and Representative Diane Black (R-TN), who’s currently a candidate for the governor of Tennessee.

Rep. Black has tried unsuccessfully to restrict EPA from regulating glider kits via legislative action, willing to sacrifice public health because a few hundred jobs at Fitzgerald are in her district.

Fitzgerald’s owners met directly with Scott Pruitt in May.  They also worked with Rep. Black and a couple smaller glider assembler to submit a petition with some seriously shoddy “evidence” collected by a third party, Tennessee Tech University.  The thing is, TTU’s facilities are…in the Fitzgerald Industrial Park, paid for by Fitzgerald.  Coincidentally I’m sure, these tests were taken and signed off by the head of the center paid for in part by Fitzgerald even before the public-private partnership between TTU and Fitzgerald was announced.

Lo and behold, after receiving the petition from Fitzgerald, Scott Pruitt announced that he would be re-examining the glider provisions of the heavy-duty regulations.

It isn’t clear who exactly benefits from all this backroom dealing (besides the small number of glider assemblers like Fitzgerald)—but it certainly isn’t the American public.

Pending internal review by the executive branch, this proposed repeal should be made available for public comment, so stay tuned as we continue to push back on Scott Pruitt’s ridiculous dismantling of public health protections—I’m sure UCS will be calling on you for your support.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth Is a Terrible Choice for the DOT Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters

The line of political nominees for high-level positions in the federal agencies continues to slowly march through Congress. One of several nominees up for debate in the Senate this week is President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Transportation Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), Diana Furchtgott-Roth.

As someone concerned about the direction of the progressive transportation policy passed under the Obama Administration, Furchtgott-Roth couldn’t be a more troubling pick. Her background and regressive views on public policy make it clear that she has been chosen for this role not because she is a transportation policy expert, but because she is a hard-line conservative economist who can develop, find, and promote research that makes the case for eliminating DOT programs and policy.

Furchtgott-Roth’s views are antithetical to the mission of the DOT Office of Research and Technology

The stated mission of the OST-R is to “transform transportation and make our transportation system safer, more efficient, competitive and sustainable.” To meet this goal, the OST-R five year strategic plan focuses on promoting safety, improving mobility, improving infrastructure, and preserving the environment, which includes addressing the effects of transportation activities on climate change.

Furchtgott-Roth is not known for having expertise on any of these issues. Instead, she is best known for her views on the minimum wage (against), the gender pay gap (a myth), and unions (strong pass). She has also argued that female secret service agents can’t protect the President as well as male agents, climate change is a natural phenomenon, and fuel economy standards kill people. How wonderful! Overall, her career-long campaign against feminism, labor rights and public health make her a concerning candidate in charge of public policy at any level, but especially at the main research arm of the DOT charged with examining transportation-related impacts on the environment, public health, and personal mobility.

Furchtgott-Roth has little experience that is relevant to the DOT Office of Research and Technology

The relevant experience Furchtgott-Roth brings to the table for this role is limited to writing a few articles and blog posts for right-wing think tanks criticizing Obama’s transportation policies. She is an economist by training, a former staffer in the U.S. Department of Labor (and incidentally also formerly managed by current DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, when Chao was the DOL Secretary–#draintheswamp, indeed!), and current senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think-tank whose mission is to foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility (read: get rid of government policy and environmental safeguards). She has no direct experience in transportation-related roles, nor any experience in transportation issues outside of her general anti-regulation commentary.

She herself has a tough time commenting on any relevant experience. Here is what she wrote in response to a Senate questionnaire that asks, “what in your background or employment experience do you believe affirmatively qualifies you for appointment…”

“Nothing is more important to the economic health of America than getting the private sector involved in rebuilding the Nation’s infrastructure. As an economist with over 30 years of experience, I have studied the provision of infrastructure and transportation extensively. I have written articles on transportation issues and on regulation. In addition, I have managed staffs at the Council of Economic Advisers, at the Department of Labor, and at the Manhattan Institute. I have reviewed hundreds of papers and articles to determine their quality and suitability for publication.”

How in the world is any of that either specific enough to be relevant, or related to the mission of the OST-R?

If Furchtgott-Roth was nominated for a role in the DOL, or as an economic advisor, perhaps that would make sense. But for someone with an extensive background in labor and economic issues, not transportation issues, running the DOT OST-R is a bad fit.

Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the full story

Like many political commentators, Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the whole story. Instead, she cherry picks data from studies that best support her argument, without referencing data that supports any counter argument or data that provides a more comprehensive view of any issue. This approach may be appropriate as a bombastic conservative commentator, but not for the person in charge of providing policymakers with impartial, robust data on transportation issues.

For example, Furchtgott-Roth has argued that federal fuel efficiency standards are a bad idea because they literally kill people by requiring automakers to make cars lighter, and therefore less safe. In her book, Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America’s Economy, she writes “for the government, saving fuel is more important than saving lives. It prefers to pay in blood to save oil.”

Now, if you look at the 1,200-page technical report prepared by the EPA and DOT in advance of finalizing the 2017-2025 federal fuel efficiency standards, you’ll find that even though light-weighting can contribute to a car’s safety level (which is also related to a litany of other factors, weight only being one of them), the standards can be achieved and still save lives overall. This is because the standards encourage automakers to reduce the weight more from SUVs than smaller cars. Furchtgott-Roth conveniently left this fact out of her arguments against fuel efficiency standards. Oh, and you know what also kills people? CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR POLLUTION, which the fuel efficiency standards and other EPA/DOT  vehicle policies directly address.

Evidence of Furchtgott-Roth cherry picking data also lies in her claims that climate change either isn’t happening, or is not caused by human activity. In 2015, she claimed “the Earth has been warming and cooling for millennia, certainly before the industrial revolution. It has been steadily warming since the Little Ice Age of the 1700s. Over the past 15 years, despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the warming by some measures has stopped.” Not only has average global temperature continued to increase since 2015, but the short plateau referred to by Furchtgott-Roth has been debunked as a myth.

Overall, Furchtgott-Roth’s misguided use of data isn’t appropriate to lead a public office in charge of reporting accurate data, and should be addressed by Congress when questioning her qualifications for the role.