Archive for the ‘Fuel Efficiency’ Category

Obama’s State of Union will likely hit on a number of energy policy themes: climate change, promotion of offshore drilling, clean energy. The President’s statements on climate change were previewed in his January 21 inaugural address, when he declared “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

The 2007 Supreme Court ruled the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses under its existing Clean Air Act authority if it finds a scientific basis that such emissions pose a danger to public health. This summer, a Republican-led federal appeals court ruled that the EPAs compilation of the science of climate change was overwhelming and compelling, thereby requiring the Agency to act.

Obama has already used this authority to implement ground-breaking greenhouse gas emission rules for cars and trucks, and has proposed rules for new power plants that rule out the construction of conventional coal power plants. Tonight’s State of the Union will likely propose new rules over existing power plants.

And this is where Southern’s $100,000 contribution to Obama’s 2013 Inaguaration may become a factor. Southern Co was the only utility to make a contribution.  Obama’s climate change rules for cars were developed with auto industry support – previewing a framework for how rules over existing power plants may play out. In 2009 Obama was content to let the House take the lead in putting together climate rules to ensure there’d be shared responsibility among the legislative & executive branches on economy-wide legislation that was sure to be controversial in some circles. While Obama quickly abandoned succeeding Senate efforts to draft a companion bill after concluding that the cap ‘n trade approach was too politically risky, Obama pivoted in his 2011 SOTU around a clean energy standard that promoted nuclear and natural gas that had very similar emissions reduction targets as the Waxman Markey bill.

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Yesterday Fox Business hosted me for a short debate on whether a variety of federal subsidies for electric cars and batteries costing $7.5 billion over a decade were a good investment. My response that it’s pretty cheap considering the nearly $300 billion America spends to import foriegn oil. We need to diversify our transportation fuel, and electric cars must play a role.

After a concerted effort by Republican lawmakers to stall progress on a policy that would lead to cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars, it looks today as if the long-awaited new standard is close to becoming a reality. It is designed to reduce oil Tyson Slocum "fuel efficiency standard"consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day and cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons by 2025, according to the White House, which hammered out the deal with automakers in July 2011. That will be accomplished by requiring the industry to double the 2011 fuel-efficiency standard of 27.3 mpg to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Automakers have until 2017 to begin turning out vehicles that meet this requirement.

The new environmentally friendly policy resulted from the administration’s ability to extract “cooperation” from an industry at its most vulnerable. After the government bailed out General Motors with taxpayer dollars, the automakers had little choice but to go along with the administration’s proposed fuel-efficiency program – a regulatory policy it has resisted for decades.

President Barack Obama may have called the deal “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” but it is clear that the industry had to be cornered first before it would agree to the landmark effort to benefit both our economy and the environment.

While Public Citizen applauds the new standard, we won’t kid ourselves about the automakers’ plans for compliance. They managed to build in some wiggle room with a loophole that allows for a 2018 review of the standard, opening the door to possibly adjusting the standard in its favor just one year after it takes effect. We can be sure the industry will attempt to make a case that it is too expensive to meet the federal goal of 54.5 mpg. And you can be just as sure that we will be there, working to hold them to it.

Tyson Slocum is Public Citizen’s energy program director. You can follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced new proposed greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks that will extend through the 2025 model year last fall.  At the same time, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) announced its new clean cars policy.  CARB’s clean cars policy included harmonized greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light duty trucks, issued as part of the negotiated “National Program” for fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.  But in addition to these standards, California will also continue two programs to encourage automakers to deploy advanced technology (battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles.

The federal agencies will be accepting public comments on the proposed rules until Feb. 13, 2012.  Public Citizen supports the federal efforts to promote new clean vehicles, but we are concerned that the proposed rules include too many loopholes for automakers to reduce the amount of efficiency improvement required by the standards.

Another important part of clean cars policy is the interaction between federal and state standards.  A new report by Public Citizen, Driving on California’s Hydrogen Highway:  Innovative Clean Cars Policy Remains Relevant to Federal Transportation Regulation, explains that California’s advanced technology vehicles programs are an important extension of California’s long history of driving clean cars policy.

California seeks to develop a policy to address the historical problem with shifting to advanced technology vehicles.  For decades, policy makers, environmentalists, and the auto industry have tried to find ways to encourage deployment of alternatives to gasoline vehicles.  But automakers hesitate to invest in building vehicles they might not be able to sell, and car buyers are wary of buying vehicles they cannot easily refuel.  This problem has been well illustrated by the decades of failed policies to support ethanol-fueled vehicles.  Starting in the 1970s, the federal government has offered a subsidy for ethanol producers to make ethanol as a vehicle fuel.  Then in 1988, Congress authorized a credit toward fuel economy compliance for manufacturers that built cars that could run on a blend of 85 percent ethanol (E85).  But despite these incentives, E85 is only available at less than 2 percent of gas stations nationwide.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program and Hydrogen Highway initiative seek to correct for this problem by simultaneously stimulating a vehicle market, while producing a refueling infrastructure to support it.  The ZEV program would mandate that a certain percentage of the cars sold in California be certified zero emission vehicles.  For now, the only vehicles that would qualify are battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  The Hydrogen Highway initiative would finance building nine hydrogen refueling stations, with plans to expand this number over the next decade.

These programs affirm California’s role as a leader in clean vehicle policy.  Although the negotiated federal greenhouse gas and fuel economy policy now has wide support, even from the automakers, California played an important role in pushing the federal standards forward.  Now California is participating in an important policy experiment that will give the federal agencies insight into how to think about creating integrated policy around clean vehicles and clean fuels.

READ the report.

Lena Pons is an expert on vehicle efficiency regulations, and a guest blogger for Energy Vox.

 

This weekend Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program is in Houston participating in a round table discussion on emerging energy issues.  Get a preview of what Tyson will be bringing to the table:

What a difference one election makes. In June 2009, with the President’s blessing, the House of Representatives passed HR 2454 by a vote of 219 – 212. The sweeping climate and energy package pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to more than 80% below 2005 levels by 20501. Fast forward to President Obama’s 2011 State of Union address and gone were any references to addressing climate change. Instead, the President announced a new, underwhelming 80 target: his support of an 80% clean energy standard by 20352—nevermind that using Obama’s metric, we’re at a 50% clean energy standard in 20113. The landslide republican gains in the midterm elections have profoundly scaled back the energy and climate debate in Washington, DC, and placed most clean energy incentives and regulatory protections on the defensive. Although it’s important to note that one shouldn’t conclude that the election was a mandate against taking action on climate change or promoting sustainable energy: the only climate related issue on the November ballot was California’s Proposition 23, which sought to repeal AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and 61% of Californians rejected it (and therefore voted to preserve the state’s climate change law).

We Need Clean Energy Financing – Not Clean Energy Standards
When the President announced a new target of obtaining 80% of America’s electricity from “clean” sources by 2035, it’s on the assumption that most of that goal will be met with a) existing and ramped-up natural gas, nuclear and renewable generation; and b) that carbon capture and storage will make coal a viable part of this standard – which is a big assumption given the massive technical, financial and legal barriers that will continue to plague this technology in the years to come.
Meeting this clean energy target with new nuclear, coal or large-scale renewables will be impossible absent effective federal incentives, as these new technologies require significant financial assistance to overcome skyrocketing capital costs (particularly nuclear and coal) and other logistical challenges. Obama has proposed cutting about $5 billion a year in current oil company tax breaks in an effort to jump start clean energy financing, but this falls far short of what’s needed (although with crude oil trading in excess of $90 a barrel, high market prices – and not government tax breaks – provide all the incentive necessary for the oil industry to fully develop US resources). Senator Bingaman’s proposed Clean Energy Deployment Administration, an independent corporation financed through the Treasury’s sale of special bonds, would replace the flawed Department of Energy Loan Guarantee program, but CEDA will also have limited funds. The most effective way to provide the financing needed for tomorrow’s expensive no- and low-carbon energy sources is by employing a carbon tax. Such a tax could easily raise $26 billion a year by 2015,8 and we already have a bi-partisan carbontax- esque bill in the US Senate: S.2877 co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins.

Everybody Loves Natural Gas Except When It’s Expensive and Contaminates Drinking Water
We cannot assume that current low and stable natural gas prices can be relied on long-term. Prices have recently separated from crude oil and remained at affordable levels courtesy of the explosion of domestic shale production. But with hydraulic fracturing coming under increased scrutiny for water contamination, it would be irresponsible to assume that this practice will remain unregulated.

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