UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

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

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

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

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

Fiat-Chrysler is paying a fine…for repeating history

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

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

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

Congress says enough is enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVs could dramatically increase driving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVs could exacerbate or perpetuate inequities in our current transportation system

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

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

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

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

Now’s the time to get on the right path

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

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

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

Photo: Don Anair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hay también una gran disparidad dentro del estado de California

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

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

Haga clic en el map para explorar el mapa interactivo. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

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

Photo: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

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

What is PM2.5 and why is it important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to view interactive map.

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

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

Opportunities to reduce harmful impacts of vehicle use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling back regulations hurts people

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

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

That all needs to stop, right now.

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

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

We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The administration is moving full speed backwards on transportation emissions

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

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

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

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

Fossil fuel companies are responsible, but still getting special treatment

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

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

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

The administration is betraying farmers, workers, and children

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

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

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

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

Investing massive amounts of money in nuclear weapons is just wrong

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

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

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

Share the #RealSOTU

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

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

I hope you can join me.

Will Washington Step Up on Climate in 2019?

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

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

Washington needs to move quicker on climate

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

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

Creating a market for cleaner transportation fuels

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

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

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

Phasing out fossil fuels from electricity generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Automakers – Consumers Want Cleaner Cars this Year and Every Year!

Photo: Conny Sandland/Flickr

Whether your gifts come during Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Día de Los Reyes, everyone knows it’s holiday wish-list time. The automakers know this too – you can’t turn on the tv without seeing lots of shiny new cars festooned with giant red bows. Due to the strong national fuel efficiency/emissions standards for cars and trucks we helped enact several years ago – the cars in holiday showrooms are some of the cleanest, most efficient models ever produced. The existing standards save consumers millions at the pump, cut global warming pollution by 470 million metric tons – the equivalent of shutting down 136 typical coal plants for an entire year, and would reduce oil use by over 2.4 million barrels a day by 2030.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration at the behest of the automakers and the oil industry has proposed rolling back the clean car standards – and even though automakers have been easily meeting strong standards so far, the mpg on the sticker in 2025 could actually be lower than what we enjoy today! But the American people strongly support maintaining the current standards. In fact, Consumers Union polling earlier this year found that an overwhelming majority of American adults (85%—with Republicans at 88%) agree that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types.

UCS asked our supporters across the country to weigh in – so in addition to their letters to Santa, many American drivers also wrote letters to their automakers this year. Here are just a few highlights:

From GM owner, Robert –

I am a long time GMC driver, fuel efficient cars (and in my case, trucks) benefit consumers like me who save money at the pump. Even more important, these standards are helping to cut climate pollution and push innovation forward. I want to know that you are doing your part to make sure that the next car or truck I buy is more fuel efficient than the one I am driving now. Also, as a consumer of one of your most profitable products (pickups), I can assure you I am willing to bear my fair share of the legitimate costs to minimize negative environmental impacts.   You do your part in the political arena to prove your commitment to safeguarding our environment, and I’ll do mine in the marketplace.

From Ford owners, Dee and Peter –   

My husband and I own and drive a 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid — only the third US-made car we’ve bought in our 30 years of marriage. We chose this car instead of a foreign hybrid because we were thrilled to see a US automaker heading in the right direction in making a fuel-efficient and eco-friendly vehicle — and we voted with our dollars to support you in that effort. It’s a great car and I’d like to see you increase your hybrid and electric vehicle offerings. I’m not alone in that! However, I was disturbed to learn that you are working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards. Don’t be foolish!! Fuel efficient cars save money on gas — but even more importantly, strict standards help to cut climate pollution, create jobs, and push innovation forward. Be a leader! In 2012, you agreed to and promised to uphold strong fuel-efficiency standards and I respected and supported your company for that stance. Don’t abandon your principles and align yourself with President Trump, whose aim of relaxing the standards is retrogressive and short-sighted. As a consumer, I urge you to stay true to your word, be a leader in designing cars for the future, and resist any effort to weaken these standards.

From Toyota owner, Carol –

I am a long time Toyota owner — in fact, every car I have ever owned has been a Toyota, including my current Camry hybrid, and I have been planning to buy one for my daughter later this summer. Part of my loyalty to Toyota has been because I think of you as a relatively ethical company. So, I have been deeply disturbed to see you working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards. Global warming has already proceeded to the point that it will have very negative impacts on my daughter and people of her generation around the world. How can you renege on standards and make this problem worse?!? Fuel efficiency standards are helping to cut climate pollution, create jobs, and push innovation forward. I want to know that you are doing your part to uphold them. As a longtime loyal customer, I urge you to stay true to your word and not support any effort to weaken these standards.

From Ford investor, GM AND Toyota owner, Joy –

I am a long time Toyota owner (one of my vehicles is a Prius), a new Chevrolet Bolt owner, a long-time investor in Ford, and a more recent investor in General Motors. I appreciate the investments these companies have made in more fuel-efficient, hybrid, and electric vehicles, and I have rewarded them with my patronage when I could find a vehicle that suited my needs. As a consumer and a citizen concerned about and acting on what climate science is telling us, I am quite disturbed to learn that many automakers are working with the Trump administration to try to relax the fuel economy and global warming emission standards.   I want to know that all U. S. automakers are doing their part to make sure that the next car I buy is more fuel efficient than the one I am driving now.   That goal is what has driven 2 of my last 3 vehicle purchases. In 2012 I wanted a vehicle that could beat the 30 mpg I was getting with my Camry; the Prius was the closet I could come on my budget. In 2016, if any company had offered an electric or hybrid pickup truck when I needed to replace my old one, I would not have bought the gas-hog Toyota Tacoma that I did. I had not bought a GM vehicle since 1990 because I long ago lost faith in its products, but I reversed myself in 2017 because it offered the best EV I could find for the range and money. Not only do I not believe I am all that unique among auto buyers, I believe my purchase considerations are the future. U. S. car makers need to get the message. Our country and indeed our world need the automobile industry to employ its creativity, ingenuity, and manufacturing prowess to lead us all toward a clean, emission-free transportation future. By standing with President Trump during his announcement to reopen the review process of the standards, your company is clearly leading the push to weaken them and is thereby endorsing a horrible course of action. As a consumer and past (and maybe future customer depending on what you do going forward), I urge you to stay true to your word and not support any effort to weaken these standards. And for heaven’s sake do not join the ranks of the fossil fuel industry and cover up or lie about the true risks posed by our warming climate.

These letters, just a few among over 23,000 sent to automakers over the course of a year, are a powerful testament to the deep-seated concern many have about having clean car choices in the marketplace. A car purchase is one of the most important choices a consumer can make in terms of their personal carbon footprint.

The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the federal fuel efficiency standards is still working its way through an agency rulemaking process, so the automakers have a chance to give consumers what they’re wishing for this season – they can stop the proposed rollback and ensure that the standards remain strong and continue to drive innovation. They’ve been shown the ghosts of actions past, present, and future, and they still have a chance to turn things around this holiday season, but only if they deliver the cleaner cars they promised.

Photo: Conny Sandland/Flickr

A Big Win on Climate Change and Clean Transportation

Photo by Cris Ovalle on Unsplash

If you would like to be inspired by an example of states working together on an ambitious plan to address climate change, read on—the following is a big deal!

Today, the governors of nine states (MA, VA, MD, CT, RI, VT, NJ, PA, DE) and the District of Columbia announced that their states will establish a regional “cap and invest” program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and invest in clean transportation solutions. To pass muster, the announcement states that the program must cause substantial carbon emission reductions, ensure equity in its benefits and burdens, foster economic growth and job creation, enhance resilience in the transportation system, and allow states to pursue other, complementary policies. The states are to design the program in one year, at which point these states will make final decisions on participation and seek legislative or regulatory approvals.

This announcement borrows a page from a highly successful playbook. About ten years ago, the governors of many of these same states called for, and ultimately put in place, a cap and invest program that has driven down emissions from the electric sector, and generated billions of economic benefits for the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. This same model can work transportation.

What is ‘Cap and Invest,’ and why do we need it?

As readers of my Boston Globe op-ed and various UCS blogs know, the transportation sector is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States and the northeast/mid-Atlantic region. While there are a number of policies in place to lower transportation emissions (fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, incentives and mandates for electric cars, and investments in public transit), transportation sector emissions are expected to stay flat, and may even rise.

Why? Among other things, we are missing two key pieces: 1) a legally binding mechanism to force overall emissions down; and 2) a revenue source to fund the transition to cleaner transportation.

The regional cap and invest program announced today can put these vital pieces in place. It would establish a legally binding mechanism to drive down emissions by setting an overall, regional cap on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks, and buses that will decline over time. To ensure that the cap is not exceeded, companies that bring transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel) into the region would have to acquire “allowances” that would be tied to the greenhouse gas emissions from combusting their fuel. The total allowances sold each year would not exceed the applicable cap, ensuring that the region’s emission reduction goals would be met.

The program also provides a much-needed revenue source for clean transportation. The allowances that companies would have to obtain would be sold at public auction, and states can use the revenues to invest in cleaner transportation, including electric cars, buses, and trucks, better public transportation, and affordable housing near jobs. We estimate that at modest allowance prices that would cost the average driver $6 per month, the program could bring approximately $3.5 billion into the region for clean transportation investments.

That’s an investment that will pay off in spades. For example, when we replace older dirty transit and school buses with ones that run on clean electricity, we can dramatically improve air quality for our kids and protect vulnerable populations that live in polluted areas.

Why is this a big deal?

Three reasons:

  1. It shows again that states are leading, even while the federal government has abdicated its duty to protect current and future generations from climate change, as demonstrated most recently—and shamelessly—by its hawking of fossil fuels at last week’s international climate conference. This bold regional plan announced by these ten states and the District of Columbia will help reassure an anxious world that the United States has not abandoned the fight and demonstrate that the Trump administration does not speak for the country on climate change.
  2. The scale of this plan is stunning. Over 50 million people live in these participating states, comprising over 15% of the US population and close to 20% of the US economy. If these states were a single country, they would be just beyond Germany as the fifth largest economy in the world.
  3. This is a bi-partisan success. The governors of 3 of the nine states (MA, MD and VT) are republicans, and the cap and invest approach is an idea pioneered by President George H.W. Bush to fight acid rain. In our current polarized political landscape, bipartisan collaboration, especially on climate change, is extremely rare. This initiative sets an excellent example.
What’s next?

This announcement is a first step. In the coming year, the states will need to hash out a number of important details, such as the initial level of the emissions cap, the pace of decline of the cap, which entities in the stream of commerce will be responsible for purchasing allowances, how revenues will be allocated back to participating states, and the principles for making equitable investments. This will take some time, but the states can take advantage of the fact that California and Quebec already have a working cap and invest program for transportation, and the RGGI program for electricity can also provide useful guidance on how to structure the program.

As the details are being hammered out, diverse stakeholder and public engagement will also be critical, and should include, among others, business, equity, health, justice, labor, and transit advocates. Making sure that these groups are empowered during the process will make for a cap and invest plan that benefits everyone.

UCS has played a major role in advancing this initiative to this stage. We have made the case for it to policymakers and anyone else who would listen, issued fresh technical analysis, built coalitions, and mobilized our members and supporters. We will continue to engage in both technical design and public outreach and education.

But for now, we applaud the governors and officials who have put their states behind a sensible, cost-effective, and much-needed policy to tackle the challenge of building a clean, equitable, modern transportation system for all.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Hangs in the Balance

Photo: Oregon Convention Center/Flickr

I’m back from my hiatus as a full-time dad and am reengaged in the biggest. transportation. policy debates. in Washington, D.C.! Super exciting, I know.

Today, I’m reporting on the legislative tug-of-war over the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. Fossil fuel interests on one end, literally everyone else on the other. This fight arose when the suits over at Exxon, Shell, and Koch Industries became worried about the potential of electric vehicles (EVs) to mess with their 90 percent share of transportation fuel in the U.S. And you know what? They should be worried. The EV market is small but growing fast, and there have been tons of production milestones and new model releases over the past quarter.

So, the suits gather around and hatch a plan. The first step is easy. Poke a bunch of holes in the earth until a black goo comes out, refine it, and sell a LOT of it – like millions and millions of barrels – every day. Second, pay geeks-for-hire to produce analysis that skews data to reach misleading results about any policy or technology that may affect sales. Then, aggressively fund advocacy groups with innocuous names like Americans for Prosperity and American Commitment to push the bogus analysis along with talking points on the importance of maintaining a free-market for transportation fuels. (This step both distances yourself from the court of public opinion and masks any mention of maintaining the oil-powered status quo). The final piece of the puzzle is to spend an egregious amount of money on a politician – preferably a Senator – in hopes they will turn your holiday policy wish list into, oh I don’t know, maybe a bill called the Fairness for Every Driver Act, which would eliminate the EV tax credit and slap EV owners with a user fee. Thanks Senator Barrasso (R-Wyo)!

Fortunately for everyone on the side of science, groups like UCS and our allies recognize the need for clean electricity to replace oil as the dominant transportation fuel. Armed with peer-reviewed studies, widespread public support, and a couple well-written blog posts, advocates are pushing to improve the tax credit so that it can advance the EV market even further.  There are a few ideas about how to best do this, including the Electric CARS Act, which would extend the tax credit for 10 years and has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Merkley (D-OR), Heinrich (D-NM), and Cortez Masto (D-NV), and in the House by Reps. Welch (D-VT) and Rosen (D-NV).

Congress has a couple weeks before they adjourn and toss any un-passed bills in the trash just like my kid’s 5-week old finger paintings. Whether the EV tax credit will be improved, eliminated, or untouched is unclear. What is clear is that you can get involved in this policy debate by taking 2 minutes to place a phone call to your Senator and House Representative in support of the EV tax credit.

Call 833-216-1727 (or 833-513-5863 if you live in California or Nevada) to support the EV tax credit

Politicians take constituent calls seriously, and they can move the needle on how hard your elected officials will fight for clean air, combating climate change and supporting the American EV industry. You can remind whoever answers the phone about the science behind the benefits of electrifying transportation. For example; an EV produces the emissions equivalent of a gasoline car that gets 80 MPG; driving on electricity can save you almost $800 per year in fuel costs and more on scheduled maintenance; EVs offer a quieter, safe ride; EVs are great in the snow and inclement weather; and driving an EV means never stopping for gas at that one gross gas station!

Want to stay up-to-date on future EV policy debates? Text “EV” to 662266. You will be opted in for occasional general UCS updates in addition to our messages especially for EV enthusiasts.

Photo: Oregon Convention Center/Flickr

Rural Drivers Can Save the Most From Clean Vehicles

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

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

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

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

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

Rural drivers’ potential to save money and cut emissions

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

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

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

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

Obstacles to rural electrification

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

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

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

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

The Northeast needs a rural electrification strategy

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

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

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

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

Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

Do Shell’s New Climate Commitments Make the Grade?

Shell sign in gas station

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

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

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

Shell’s Carbon Footprint Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Nagy

Massachusetts Needs More Than MOR-EV

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

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

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

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

Electric vehicles are critical to achieving Massachusetts climate limits

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

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

We can do better than MOR-EV

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

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

Looking beyond MOR-EV

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

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

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

We need dedicated funding to make this happen

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

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

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

Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

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

Photo: Seb Zurcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo: Tracey Adams/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

More long range, affordable electric cars coming soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Tracey Adams/Flickr Source: IHS Markit

Charlie Baker Can Lead on Clean Transportation

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

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

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

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

But it is not enough.

Massachusetts needs more action on clean transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A regional program could help address core challenges facing Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Flexibilities” are at the heart of all automaker comments

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

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

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

Tallying up the impact of automaker proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rollback by another name

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

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

An incredibly myopic “vision”

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

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

Is anyone not calling for a rollback?

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

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

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

Promises today, pollution tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big oil’s campaign of disinformation

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

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

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

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

Believe scientists, not oil companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the main concerns with GM’s proposal?

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

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

#2 – Extra credits would further weaken vehicle sales requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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