Climate 411

Key takeaways from the court decision blocking suspension of BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule

(EDF Legal Fellow Samantha Caravello co-authored this post)

A U.S. District Court judge has halted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s latest effort to suspend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction last night in response to legal challenges brought by the states of California and New Mexico, and by EDF and a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups.

The court decision ensures that the Waste Prevention Protections are in full force and effect, delivering important benefits to tribes, ranchers and families across the West. It also demonstrates that facts matter, and that public input matters — and, as the court recognized, Zinke ignored both when he suspended the Waste Prevention Rule.

Here are some key takeaways from the court’s decision.

Zinke’s suspension would have resulted in immediate and irreparable harms

The Waste Prevention Rule requires that oil and gas companies take common sense actions to prevent the waste of valuable natural gas on federal and tribal lands. These actions also reduce harmful air pollution including methane, and smog-forming and toxic pollutants.

Judge William Orrick, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, found that Zinke’s attempt to suspend the Waste Prevention Rule would have real, immediate, and irreversible effects on public health and the environment.

In reaching this conclusion, the judge highlighted the severe health threat that Zinke’s suspension would pose for people living near oil and gas operations.

He cited:

“[T]he waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.” (Order, page 2)

The judge referred to declarations from EDF experts and members that documented these health and climate harms, including:

  • “Environmental Defense Fund member Francis Don Schreiber, for example, resides on a ranch in Governador, New Mexico, where there are 122 oil and gas wells either on or immediately adjacent to his land, all managed by BLM and subject to the Suspension Rule…. He notices an ‘extremely strong’ ‘near-constant smell from leaking wells,’ which ‘make[s] breathing uncomfortable’ and causes concern that he and his wife ‘are breathing harmful hydrocarbons…’ As Schreiber suffers from a heart condition and has already had open heart surgery, he is ‘at a higher risk from breathing ozone,’ and is ‘constantly concerned about the impact of the air quality on [his] heart condition.’” (Order, page 26)
  • “Dr. Ilissa B. Ocko, climate scientist, states that the 175,000 additional tons of methane that will result during the one-year suspension is ‘equivalent to the 20-year climate impact of over 3,000,000 passenger vehicles driving for one year or over 16 billion pounds of coal burned.’” (Order, page 25)
  • “Dr. Renee McVay, whose research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, estimates that approximately 6,182 wells subject to the Waste Prevention Rule are located in counties already suffering from unhealthy air with elevated ozone levels… The Suspension Rule will result in additional emissions of 2,089 tons of VOCs in these already at-risk communities, where many of the conservation and tribal group plaintiffs’ members reside, leading to and exacerbating impaired lung functioning, serious cardiovascular and pulmonary problems, and cancer and neurological damage.” (Order, page 25)

The court concluded:

“Plaintiffs list several environmental injuries with effects statewide, to the general public, and on the personal level, any of which might be sufficient to establish likely irreparable harm.” (Order, page 27)

Facts and analysis matter

In addition to these irreparable harms, the court found that EDF and our allies were likely to succeed on the merits:

“Plaintiffs have provided several reasons that the Suspension Rule is arbitrary and capricious, both for substantive reasons, as a result of the lack of a reasoned analysis, and procedural ones, due to the lack of meaningful notice and comment.” (Order, page 29)

Under the law, when a federal agency seeks to change a prior policy – as Zinke did when he sought to suspend the common sense requirements in the Waste Prevention Rule – that agency must provide “good reasons and detailed justification.” (Order, page 12)

The court found that Zinke fell short of these important requirements because he repeatedly “fail[ed] to point to any factual support underlying [his alleged] concern[s]” over the Waste Prevention Rule. (Order, page 14)

The court carefully evaluated each alleged justification for the suspension put forth by Zinke, and found them all lacking.

For example, the court noted that with respect to Zinke’s “concerns” regarding production wells:

“[C]ounsel for the government essentially conceded that it was in possession of no new facts or data underlying this ‘newfound’ concern.’” (Order, page 14)

Ultimately, the court found:

“[I]t appears that BLM is simply casually ignoring all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course.” (Order, page 17, internal quotation omitted)

The court’s careful analysis underscores that these facts matter, and that Zinke cannot ignore the substantial record evidence supporting the common sense standards in the Waste Prevention Rule.

Public input matters

The court also found that Zinke attempted to ignore key input from the public on the suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule by deeming comments on the importance and effectiveness of the Waste Prevention Rule “outside of the scope” of his action. (Order, page 23)

The court found Zinke’s “refus[al] to consider” this important input on “integral” issues was inconsistent with bedrock requirements of administrative law.

The fight to protect these safeguards is not over

The court has now determined that EDF and our allies are “likely to succeed on [our] claim that BLM failed to consider the scope of commentary that it should have in promulgating the Suspension Rule and relied on opinions untethered to evidence.” (Order, page 24)

Next, the case will proceed to the merits stage, in which the court will issue a final decision on the legality of Zinke’s suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule. A schedule has not yet been set for this next phase of the litigation.

However, just as the court was blocking his suspension, Zinke was separately trying to rescind nearly all of the key provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule that he was also trying to suspend.

Zinke acknowledges that this rescission will cost taxpayers millions in lost royalties, and will result in additional emissions of climate-warming methane as well as smog-forming volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants – but he nonetheless is proposing to eliminate the protections in the Waste Prevention Rule.

BLM is accepting public comment on the rescission proposal until April 23. It is important that Zinke continue to hear from the public about the harmful impacts that will result from his actions to remove these common sense protection. Comments on the proposal can be filed here.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Policy / Read 1 Response

Mayors across the country announce their opposition to repealing the Clean Power Plan

(EDF’s John Bullock co-authored this post)

236 U.S. Mayors just added their voices to the growing chorus that opposes rolling back the Clean Power Plan.

The mayors represent more than 51 million Americans from 46 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

They just sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt saying:

“[W]e strongly oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would put our citizens at risk and undermine our efforts to prepare for and protect against the worst impacts of climate change.”

The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It is the most significant measure to address climate change that our country has taken so far.

Pruitt is now trying to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which would be a huge retreat from EPA’s duty to protect Americans from the increasingly urgent threat of climate change.

Repealing the Clean Power Plan would rob the public of its enormous public health benefits. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 childhood asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed school and workdays every year once fully implemented.

The mayors’ letter is just the latest example of the Clean Power Plan’s broad popularity.

In a recent poll, almost 70 percent of Americans — including a majority in every Congressional district — supported setting strict limits on carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants.

And, since Pruitt first proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, other Americans – state leaders, public health groups, faith leaders, consumer representatives, and concerned citizens – have spoken out.

We’ve kept a list of quotes opposing the Clean Power Plan rollback, affirming a commitment to combating climate change, and supporting strong action to invest in clean energy solutions. You can read the full – and lengthy – list here.

Here are just a few of the comments from America’s elected leaders:

  • “We already get nearly a third of L.A.’s energy from renewable sources, and we're pushing hard to get that number to 100 percent. The Clean Power Plan makes that kind of progress possible everywhere in America, and the President should leave it in place today so that we can build on that momentum tomorrow.” – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of Climate Mayors – the group that organized the letter to EPA.
  • “We have dramatically cleaner air and we are saving money. My question to the EPA would be, ‘Which part of that don’t you like?’” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
  • “The Trump Administration’s constant assault on our environment will not diminish Minnesotans’ resolve to build a vibrant clean energy economy.” – Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton
  • “The Trump Administration's move to dismantle the Clean Power Plan is a reckless decision that gives power plant operators free reign to do what they will without any concern for our climate … Climate change is a profound threat to our planet, and it cannot be wished away by denial. There is no denial here in New York.” – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
  • "I am deeply disappointed in the repeal of the Clean Power Plan rule. Oregon will not turn its back on the environment or the thousands of jobs that have been created through the clean energy industry … [W]e’re stepping up, as the federal government steps down from its leadership role in tackling climate change." – Oregon Governor Kate Brown
  • “President Trump has failed his climate IQ test with the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. He is giving up on the economic opportunity that would be unleashed by deploying clean energy technologies in every state of the union.” – Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts
  • “Protecting our environment is critical to our people, businesses & way of life in NH. Scrapping the Clean Power Plan is completely backward.” – Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
  • “We should meet the challenge of taking on climate change with a state-federal partnership to cut carbon pollution, not walk away from it.” – Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
  • “At the heart of today’s Clean Power Plan decision is one of the cruelest deceptions perpetrated in politics today: telling the American people that clean air protections are responsible for reduced demand for coal and that getting rid of those protections will create tens of thousands of coal jobs. Both are false.” — Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky
  • “By repealing the #CleanPowerPlan, the Trump administration jeopardizes our health & safety, economic competitiveness, & global leadership.” – Representative Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania
  • “Rescinding the Clean Power Plan will hurt our environment and isolate us on the international stage. The actions today by [Scott Pruitt] do not move us in the right direction toward protecting the planet for our grandchildren.” – Representative Gene Green of Texas

It’s not just elected officials. Here are some notable comments from other experts:

  • “The Trump administration has mangled the costs and benefits of one of the most significant climate regulations of the Obama years in an effort to justify its repeal … these methodological contortions are meant to obscure a very basic truth: that any ‘savings’ achieved by rescinding the Clean Power Plan will come at an incredibly high cost to public health and welfare. If the Trump administration is willing to make that trade, it should at least have the courage to admit it.” – Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, and Jack Lienke, regulatory policy director at the Institute for Policy Integrity
  • “If Trump and Pruitt do succeed in dismantling the Clean Power Plan, people will die. Thousands and thousands of Americans will suffer adverse health effects. And the costs will far outweigh the benefits. Don’t take my word for it, though. Take Scott Pruitt’s. Remarkably, Pruitt’s proposed rollback actually concedes that the health-related costs of abandoning the Clean Power Plan are likely to be staggering.” – Eli Savit, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
  • “The energy future is renewables. That is why I led the American Sustainable Business Council effort to file an amicus brief on behalf of that organization and 23 other business organizations in support of the Clean Power Plan.” – Frank Knapp, South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce
  • “The United States has been a leader in environmental policies that move our country and the rest of the world forward. The repeal of the Clean Power Plan represents a major step backwards – one that is deeply harmful to creation and disproportionately unjust to vulnerable groups … [W]e have a mandate from our Creator to steward the earth well and care for creation. We are also called to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Allowing carbon emissions that have been proven harmful to pollute the atmosphere without limit is morally wrong and rationally illogical.” – Reginald Smith, Christian Reformed Church
  • “Faithfulness to these commands in a warming world requires that we care for God's good world and that we show compassion to those whose very lives are threatened by a changing climate. If our political leaders, many of whom confess our faith, will not take the action necessary to respond to these commands, then the rest of us will." – Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
  • “The decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan is a direct attack on our health. In the face of this atrocity, our most vulnerable communities will suffer increased adverse health effects from power plant pollution.” – Adrienne Hollis, WE ACT for Environmental Justice
  • “The League is appalled at this irresponsible decision that will have a long-term devastating impact on our planet and health of the American people.” – Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters
  • “Repealing the rule … is a historic step backward. But it’s just the latest move from an administration singularly hostile to environmental and climate protections. Like the decision to leave the Paris Agreement, the White House’s action signals to the world that the United States is unwilling to take the responsibility that comes with being one of the planet’s largest carbon emitters. Nor does it seem like the White House is willing to acknowledge the economic opportunities that come with climate action.” – Brian Sewell, Appalachian Voices
  • “The rollback of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) represents one of the biggest policy errors of this still-young administration — which is saying a lot, considering the record. The action holds out the false promise that the government can save a dying industry by defying common-sense rules to curb harmful emissions from coal-fired plants. That’s like trying to stop the sun from shining or the tide from rolling in.” – Miami Herald Editorial Board

(This post was updated on 3/21/18)

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Partners for Change, Policy / Read 2 Responses

Emails indicate Scott Pruitt directed removal of climate info from EPA website

At EDF, we recently gained access to some newly-released emails that provide a troubling glimpse of the efforts to remove information about climate change from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.

The emails were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and center on EPA’s website purge of April 2017. They indicate that Administrator Scott Pruitt personally directed efforts to prevent the public from accessing many climate-related EPA web pages.

Along with webpages about climate change and climate science, the purge removed the webpage about the Clean Power Plan — the most significant action that the U.S. has ever taken to address climate change. Gone was information about the Clean Power Plan’s benefits – the lives it would save, the childhood asthma attacks it would prevent, and the way it would bolster America’s overall strategy for combating climate change. Also gone were supporting materials, including EPA’s legal memorandum accompanying the Clean Power Plan and an array of documents presenting the rule’s technical underpinnings.

Instead, the URL for the Clean Power Plan redirected visitors to a page featuring President Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order.

Emails refer to Pruitt’s personal involvement

In early April 2017, Lincoln Ferguson, a senior adviser to Pruitt, indicated that Pruitt directly ordered the website change.

Ferguson asked in an email:

“How close are we to launching this on the website? The Administrator would like it to go up ASAP. He also has several other changes that need to take place.” (File 2, p. 23)

J.P. Freire, then serving as Pruitt’s Associate Administrator for Public Affairs, responded:

“You can tell him we . . . are just finishing up.” (File 2, p. 23)

Ferguson wrote back:

“Can it happen today?” (File 2, p. 26)

Ferguson quickly followed up to emphasize Pruitt’s personal interest:

“Just asking because he is asking…” (File 2, p. 23)

Scrubbing all traces of the Clean Power Plan

J.P. Freire was emphatic that all Clean Power Plan references should link to the new page about Trump’s executive order.

In a discussion about the new page, he wrote:

“This looks great, and should be on the page for the Clean Power Plan. Any reference to the Clean Power Plan, any link to it, should redirect here.” (File 2, p. 23)

The emails also suggest EPA staff were directed to manipulate search results. Website visitors searching for information about the Clean Power Plan would be diverted to the page promoting Trump’s executive order — instead of what they were actually looking for.

In one conversation, an EPA staff member stated:

“I’ve been asked about search results for the term ‘Clean Power Plan.’”

A colleague responded:

“We can make the Energy Independence homepage a ‘Best Bet’ and thus the first result for Clean Power Plan for our EPA Search engine if you request it.” (File 1, p. 84)

A separate conversation among EPA staff demonstrated just how determined J.P. Freire was to undermine access to the Clean Power Plan page. In that discussion, an EPA staff member recounted a discussion with a colleague about Clean Power Plan search results:

“[S]he said JP wanted to know if ALL of those pages could be redirected.” (File 1, p. 298)

Keeping Americans in the dark, thwarting democratic processes

The website purge at EPA made it harder for the public to access vital information about climate change and public health. It also stymied the public’s ability to engage in democratic processes.

We are currently in the midst of the public comment period on Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, but the website purge has obscured access to information about the rule’s purpose and its tremendous benefits for public health and climate security – possibly impeding commenters.

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which tracks changes to federal websites, has written:

“Anyone valuing the idea of democratic policymaking should demand that public Web resources relevant for regulations should remain readily accessible to the public.”

The website purge reinforces serious concerns that Pruitt has predetermined that he will repeal the Clean Power Plan, and the current rulemaking process is a sham. Instead of listening to the public with an open mind, these emails suggest that Pruitt is personally and directly thwarting meaningful public participation.

The removed webpages are still accessible through various EPA archives, but the archives are a poor substitute. They don’t show up in a search of the EPA website. They’re harder to find with certain search engines, including Google. And they are no longer being updated, which is especially problematic for cutting-edge pages like EPA’s overview of climate science.

The website purge fits Pruitt’s troubling pattern of ruling EPA under a cloak of secrecy. That’s no way to run an agency entrusted with protecting the public health and environment. As part of EDF’s commitment to shining a light on EPA actions, we’ve made these records publicly available in their entirety. We encourage you to contact us if you would like to share observations about the records.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy / Comments are closed

Freight truck fleets, manufacturers, and dealers to Pruitt: stop supporting super-polluting glider trucks

Diesel pollution from a freight truck in 2008. Pruitt is proposing a loophole that would allow new trucks to evade modern clean air protections by using high-polluting old engines like this one. Photo: EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, is proposing to roll back important safeguards and allow certain heavy-duty freight trucks – commonly known as “glider trucks” – to evade modern pollution standards.

Rolling back these protections would have terrible impacts for human health, including as many as 4,100 premature deaths in 2025 alone. Glider trucks can emit harmful pollution at a rate up to 450 times that of other new freight trucks. So the broad chorus of opposition from the public – including from EDF – is no surprise.

But you might be surprised by who else is strongly opposing EPA’s proposal.

Every segment of the freight industry — truck manufacturers, fleet owners, freight shippers and other stakeholders — has spoken out to oppose this rollback.

These industry stakeholders recognize that Pruitt’s proposal would undo decades of progress in cleaning up pollution from heavy-duty freight trucks. Moreover, it would undermine their significant investments in pollution control innovation.

The proposed rule would create a loophole for the small segment of the freight truck industry that manufactures super-polluting glider trucks, which use old diesel engines that are not equipped with modern pollution controls — and the loophole would be at the expense of other truck manufacturers and dealers who play by the rules.

These freight truck industry words speak for themselves – EPA needs to reverse course on this deeply damaging proposal:


The National Automobile Dealers Association, as well as numerous individual truck dealers, have expressed opposition to the proposal.

TriState Truck Center, based in Memphis, Tennessee and employing about 400 people:

"We have been a heavy duty dealer for 72 years. I have personally worked here since 1972. I remember the days years ago when our truck shop was so thick with the exhaust from the trucks that you could not see the other side of our shop. Today, our shops are clean and exhaust free due to the new EPA compliant engines. Do we really want to go back to those days? That's what more glider kits will do with engines that are both obsolete and environmentally unfriendly." — Public Comment of TriState Truck Center


Daimler Trucks North America, a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty vehicles in the United States, opposes the proposed rule despite being a major supplier of glider kits:

"[T]he EPA’s proposed revisions to the glider rules would undermine the investments that DTNA and Detroit Diesel Corporation — and all other U.S. manufacturers — made in advanced technologies and exhaust after treatment, while opening the vehicle and engine markets to manufacturers who find simple options to skirt EPA regulations altogether and market high emitting engines or vehicles." – Public Comment of Daimler Trucks North America

The Volvo Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks, and direct employer of more than 13,000 Americans:

"A repeal of the Phase 2 glider provisions will make a mockery of the massive investments we’ve made to develop clean diesel technology. Any relaxation of the production caps is unnecessary and would exacerbate the negative competitive and environmental impacts from the glider industry. It’s imperative that the Agency ensure that all actors are playing by the same set of rules." — Public Comment of the Volvo Group

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include major car companies including Ford, General Motors, and Toyota, opposes the proposal and says this rule could have implications far beyond glider vehicles, resulting in drastic increases in air pollution from other motor vehicles:

"One glaring (and perhaps unintended) result of the Proposed Repeal is that any auto or engine manufacturer (or its customer) could circumvent EPA's GHG regulation of new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines merely by incorporating a few used components into their finished products …Vehicle manufacturers or builders of ‘kit vehicles’ could attempt to avoid compliance with emission standards in their entirety by incorporating used powertrain components into their vehicles. A circumvention of criteria pollutant standards in this way would adversely affect public health and run contrary to other EPA efforts to promote low on-road emissions." — Public Comment of Auto Alliance

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), representing leading global manufacturers of heavy-duty and medium-duty vehicles and engines including Honda, Caterpillar, Cummins, Ford, General Motors, Navistar, Volvo, and Yamaha:

"[S]uch a loophole would be especially damaging to EMA’s members who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced technologies – technologies that make them the world’s leaders in the manufacture of new heavy-duty and medium-duty on-highway engines and vehicles. EPA’s loophole would open the door for other manufacturers (that have not made the same investment) to enter the U.S. marketplace, even with used engines that have no advanced emission-control systems whatsoever." — Public Comment of EMA

PACCAR is a manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and engines, including a major manufacturer of glider kits. Even PACCAR, which would be able to sell glider kits through the proposed loophole, acknowledges the harmful implications of EPA’s proposed rule:

"PACCAR supports the comments submitted by the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) regarding EPA’s interpretation of the CAA used in this NPRM.  In particular, PACCAR agrees with EMA that EPA’s interpretation of CAA Section 202(a)(1) will create a loophole that could  … lead to traditionally ‘new’ engines being built with one or more refurbished parts in order to avoid being regulated to the current CAA emissions requirements." — Public Comment of PACCAR

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the nation’s largest manufacturing association representing nearly 14,000 small, medium, and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states:

"The framework created by the existing [2016 HDP2] regulations strikes an appropriate balance without creating a competitive disadvantage for manufacturers that comply with GHG standards. . . . [T]he proposed repeal of the glider vehicle requirements from the Phase 2 rule could have unintended consequences that affect the market for new heavy-duty vehicles." — Public Comment of NAM


UPS, which owns the largest truck fleet in the U.S.:

"Allowing gliders to remain unchecked as to fuel economy and emissions means that the cleanest heavy truck fleets in the nation will keep paying the price for clean air, while gliders don't. In short, before asking [for] more improvements in the best-of-the-best trucks, EPA should pursue cleaner emissions in trucks that are already the worst-of-the-worst in emissions." — Public Comment of UPS

The American Trucking Associations, which represents more than 34,000 companies, convened a Fuel Efficiency Advisory Committee comprised of leading truck fleets from across the country, including UPS, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, and Penske Truck Leasing. The committee voted unanimously “to oppose any attempts to repeal the glider provisions in the [2016] final Phase 2 rule.”

"Our members have worked together tirelessly in support of technologies and programs that have resulted in the production and adoption of the cleanest and most fuel-efficient diesel trucks ever. EPA’s decision to allow the unchecked growth of the glider market and encourage the continued sale of antiquated engine technologies grossly undermines the investment decisions of thousands of companies, organizations, and businesses." — Public Comment of American Trucking Associations

The Ceres BICEP Network (Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy) is comprised of leading companies such as Adobe, eBay, IKEA, L’Oreal, Nike, The North Face, Patagonia, Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Unilever:

"It is important to us that the transportation of our goods does not result in negative public health impacts, and we believe that those trucking companies that have invested in clean technologies, and those companies that use them, should not be penalized. Given that this proposal will result in significant harm to public health, and undermine a level playing field for those who support clean technologies, we strongly oppose this proposal." — Public Comment of BICEP

Posted in News / Read 1 Response

Leadership: The auto industry’s missing ingredient

The automotive industry’s capacity for innovation and marketing are on full display this month. Between the Consumer Electronic Show and the North American International Auto Show, every day brings a new story about the rapid development of vehicle technology. The industry possesses the know-how and ability to deliver on the zero-emissions future if it wants to.

A Ford at an electric car charging station in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Fortunate4now

Behind the headlines of engineering feats and product plans, though, is a disturbing fact. The industry is undermining its own innovation. It’s doing this through a campaign to dramatically weaken the central tool we have to move cleaner technology into the fleet – protective greenhouse gas reduction and fuel efficiency standards for new cars and passenger trucks.

Well-designed federal standards foster the deployment of fuel saving solutions. With the certainty of long-term standards in place, manufacturers are able to make the necessary investments to scale these solutions into the fleet. Scaled production further drives down costs, enhancing automaker profitability and consumer payback.

This cycle has been in full view over the past several years as automakers have brought to market ever more efficient vehicles with record sales and strong profitability. An exhaustive technical analysis completed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board found that automakers were well positioned to deliver even more fuel efficiency and emissions progress in the years ahead.

With this robust technical underpinning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a determination to maintain the existing 2022 to 2025 standards. Back in 2012, EPA finalized these standards with the broad support of the automotive industry. But fast forward to today, and the automotive industry is pushing for the Trump Administration to reconsider this determination.

This has set up a year of incongruity where the industry’s position that the standards need to be re-examined are consistently contradicted by its product announcements. In just this past year, automakers have made the following announcements:

  • Daimler AG announced a billion dollar investment to build electric vehicles in the U.S. with production starting in the early 2020’s.
  • BMW reached 100,000 in global electric vehicle sales while promising a dozen models of electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Toyota committed to having at least 10 models of all-electric vehicles by the early 2020’s.
  • Mazda promoted an engine breakthrough that could improve efficiency by up to 30 percent, and is planning to deploy the new engine in 2019.
  • GM laid out a bold vision for a “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion” future, announced plans for 20 new electric vehicles by 2023 – including two by 2019, and rolled out the acclaimed Chevy Bolt across the U.S.
  • Ford publicized its intention to have an electric vehicle with a range of 300 miles on the market by 2020.

These are not public announcements most automakers make lightly. They make them with high confidence in their ability to meet them.

As amazing as these announcements are, none of them are even necessary to meet the vehicle greenhouse gas standards that EPA finalized in 2012 and affirmed last year. The industry is already poised to meet these standards with broader adoption of more conventional technologies.

The impressive innovation in advanced engine design and electrification – which the industry clearly believes will start to scale over the next few years – will make the standards even more attainable.

Yet, despite the remarkable recent record of innovation and the significant investments made in developing a new generation of clean vehicle solutions, the automotive industry – through its trade associations – has chosen a path to weaken our existing emissions standards and has stayed silent as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has threatened California’s own protective vehicle emission standards.

The industry’s actions are contradictory and concerning. Yet, there is still time for automakers to choose a different path – one that looks to the future and seeks to build a new round of protective standards that rewards the industry’s innovation, lowers costs for families and protects human health and the environment.

As the announcements are made over the coming days, we should also be listening to hear if any automakers are willing to match their record on innovation with what the industry most needs now – leadership.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Read 1 Response

Natural disasters are no longer purely natural

You may have heard the alarming news that weather and climate disasters in the U.S. killed 362 people in 2017 and caused a record $306 billion in damages.

But also alarming is the fact that many news outlets are still referring to these events as “natural disasters.”

Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey – a not-purely-natural disaster. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

With recent advances in science, researchers have found that human-caused climate change plays a major role in making certain events occur and/or making them worse. That means that many “natural disasters” are no longer purely “natural.”

Here is a look at some not-so-natural disasters:

  • Hurricane Harvey 2017: human-caused climate change made record rainfall over Houston around three times more likely and 15 percent more intense
  • European Extreme Heat 2017: human-caused climate change made intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain
  • Australian Extreme Heat 2017: maximum summer temperatures like those seen during 2016-2017 are now at least 10 times more likely with human-caused climate change
  • Louisiana Downpours 2016: human-caused climate change made events like this 40 percent more likely and increased rainfall intensity by around 10 percent
  • European Rainstorms 2016: human-caused climate change made probability of three-day extreme rainfall this season at least 40 percent more likely in France
  • UK Storm Desmond 2015: human-caused climate change made extreme regional rainfall roughly 60 percent more likely
  • Argentinian Heat Wave 2013/2014: human-caused climate change made the event around five times more likely

By employing the term “natural disasters,” news outlets and others are inadvertently implying that all of these events are just misfortunate incidences – rather than consequences of our actions.

This seemingly innocuous phrase supports the idea that dangerous weather is out of our control.

But, we do have some control over their frequency and intensity, and that control is through our emissions of heat-trapping gases.

We need to act on climate, and we need to do it now. Pointing out that we worsen and may even cause these weather disasters may help convince people to do what needs to be done.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 1 Response