Climate 411

Americans save hard-earned money with Clean Car Standards that Trump may soon roll back

The latest rumblings indicate the Trump administration is poised to advance a proposal that would dramatically roll back America’s Clean Car Standards, one of our biggest climate success stories.

Thanks to the Clean Car Standards, we’ve made major strides in reducing climate pollution while at the same time spurring fuel efficiency gains that save Americans money at the gas pump. But the Trump administration’s proposal reportedly would recommend flatlining the standards at 2020 levels through 2026, and would also include an attack on states’ long-standing authority to enforce more protective clean car standards.

A new analysis shows that this proposal would cost Americans in every state. With the anticipated rollback, an average family will spend $200 more per year, and could spend as much as $500 more every year if gas prices continue to rise — with low-income and long-commuting Americans particularly hard hit.

Here’s what you need to know about this reckless attack:

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Five things you need to know about the U.S. Clean Car Standards

Cars on a dealer lot, waiting to be sold. Photo: Every Car Listed

America’s Clean Car Standards are one of our biggest success stories, yet the Trump Administration is preparing to dramatically weaken them.

News reports say the Trump Administration is also taking aim at state leadership on clean cars, by preparing to challenge California’s and 12 other states’ authority to maintain more protective standards.

Here’s what you need to know:

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Proof that the Clean Power Plan’s strategy for cutting carbon pollution is the industry standard

The public comment period is just about to close on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reckless attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and thousands of Americans — including mayors, CEOs, energy experts, and citizens concerned about the threats Pruitt’s actions pose to our children’s health and future — have already spoken out in vigorous opposition to the misguided repeal effort.

There is a lot at stake. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 4,500 early deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks each year. It would cut carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels, and would substantially reduce other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

By slashing air pollution and helping mitigate the threats of climate change, the Clean Power Plan would secure significant benefits to public health while growing the clean energy economy.

Yet, as Pruitt continues his misguided effort to turn back the clock on lifesaving climate protections, momentum is growing in states and the power sector to slash carbon pollution and usher in a clean energy future.

States and companies are moving away from carbon-intensive sources of electricity generation, and are increasing their use of cleaner technologies — deploying the same cost-effective strategies to cut carbon pollution that EPA relied upon when establishing emission reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan is putting this flexible approach to ambitious and low-cost emission reductions under attack.

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Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

An outpouring of support for clean car standards, in the face of Pruitt’s attempted rollback

Cars on a dealer lot, waiting to be sold. Photo: Every Car Listed

(EDF Legal Fellow Erin Murphy co-authored this post)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just announced his intention to rollback one of our country’s biggest climate success stories – clean car standards that reduce pollution and save Americans money at the pump.

In a closed-door ceremony, Pruitt kicked off a process to weaken these standards — placing at risk as much as two billion tons of climate pollution reductions and $460 billion in consumer savings.

His determination cited the auto industry dozens of times yet made no mention of people’s health or climate change, and cited zero EPA analyses justifying the rollback.

Even some auto industry leaders have raised concerns about this attack:

  • Honda: “We didn’t ask for that,” said Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president in charge of environment and energy strategy. “The position we outlined was sensible.”
  • Ford: “We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.”
  • Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls: “Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit. It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”
  • Automotive Technology Leadership Group: “It is in the nation’s best interest for the U.S. to continue leading in the development and manufacture of the cleanest and most efficient vehicles in the world. The innovation brought on by competition and our national performance standards has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country and significant market opportunities for U.S. companies abroad.”

Pruitt’s announcement has even generated a backlash in the most auto-industry-friendly place in America – Detroit.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the Detroit Free Press accused auto companies of reneging on their deal with the American taxpayer:

  • “[T]he auto bailout was more than a federally guaranteed loan; it was a multi-lateral agreement that your companies would henceforth go about the business of manufacturing cars and trucks more thoughtfully than they had in the past … [M]anufacturing more fuel-efficient vehicles that would cost less to operate and spew a dramatically smaller amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was part of the bargain that saved your lives.” – Detroit Free Press editorial

The clean car standards have strong public support across the country. A recent American Lung Association poll showed that nearly seven in 10 voters want EPA to leave current fuel efficiency standards in place.

That support is reflected in the broad outpouring of support for clean cars expressed in the run up to, and aftermath of, Pruitt’s rollback announcement. A diverse group of leaders recognizes that weakening these protections will cost Americans money, hurt our health, and harm our national security:

  • “Thanks to emissions and efficiency standards, consumers have saved billions of dollars on fuel over the last 5 years. And if the standards were protected instead of undermined, consumers could expect to save a lot more over the next decade. It would be wasteful to discard those consumer savings, but EPA now appears poised to do just that.” – Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Consumers Union
  • “The American Lung Association strongly opposes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to revise the clean car standards … Transportation is the nation’s single largest contributor of carbon pollution, which drives climate change. Starting a process to weaken clean car standards marks yet another step backward from the fight to curb climate change. Climate change poses serious threats to millions of people, especially to some of the most vulnerable Americans, including children, older adults and those living with chronic diseases such as asthma.” – American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer
  • “Weakening CAFE and reducing future U.S. net oil exports will further diminish the future global energy leverage of the United States and leave the country and its allies on a more precarious footing.” – Council on Foreign Relations blog, 3/13/18

Political leaders across the country have voiced strong bipartisan support for the existing clean car standards:

  • “Today’s EPA decision on vehicle emissions won’t prevent us from fulfilling what we believe is an obligation to protect Colorado’s air and the health of our citizens. Many of our auto manufacturers are making cars cleaner and more efficient. Indeed, many support the existing stricter standards. It doesn’t make sense that the EPA would take us backwards. Who is the EPA trying to protect?” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
  • “As U.S. attorneys general, mayors and county executives, we – not federal officials in Washington, D.C. – are primarily responsible for the transportation systems upon which our residents and our local and regional economies depend. A clean, efficient and high-performance vehicle fleet is an essential component of these systems. We strongly support the current federal standards for such a modern vehicle fleet agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government and the State of California.” – A Coalition of 12 State Attorneys General and Over Fifty Mayors
  • “Today’s announcement by EPA Administrator Pruitt to weaken vehicle emissions standards is in direct conflict with the agency’s mandate to reduce air pollution. This decision will increase air pollution and limit innovative technology advancements that bring cleaner, more efficient cars to market. We support the current federal standards agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government, and the State of California.  These standards are helping to drive the global transition to more efficient transportation technologies. They also protect the health of our communities and reduce the pollution that is changing our climate.” – 17 Governors of states across the country and Puerto Rico

Labor and investment experts have also recognized that the clean car standards are essential for long-term American auto sector innovation, vitality, and jobs:

  • “The current standards have helped bring back, secure, and create jobs nationwide; they have reduced pollution; saved consumers billions at the pump; and have been integral to growing and sustaining America’s manufacturing sector over the past decade. Weakening the rules — which is indicated to be the intent of today’s decision — could put American jobs at risk today and in coming years, and would threaten America’s competitiveness in manufacturing critical technology.” – BlueGreen Alliance Director of Advanced Vehicles and Transportation, Zoe Lipman
  • “Strong national fuel economy and emissions standards spur innovation and open the door to tremendous economic opportunities. They represent an investment in technological and economic leadership. Weakening them would be a bad deal for investors, workers, car owners, and businesses—and for the American economy itself.” -­ David Richardson, Impax Asset Management
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Policy, Pruitt, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

Are there roadblocks ahead for America’s clean cars standards? Here are five things you need to know

Cars wait to be sold on a dealer's lot. Photo: Every Car Listed

(EDF Legal Fellow Erin Murphy co-authored this post)

America’s clean cars standards are one of our biggest climate success stories.

We’ve made major strides in reducing greenhouse gas pollution since protective standards were put in place in 2012 – spurring fuel efficiency gains at the same time.

New innovations have made additional progress even more clearly achievable – and have set the stage for a future free from tailpipe pollution.

Yet, when it comes to cars, the Trump administration is stuck in reverse.

President Trump is reportedly considering a dramatic rollback of our existing clean cars standards. Right now, an EPA action to set this reversal in motion is under White House review.

Ford broke ranks earlier this week, publicly disavowing a rollback of these climate pollution protections.

Yet it’s rumored that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will issue a decision as early as Friday that would set in motion a potentially dramatic weakening of these safeguards. It’s time for policy-makers and automakers like GM, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota to take a stand and reject these baseless attacks.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Climate progress in the balance

Tremendous climate progress is at stake.

EPA estimated that the clean cars program would reduce climate pollution by six billion tons over its lifetime and cut other dangerous air pollutants as well. That’s how much climate pollution America emits in a year, from all sources and all sectors.

The American Lung Association and twelve other public health organizations have all underscored the importance of maintaining protective clean cars standards.

The transportation sector has become America’s largest contributor of climate pollution. It is also a significant source of harmful soot and smog-causing pollution.

Now is the time to accelerate reductions from this sector, not stall out. Yet leaked details suggest the Trump administration is moving to significantly weaken upcoming standards for cars in model years 2022 to 2025 – eroding the benefits of the standards by almost 60 percent.

  1. Savings every time you fuel up

Clean cars standards are a win-win – in addition to reducing pollution, they save consumers money at the gas pump.

This program gradually reduces climate pollution rates from cars and trucks – driving five percent reductions each year through flexible fleet-wide standards and spurring comparable year-by-year improvements in fuel efficiency.

Drivers are already benefiting from our existing standards. For example, each Ford F-150 truck bought in 2015 uses about 180 fewer gallons of gas a year than prior models. That saves its owner eight trips to the gas station and up to $700 per year, depending on the price of fuel.

The standards will bring even greater savings in the future. Families that purchase a new car or truck in 2025 will save an estimated $1,650 over the lifetime of that vehicle, compared to a car just three years older.

Over the lifetime of the clean cars program, the savings to American families and businesses will add up to more than a trillion dollars.

The 86 percent of Americans who finance their car with a five-year loan are expected to immediately realize the cost savings from cleaner, more efficient vehicles. This is true even with lower gas prices.

  1. We have the know-how to exceed these standards

The improvements under the existing clean cars standards are technically feasible and affordable.

Automakers and suppliers are developing and deploying innovative technologies faster than anticipated when the standards were finalized.

EPA, the Department of Transportation, and the California Air Resources Board conducted an exhaustive technical review of the auto industry’s ability to meet the 2022 to 2025 model year standards. They found extensive evidence that the automotive industry can meet those standards at lower costs than predicted when the standards were initially finalized in 2012.

Since the clean cars program began in 2012, there has been roughly a doubling in the number of SUVs that achieve 25 miles per gallon or more, the number of cars that achieve 30 miles per gallon or more, and the number of cars that achieve 40 miles per gallon or more.

Today there are already more than 100 car, SUV, and pickup models on the market that meet standards set for 2020 and beyond.

If any changes are made, the standards should be strengthened.

  1. Supporting American jobs and innovation now and into the future

Well-designed federal standards foster the deployment of fuel saving solutions.

We have seen this cycle play out over the past several years, as automakers have brought more efficient cars and trucks to market with record sales and strong profitability.

Today, the auto industry directly employs millions of Americans and employment at auto dealerships is at its highest level ever.

Automakers have recognized this strong financial performance in recent annual reports:

  •  “[Fiat Chrysler] posted another record performance in 2017, achieving ambitious financial targets … We have now reached or exceeded all key financial goals for the first four years of the current five-year plan.”  Fiat Chrysler 2017 Annual Report, Chairman’s Letter
  • “2016 was the best year in its history of more than 130 years.” Daimler 2016 Annual Report, Chairman’s Letter
  • “2016 was a very strong year for General Motors, one that included the launch of dozens of award-winning products around the world, record sales and earnings, substantial return of capital to shareholders and remarkable progress in our drive to define and lead the future of personal mobility. In North America, we achieved record earnings last year and exceeded our 10-percent-margin goal for the second consecutive year.” General Motors 2016 Annual Report, Chairman’s Letter

In a 2016 letter supporting EPA’s proposal to reaffirm the clean cars standards, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) noted:

  • “UAW members know firsthand that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards have spurred investments in new products that employ tens of thousands of our members.”

Other countries – including China, the world’s largest new vehicle market — are pushing toward a zero-emissions future. U.S. automakers can’t afford to fall behind.

Protective clean car standards spur investment that will preserve and increase automakers’ global competitiveness.

  1. State leadership at risk

Over the last half century, state leadership has played a key role in spurring the development and deployment of clean car solutions like smog-fighting catalytic converters.

Administrator Pruitt recently made aggressive public statements smearing this success story and suggesting that the Trump administration’s coming attack may even seek to stifle these state-led programs.

Under long-standing provisions in the Clean Air Act, California is authorized to set its own vehicle pollution standards, and all other states have authority to adopt and enforce these standards. Today a third of U.S. new car sales are covered by the coalition of states that have committed to protective clean car standards.

In Ford’s public comments this week, the company recognized this history and committed to working together with California to build a path forward. Yet Administrator Pruitt’s irresponsible comments suggest he is reviewing an existing waiver that allows for implementation of this state success story — and may be considering revoking this waiver, even though such a step has never been taken and has no basis in law.

Pruitt’s comments show a clear disregard for his professed concern for states’ rights.

The takeaway? We need to move forward, not shift into reverse

Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that the Trump administration is set to roll back these protections — just as they’ve relentlessly attacked so many other common sense pollution standards.

EDF will defend the progress we’ve made cleaning up pollution from our cars, and we’ll push for even more progress. We hope all Americans will join us in defense of these crucial safeguards.

  • Policymakers at all levels need to stand against these rollbacks and advance clean cars through the myriad of avenues available to them.
  • Automakers need to make clear that they stand for common sense standards that spur continued progress on clean vehicles today and continued movement towards a future without tailpipe pollution.
  • Individual citizens need to push back against these reckless cuts.

The climate and health protections contained in the clean car standards are critical, well-founded, and eminently achievable. We will be fighting to keep them whole.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Still cheaper than coal – a report on the economics of solar power in Colorado

Workers install solar panels on a building in Superior, Colorado. Photo: SolarDave.com

(EDF’s Graham McCahan co-authored this post)

A newly-updated report is shedding light on what President Trump’s solar trade tariffs may mean for one state – and underscoring a tremendous opportunity to move forward toward clean energy, with all the benefits it can bring.

Xcel Energy filed its 30-day bid report update with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on March 1. The update follows Xcel’s filing at the end of last year, in response to an “all-source solicitation,” as part of its Electric Resource Plan and its proposed Colorado Energy Plan.

Xcel’s plan would shut down two units at the Comanche coal plant in Pueblo, Colorado, and replace the capacity with a mix of lower carbon resources. Earlier results were unprecedented, with more than 80 percent of the bids coming from renewable energy and storage at incredibly cheap prices.

Xcel then provided bidders an opportunity to refresh their bids following President Trump’s final decision in the Suniva/SolarWorld trade case in January, which imposed tariffs on imported solar equipment.

The refreshed bids in Xcel’s updated report show minimal change relative to last year’s results and confirm that new wind and solar power in Colorado continues to be cheaper than existing coal plants – despite the trade tariffs.

According to the report, Xcel “received bid affirmation and refresh responses from all but one of the 400 plus bids.”

Of these responses:

“58% of the bids affirmed no change in pricing, 16% increased pricing, and 26% decreased pricing.”

The solar photovoltaic (PV) median bid price increased by only $1.5 per megawatt hour, and the median bid for solar PV with battery storage increased by $2.3 per megawatt hour – still the cheapest solar plus storage bids in the U.S. to date.

Based on analysis by Carbon Tracker, this means that the median bid price for solar is lower than the operating cost of all existing coal units in Colorado, while the median solar plus storage bid is lower than roughly 70 percent of operating coal capacity.

Federal renewable energy tax credits are likely buffering some of the solar trade tariff effects. While recent analyses show significant cost declines for renewable energy, with wind and solar becoming increasingly competitive with conventional generation even on an unsubsidized basis, the renewable tax credits are still a significant factor contributing to favorable wind and solar economics in the short-term and in the face of the Trump solar tariffs. That said, it’s important to recognize that coal generation has enjoyed state and federal incentives for a century, and continues to do so.

The tax credits are being phased down in the next few years, with the production tax credit for wind phasing out in 2019 and the investment tax credit for solar in 2021. So it will be critical to act now to take advantage of those credits to deploy clean energy at lowest cost and secure the associated economic and public health benefits.

Colorado is an example of this tremendous opportunity to move forward now to lock in incredibly low-cost resources, with no fuel costs and therefore no medium- to long-term volatility or risk to consumers. The Xcel bids show that there is a lower-cost clean energy alternative to keeping the polluting Comanche units online in Pueblo, and it no longer makes sense to continue to operate and maintain these units at the expense of Colorado customers and Colorado air quality.

There is even the potential for low-cost utility-scale on-site solar to be used by Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel – a steel mill and the single largest manufacturer in Pueblo and largest producer of premium rail in North America – to help cut costs and keep manufacturing jobs in Pueblo.

Evraz is Xcel’s largest retail customer in Colorado, and the 175-200 megawatt Evraz solar project that the company is considering would provide a cost-effective option to meet Evraz’s growing needs, help guarantee Evraz low and stable electricity rates in the future, and therefore help keep Evraz in Colorado.

We are already witnessing some of the impacts of Trump’s solar tariffs on jobs in some areas of the U.S., and the potential for these tariffs to stall American competitiveness and innovation – for instance, American solar company SunPower recently announced that it will lay off hundreds of workers, largely from its research and development and marketing positions.

But the Xcel refresh bids in Colorado – a state blessed with high solar and wind potential – provides an important first look at what the solar tariffs mean for the competitiveness of clean energy in a state where clean energy conditions are favorable.

In Colorado, it is clear that the advantages of clean energy for consumers and the local economy remain compelling. Despite the tariffs – and in the presence of renewable tax credits, rapid technological advances, and plummeting costs of solar and storage technologies – solar still outcompetes fossil fuels. It also helps lower costs to consumers, and protects local manufacturing jobs.

The state should act now to lock in those benefits for the people of Colorado.

Also posted in Energy, Policy / Comments are closed