Monthly Archives: May 2010

President Obama – Connecting the BP oil disaster with the need for climate legislation

On Grist, there are signs that President Obama is ready to connect the oil spill to the need for comprehensive climate and clean energy bill. At a fundraiser in San Francisco the President said:

“The reason that folks are now having to go down a mile deep into the ocean, and then another mile drilling into the ground below, that is because the easy oil fields and oil wells are gone, or they’re starting to diminish. That tells us that we’ve got to have a long-term energy strategy in this country. And we’ve got to start cultivating solar and wind and biodiesel. And we’ve got to increase energy efficiency across our economy in our buildings and our automobiles.”

On the Financial Times, President Obama has “finally come out and linked the Deepwater Horizon accident and the continuing oil leak to the ‘dangers of fossil fuels’.” Mr Obama said

the increased risks, the increased costs” of deepwater drilling “gives you a sense of where we’re going…We’re not going to be able to sustain this kind of fossil fuel use.”

E2 also has President Obama relating the oil spill to the need for clean energy.

’This disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it is time to move forward on this legislation,’ Obama said, citing a need to develop ‘clean’ energy sources.”

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Science / Read 2 Responses

On Murkowski’s “Resolution of Disapproval”

The American Power Act, the bill that would give EPA new tools to regulate carbon pollution, make us more energy secure as a nation, and enhance our competitiveness, is the best chance we have for a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill this year, maybe even this decade.

Instead of rallying around Senators Kerry and Lieberman’s “all of the above” strategy, some senators appear to be for “none of the above.”  A resolution introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski would strip EPA of all of its existing authority under the current Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution. That would make us more dependent on foreign oil, do nothing to help American manufacturing compete with China or other nations in clean energy technologies, and cripple efforts to address global warming.

How is this possible?

Basically, Sen. Murkowski’s bill would nullify EPA’s finding of scientific fact that greenhouse gases cause harmful global warming – a finding that forms the legal basis for any further steps EPA can take to address carbon pollution.  A vote for Murkowski’s bill is a vote against the strong scientific consensus that climate change is a real threat we must avoid.

Sen. Murkowski’s bill would also block a key step in fighting America’s oil addiction.  It would dismantle the government’s program to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks – a program that U.S. automakers and the Obama Administration agreed last year to put in place.  The program will save Americans more than 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the affected vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  At oil prices of $80 a barrel, that’s more than $80 billion worth of foreign oil Americans will not have to buy thanks to these standards.

Sen. Murkowski’s bill would also lead to greater red tape and conflicting regulations for our auto manufacturers (and their suppliers) at a time when many are struggling to recover in these tough economic times.  That’s because the agreement the Obama Administration and automakers reached last year also included California and 13 other states that agreed to set aside their own regulations of automobile emissions.  With no national program, the agreement would fall and states would be free once again to move forward independently, leaving the automobile industry without the nationwide uniformity that it has described as vital to its business.

It’s truly ironic that even as we watch what may end up being one of the most serious environmental and ecological disasters in our nation’s history – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – some senators are actively trying to block pollution regulations and hamstring the EPA’s ability to protect the public. This is both inexcusable and unforgivable.

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Science / Read 1 Response

Personal Car Sharing: Save the Environment without Moving a Muscle

Personal car sharing, a better way to get to the mountains without buying a new car. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Arthaey.

Across the country, car sharing has taken off. Programs like Zipcar, PhillyCarShare, Car2Go in Austin, Texas, City CarShare in San Francisco, as well as big name rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise, are helping people get around without owning a car. For many people who don’t want the hassle of car ownership—insurance, trips to the DMV, high gas prices, and parking—this is an easy option for the times they need a car to get to the beach or reach a far flung place not accessible via transit or bike.

By sharing rather than owning, car share participants cut their average vehicle use, which means a cut in gasoline consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming pollution. A UC Berkeley study done for San Francisco’s City CarShare, found that 30% of City CarShare households sold one or more of their cars after joining the program and automobile travel among members dropped 47%. The study concluded that City CarShare members save 720 gallons of gas or 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions on a daily basis.

A new state bill, AB 1871, will be coming up for a vote on the Assembly floor next week. Introduced by California Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), AB 1871 would take car sharing one step further by removing some important barriers to car sharing. This has great potential for a range of arrangements that would ultimately lead to a reduction of vehicles in a given neighborhood.

Suppose, for instance, you’d  like to buy an SUV because you anticipate going skiing, or maybe you might want to buy a light-duty truck because every year you need it to haul your grandma’s jams to the farmer’s market. If you knew you could easily share a neighbor’s SUV or truck located just a block or two from your home, you might not feel compelled to buy the gas guzzler, and instead, opt for a smaller car for daily use.

In exchange for sharing his or her vehicle, under AB 1871, your neighbor with the truck would be reimbursed for the costs of operation by the car sharing company. This would help defray some of the truck’s fixed expenses, such as parking costs, though AB 1871 caps the reimbursement so the vehicle doesn’t become a commercial enterprise for the owner.

While this makes sense on paper, what happens when someone scratches the handle or gets into a more serious accident while driving your car? The basic gist of AB 1871 is this insurance piece, which is a tricky one. Currently, if an individual opts to put his or her own car into a car sharing program, a typical insurance company would consider the vehicle to be a commercial vehicle and would invalidate the individual’s personal insurance.

AB 1871 addresses this by clearly demarcating  liability. When a person’s personal vehicle is in the car sharing program, the program assumes all liabilities, and when it is in the owner’s possession, it goes back to being a personal vehicle covered by the owner’s own insurance.  This clear demarcation is helped through technology that records when the car is and isn’t under the car sharing program’s control.

These insurance fixes widen the scope of existing car sharing companies without putting more cars on the road. Carsharing programs are tough to get started in lower density areas as demand just isn’t high enough, and the capital costs of purchasing new fleets often isn’t worth it. With personal car sharing, these programs can begin to move out of urban areas, expanding transportation choices for more people.

The personal vehicle sharing company behind this legislation, Spride, is a Silicon Valley company started up by venture capitalist Sunil Paul. If AB 1871 is enacted, Spride aims to link up with San Francisco’s CityCarshare to run a pilot program, using the web and social networking to pair people with cars, with pricing based on make and model.

Car share aficionados in other states—especially Massachusetts where RelayRides is working– are watching what happens with the California legislation. Personal car sharing presents an innovative transportation choice that is financially smart, reduces greenhouse gases, and improves air quality. People want a variety of mobility options, and personal car sharing is a really creative way to solve these needs.

Posted in Cars and Pollution / Comments are closed

Yesterday’s blog highlights

Grist asks “In wake of Gulf spill, should this be the summer of energy reform?” Their answer, of course, is yes.

“Is there any good reason why President Obama, Congress, and the nation shouldn’t spend the summer figuring out an energy-reform plan that would get us started in replacing oil and coal with clean, sustainable energy sources?”

On triplepundit, a new poll shows that

“more than 6,000 American businesses support clean energy and climate legislation, including nearly a quarter of the Fortune 100.”

Climate Progress highlights  a new WWF report which

reveals the potential for U.S. market share in clean technology deployment in the developing world….The report finds that if the U.S. is able to capture a 14% market share of this potential clean tech export market—on par with our current market share in environmental goods and services in developing countries—280,000-850,000 new, long-term American jobs would result.”

E2 has Senator Lieberman optimistic about the chances of the climate bill. He said

“I hope that sometime in June we’re going to be able to prove to Sen. Reid that we’re in the range of 60.”

Also on E2, President Obama pushes for a climate and energy bill at the Republican caucus.

“’On energy, the President told the conference that the gulf oil disaster should heighten our sense of urgency to hasten the development of new, clean energy sources that will promote energy independence and good-paying American jobs,’ the White House said in a statement after the meeting. “

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Science / Comments are closed

Blog highlights from the past few days

E2 shares President Obama’s plan to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

“The president is directing EPA and DOT to create a first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-2018, and an extension of the national program for cars and light-duty trucks to model year 2017 and beyond,”

a White House official said. Grist has the details.

Michael Levi comments on a new World Bank working paper that looks at renewable energy projections from the last 36 years. The report seems to conclude that we are not great at long-run energy forecasting. Levi asks

“can you see a trend? If not, that’s because there pretty much isn’t one. Here’s their fit:”

On Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard laments that in his weekly address,

“Obama yet again missed an opportunity to talk about how the spill illustrates the need to end reliance on fossil fuels. Instead, he gave passing acknowledgment to clean energy, while maintaining that we need to drill for oil here in the US.”

Sheppard acknowledges that Obama is still engaged in the issue. In his speech, Obama did say that

“One of the reasons I ran for President was to put America on the path to energy independence, and I have not wavered from that commitment. To achieve that goal, we must pursue clean energy and energy efficiency, and we’ve taken significant steps to do so.”

However Sheppard makes the point that Obama is still falling short.

“This would have been a perfect point to restate the need for Congress to pass a climate and energy bill this year. But Obama did not.”

Sheppard ends her piece by asking the President to transition his rhetorical calls for “energy independence” into action.

“There will never be a better illustration of why our energy system is dirty and dangerous than the current disaster in the Gulf. But Congress needs Obama to step up and lead to prevent this opportunity from going to waste. So far, he hasn’t.”

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Science / Comments are closed

Hail to the Chief, Indeed: President’s truck order will bring fuel-saving technologies to scale

This was originally posted on the Innovation Exchange blog.

There is no question that tools exists today to significantly reduce fuel consumption by medium and heavy-duty trucks. The recent National Academy of Sciences’ report on reducing emissions from these vehicles explored this in-depth as did another recent report from NESCAUM. The key question is: can we deploy these tools at an acceptable cost?

The answer is closer to “yes” than ever before, thanks in part to President Obama’s statement last week instructing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop rules to reduce emissions from medium and heavy-duty trucks – which consume over a quarter of the nation’s liquid fuels.

The most advanced of our fuel-saving tools, such as the hybrid system for medium-duty trucks, face a significant upfront cost barrier. While these systems can payback over the lifetime of the vehicle, the ROI timeline is too extended for most businesses to justify the cost without external incentives. Other, more incremental strategies such as single-wide tires face cultural and cost barriers as well. The resulting upfront capital cost versus long-term operating savings conundrum slows the adoption of these tools and delays emission reductions.

Fuel-saving components need to be produced at a large enough scale to spread out the fixed costs over time while simultaneously bringing the dollar cost down. By creating a nationwide standard for greenhouse gas emissions, the President has put us on a path to finally reach this scale. Imagine that instead of spreading the fix costs of developing and producing medium-duty hybrid powertrains, or single wide tires over a few hundred vehicles a year, these costs are spread over tens of thousands of trucks annually. The ROI for any one unit will instantly be much more attractive. This is what can happen with a strong federal rule.

How will this impact the business community? Consumers, shippers and carriers will be better off with more efficient, cleaner trucks. Operating costs will be lower and less exposed to fuel price volatility. The increased capital costs should be manageable with the advantages of scaled economies. Some of the increased upfront cost will likely be recouped through hire residual values too.

Of course, technological improvements alone aren’t sufficient. There remain many opportunities to reduce emissions through better operational practices, particularly for freight. From reducing empty backhauls, cutting idling, dropping curb weight, decreasing packaging and improving trucking loading, every truck trip can get more done. Some trips can be avoided all together or simply moved to more efficient modes of transportation.

Medium-and-heavy duty trucks will continue to play a vital role as we transition into a carbon constrained world. These trucks are needed to deliver food and beverages to restaurants and stores, drop off packages at homes and offices, and move goods across the nation. However, they will use less fuel for each of these actions. That’s a good thing for the environment, our pocketbooks and energy security.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Climate Change Legislation, News, Science / Comments are closed