Monthly Archives: August 2009

Auto Labels: Grades Make Consumer Sense

Courtesy of EPA

EPA Label Option 1

This week, U.S. EPA proposed something that could change the way consumers spend car-buying dollars—labels that make sense.

For 30 years, the federal government has required new cars and light trucks on sales lots to carry labels that show consumers the miles-per-gallon performance of that particular car or truck model. These labels have been somewhat helpful, but they don’t provide as much information as this consumer, at least, would like.

Now the agency is preparing to improve the label performance. It has unveiled two proposed approaches. Both of the new labels would tell consumers how the vehicle stacks up against others for greenhouse gas emissions and other tailpipe pollution. Both of the proposed labels also report how much it costs to fuel the vehicle each year. Only one of the labels—dubbed Label Option 1 by EPA—provides two other very important pieces of information: It also tells how much a consumer will save in fuel costs over five years, and it provides a letter grade that reflects how the vehicle performs on tailpipe emissions and efficiency.

Think about how this grading system could affect you. You could shop for a car without bringing along back issues of Consumer Reports or reams of computer printouts about auto efficiency comparisons. You could quickly scan the field and go for the A and B cars and avoid the D vehicles that spew more pollution and will cost more to fuel.  If you do happen to want a bit more information than is available on the label, EPA has taken care of that too.  Each label contains a QR code that allows many smart phones to access a web page where buyers can compare cars and personalize estimates based on their own driving habits. Department of Energy also provides some really helpful information on its fuel economy website,

Great idea? We think so. But the auto industry is already complaining about the grading system, trying to compare it to childhood memories of failing or passing.

Courtesy of EPA

EPA Label Option 2

We think of this system as being more comparable to the grading system health departments have used for restaurants for years. You’ve probably noticed the placards. They protect diners from unhealthy food preparation practices and encourage high performing restaurateurs to keep up the good work.

Grades mean something. They’re easy to read and understand. They can steer you quickly toward a smarter car purchase. They are, in short, consumer friendly.

Some states already require cars and light trucks to carry information about pollution levels on their sales labels. EPA’s proposal significantly improves on that model.

You have a chance to weigh in on all of this. EPA is inviting everyone—not just policy wonks and auto industry representatives—to voice an opinion about the labels. The agency needs to hear from consumers who care about good value and a clean environment. The agency will be taking comments for 60 days, which means you need to submit your thoughts by the end of October.

The final version of the new label will be adopted by the end of the year, and the new label will appear on new cars and light trucks beginning in the 2012 model year.

Posted in Cars and Pollution / Comments are closed

Yet Another Poll: Americans Want Clean Energy

Everyone’s talking about the latest poll from the Washington Post, which shows Americans support reforming U.S. energy policy and capping greenhouse gas pollution.

  • NRDC points out that support for energy policy is slightly higher than it was in June… after a summer’s worth of industry attacks.
  • NWF reminds us that it wasn’t just this summer — Americans have been “hit from all sides” by industry-funded campaigns for a year and a half.
  • And Climate Progress has this key takeaway: “A lot of people understand energy prices are going up if we do nothing.”

The new poll has a lot of juicy data for clean energy supporters. Here are some of our favorite tidbits:

  • 57 percent support the proposed changes to U.S. energy policy being developed by Congress and the administration, and even better —
  • When asked if they would support a cap and trade program that lowered greenhouse gases but raised electric bills by $10 month, Americans supported the move by 58 percent to 40 percent.  ($10 is the total cost to households estimated by the Congressional Budget Office)
  • The Post says “GOP criticism of the House energy and climate bill appears to have primarily influenced Republicans themselves.” Support for cap-and-trade dropped among Republicans, but rose among independents.
  • 36 percent think changes to U.S. energy policy would add more jobs in their state. Only 15 percent think it would cause job losses.
  • An amazing 9 out of 10 people support further development of solar and wind power, while 8 out of 10 support development of electric cars.

All this support is wonderful, but our work is far from done. The Wall Street Journal‘s Environmental Capital reminds us that opponents are in the minority, but they are adamant.

Your Senators need to know that these aren’t just poll numbers — they are real voters who care about clean energy. Please call today!

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, What Others are Saying / Read 2 Responses

What Does the Global Warming Bill Have to Do With Foreign Oil?

Most Americans can get behind the goal of importing less oil (though we don’t always agree on how to get there). One of the great strengths of the climate bill is that it’s the most effective and responsible way to make real cuts in imported oil. Two releases this week shed light on how:

  • We just posted a quick summary of how the climate bill will reduce oil imports. Short version: No matter how much we drill, the U.S. burns more oil than we have in our borders, so we import it. The climate bill will cut use of ALL oil, so we can get away with importing less.
  • The Center for American Progress just released a report on reducing oil dependence [PDF]. It has nice graphs outlining recent trends, discusses specific measures to reduce oil use, and notes how the climate bill encourages those measures.

It’s no surprise that Big Oil has put its resources to work against this bill. Climate Progress takes a look at the history and recent political activity of the oil industry.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Environmental Capital notes that other buyers can keep the oil-producing states in business without us. But in any case, we can be more secure if we reduce our own dependence on imported oil. The climate bill gives us a strong start.

Posted in Energy, What Others are Saying / Read 1 Response

Three Ways to Support Clean Energy Today

For the last few weeks, Senators and Congressmen have been back in their home states, listening to voters’ concerns and priorities. August is winding down, and they will soon head back to Washington to make laws.

This is your last chance to make sure they hear your voice. Here’s how:

  • Make a call.  The Environmental Defense Action Network just launched  a new tool that makes it easy to call your Senators. The Senate needs to hear from you, so call and ask your friends to do the same!
  • Check the calendar. Town hall meetings are winding down, but you might still have a chance to speak up for clean energy. Find a town hall meeting in your state (scroll to the bottom of the page).
  • Raise a ruckus online. Don’t let the small but loud opposition drown out the support for clean energy! Make your voice heard on the social networks.

And looking ahead to September, those of you in and near New York City can check out NYC’s Climate Week, a series of events planned to build momentum building up to the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.

Posted in Partners for Change / Comments are closed

Video: Fred Krupp on Global Warming and Leadership

Fred Krupp, EDF’s president, is the newest star of the Washington Post‘s power-broker video series “On Leadership.”

In it, Fred talks about what it will take to get a clean energy bill passed in Congress, the need for Presidential involvement, and “putting together the recipe that wins.” He says:

  • “What we’re working on is the biggest most awesome threat to the future of humanity, maybe save nuclear weapons, that I know of.”
  • “I think a lot of far-sighted business people …see a future where we’re going to have to do things in a new way.”
  • “The leaders who are resistant [to change] are usually the ones who don’t see it coming. They can’t see over the horizon.”
  • “If we work hard enough … we can get 60 votes for doing something that’s in everybody’s interest and is truly transformational.”

Posted in What Others are Saying / Read 1 Response

API Misses the Mark: Why Refineries Will Do Just Fine Under ACES

The American Petroleum Institute (API) recently took a break from hosting anti-cap-and-trade rallies for oil company employees, and used its spare time to put out a study claiming the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) would be unfair to American oil refineries. Unfortunately their study uses some dubious assumptions – and makes some even more questionable claims.

API’s study (carried out by consulting firm Ensys Energy) outlines two major complaints.

  • First, API whines that the bill only sets aside 2.25 percent of emissions allowances for refiners, while the electricity sector gets 35 percent of the available allowances.
  • The second, related claim is that ACES would increase the cost of doing business so much that companies would turn to cheaper overseas refineries instead.

Before we even address those complaints, there’s one thing I have to point out — API is relying on bad modeling and cherry-picked results to create its case.

  • The results quoted in API’s news release come from running a scenario that severely restricts international offsets and allows no expansion of low-carbon technologies beyond what would happen without a clean energy bill. There’s no basis for those assumptions, but they do manage to skew the results to make refineries look more vulnerable.
  • However, if we consider the “basic case” (or, “most likely”) model outcome in Ensys’ report, it is clear that the activity of domestic refineries is expected to increase compared to their current levels.

But let’s ignore the study results for a minute, and just take a look at API’s two complaints.

First, API seems to think refineries are getting picked on because they aren’t getting as many free allowances as the electricity sector. But — they ignore the reasons why the two are not comparable.

  • The electricity sector allowances they’re talking about actually benefit American consumers. The allowances are first handed to local distribution companies, or LDC’s, but the value of the allowances doesn’t stay there. LDCs are required to use the value of those allowances to protect consumers from electricity price increases. Giving allowances to the LDC’s really means giving allowances to American ratepayers.
  • Oil refineries, in contrast, are private companies whose owners are free to pocket any money they get from their emissions allowances. So giving allowances to oil refiners really means — giving money to oil refiners. (API might like those two ideas equally, but no one else does.)

Of course, if the oil refiners were willing to accept the same regulations as utilities, and guarantee that their emissions allowances would be used to lower the price of a gallon of gasoline, that’s an idea worth discussing. API’s study doesn’t put that offer on the table, though.

Second, API says that America could become dangerously dependent on foreign refineries. (API President Jack Gerard says, “Climate legislation should not come at the expense of U.S. economic and energy security.”)

But – U.S. refineries have cornered 90 percent of the market for domestic gasoline. Homegrown refineries dominate the market because there are, inherently, strong cost advantages for domestic production, and little incentive to send business overseas.

  • Different states have different regulations governing oil refining, which favors local businesses and makes it difficult or impossible for foreign refineries to compete.  In fact, in other environmental scenarios, such as emissions standards for cars, industries claimed exactly that – no company could possibly create 50 slightly different products to sell under 50 different state rules, and only local businesses could thrive under those conditions.
  • It’s also significantly easier and cheaper to ship crude oil than refined gasoline. That makes it much more efficient to import crude oil and do the refining right here at home. That’s a physical difference that won’t go away if we pass a clean energy bill.

EDF did our own analysis of the impact of climate legislation on oil refineries.  Here’s what we found:

  • The expected added cost from a clean energy bill, per gallon of refined gasoline, is less than one cent per gallon.
  • Analysis also suggests that refiners can be expected to pass on the majority of any cost increase to their customers.
  • As a result, between 1.4 and 1.7 percent of total allowances would be enough to compensate domestic refineries – in full — for the added costs associated with reducing their process emissions.
  • Since ACES allocates 2.25 percent of allowances to oil refiners, EDF believes the allocations set out in ACES are more than generous.

Given all this, the bill should not affect the competitiveness of American refineries.

A larger problem might be the unfortunate effect of API’s study on the average American consumer. Outside the industry, a lot of people don’t draw a distinction between “oil” and “gasoline.” A quick read of news articles about the study could imply that ACES will increase America’s dependence on foreign oil – when one of the most valuable aspects of the bill is that it will do just the opposite. Under ACES, the EIA predicts that the U.S. would reduce its consumption of oil by 344 million barrels in the year 2030 alone. That’s a vital benefit to our national security as well as our environment.

A whopping amount of our own oil and the imported oil would still be refined into gasoline here, in spite of API’s fears. After all, even their own biased study predicts increasing U.S. refinery activity.  All in all, clean energy legislation is still good for all Americans – including oil refineries.

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 2 Responses