Climate 411

How climate change is worsening drought

Spring is in full swing across the U.S. – flowers are blooming, pollen is blowing – and this means that the 2021 heat wave, hurricane, and wildfire seasons are just around the corner.

After the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced a record number of named storms and record-breaking wildfires ravaged the Western U.S., vulnerable communities are bracing for more. However, another extreme weather event linked to climate change has been quietly afflicting the U.S. year-round with no signs of letting up and at risk of becoming permanent – widespread drought.

Drought conditions have been ongoing since early summer 2020 – and have persisted, worsened, and expanded dramatically – across vast portions of the continental U.S. Since October 2020, almost all of the High Plains and Western regions and more than half of the South have been experiencing some level of drought. More than 50% of Western drought conditions are categorized as either extreme or exceptional drought. Even more drastically, extreme and exceptional drought have comprised more than 75% of drought conditions across the Four Corners region (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) since late autumn.

NOAA predicts that these widespread dry conditions are likely to continue and spread throughout the spring, especially in the Southwest. This poses major threats to the region, including increased risks of wildfires, parched rangelands, stressed irrigation systems, and crop failures.

Just as climate change has worsened many extreme weather events, it has also impacted droughts. The excess heat now trapped in the climate system draws out more moisture from soils, thereby worsening drought conditions. Reduced snowpack volumes, earlier snowmelt, and changing precipitation patterns – also linked to climate change – exacerbate the water stress induced by droughts. And for numerous individual events across the world, scientists have attributed the increased likelihood and severity of droughts to human-driven climate change.

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Also posted in Agriculture, California, Cities and states, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science / Read 2 Responses

Driving the electric vehicle transition: auto companies and states step up to lead

If you watched any major televised sporting events this year, from the NCAA Final Four to the Super Bowl, you saw ad after ad showcasing American auto companies’ new electric cars. It’s proof that electric vehicles (EVs) are ready for a mainstream market – you don’t pay Will Ferrell and LeBron James to promote your car just to niche buyers.

Momentum is clearly building. Companies are prepared to capitalize on the economic benefits of EVs, for both consumers and autoworkers, as well as the climate and health benefits that all Americans will see.

In the last three months, some of the largest automakers in the U.S. and the world have committed to dramatically expanding their EV lineup. They have announced plans to invest billions of dollars in EV development, and plans to transition to an all-electric future by 2035 or earlier.

The Biden administration made a commitment last week to reduce U.S. climate pollution by at least 50 percent by 2030 – a commitment that was supported by major automakers and that will require significant emission reductions from the transportation sector.

States are also playing a leading role in driving progress. Last week, a bipartisan group of 12 governors detailed the important role that states have played in deploying zero-emitting vehicles and urged the Biden administration to move forward with ambitious standards that would eliminate pollution from all motor vehicles. And next week, the California Air Resources Board will hold a workshop related to its development of Advanced Clean Car II standards – standards that are expected to help the state ensure all new vehicles sold in California are zero-emitting by 2035.

The transportation sector is responsible for over a quarter of U.S. climate pollution – more than any other sector. The transportation sector also emits a slew of health-harming pollutants, including oxides of nitrogen and particulate pollution. The transportation sector is key to meaningful climate action.

To achieve meaningful reductions in transportation pollution, it will be key for the administration follow automakers’ commitments and state leadership with bold, decisive air pollution standards that put the U.S. on a path to ensure all new vehicles are zero-emitting no later than 2035 for passenger cars and trucks, and no later than 2040 for freight trucks and buses.

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

DOE’s SuperTruck 3 Can Help Us Reach a Zero-Emission Future – If We Have the Right Clean Truck Standards Too

Cleaning up pollution from the U.S. trucking industry is an urgent need for the U.S. For the past decade, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SuperTruck Program has helped showcase solutions for a cleaner future. Now Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has announced a new generation of the DOE SuperTruck program – SuperTruck 3 – that will focus on higher efficiency and zero-emission solutions.

Through the SuperTruck 3 program, DOE will provide $162 million in funding to “pioneer electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks and freight system concepts that achieve even higher efficiency and lower emissions.” The funding focuses on a range of approaches, including all-electric systems, plug-in hybrid systems using renewable biofuels, and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Previous generations of the SuperTruck have delivered much needed advancements. For example, major manufacturers including Navistar, Freightliner, Peterbilt and Cummins developed trucks that achieved between 10.7 and 13 miles per gallon – significantly better than the previous average of about five miles per gallon. These trucks were critical to developing and demonstrating technical solutions that fleets across the country are using in new trucks today to burn less fuel. SuperTruck 3 could have a major impact on the market too – if it is paired with a new round of Clean Truck multipollutant standards that further drive us to the zero-emission future that is both possible and desperately needed.

There is a lot of work between a successful demonstration project and truck fleets saving billions of dollars annually from fuel-saving technologies. Well-designed federal Clean Truck standards are a key element to making this leap. The required improvement and market certainty that these standards provide fosters the innovation necessary to bring more efficient and lower emitting trucks to market.

The results of the first generation of the DOE SuperTruck program came out between 2014 and 2016, while the Obama administration was considering a second round of emission standards for heavy-duty trucks. Those standards have pushed manufacturers to bring more efficient trucks to market. For example, the International LT Series improved efficiency by over 8% between 2020 and 2021.

Zero-emission truck technology has also made enormous strides since 2016, when that last generation of the EPA’s heavy-duty emission standards were finalized. Back then, there were a total of seven zero-emission truck models that were either commercially available or in advanced demonstration, and most of the available models were post-production retrofits.  Today there are over 125 models that are either available, in production or at an advanced stage of demonstration, most with established manufacturers. We are also seeing very large fleet deployments and major fleets, such as FedEx, stepping forward with clear timeframes for transitioning to 100% zero-emission fleets.

It is time to embrace this rush of innovation and further accelerate it through more protective standards – 100% zero pollution new trucks and buses by 2040, with key vehicle segments moving even faster. With the current generation of zero-emission technology, we can achieve wide spread electrification for most heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, package delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and regional haul trucks. These vehicles typically travel 200 miles or less each day and return to a centralized depot where they can be recharged. New research investments in areas like more rapid charging can further enhance the  case for electrification of these vehicles. These investments can also expand zero-emission solutions into more challenging uses, such as long-haul trucking. These advancements can support the ability of manufacturers to accelerate fleet-wide deployment even sooner than 2040.

Clean Truck standards should be paired with ambitious societal investments that ensure zero-emission vehicles are deployed first and foremost to reduce pollution in communities that have long borne the brunt of vehicle pollution. President Biden’s infrastructure package is a good first step in this direction. Congress needs to move forward to enact this plan.

States also have a critical role to play in this transition. They need to develop the charging infrastructure for electric trucks while leveraging lowest-cost solutions, such as managed charging and battery storage,and adopting the Advanced Clean Truck Rule and Heavy-Duty Omnibus Regulation.

If we pair together these critical steps – technology development, federal emission standards, state-leadership, and societal investments – the impact would be massive. Moving to 100% zero pollution new trucks and buses by 2040 would:

  • Prevent as many as 57,000 premature deaths in total through 2050
  • Eliminate more than 4.7 billion tons of climate pollution cumulatively by 2050
  • Provide America with up to $485 billion in health and environmental benefits alone as a result of pollution reductions

As the new SuperTruck 3 program makes clear, there are a lot of gains we can still make in cleaning up trucking. Now is the time for a bold, achievable vision of a zero-emission future for our truck and bus fleet.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Read 2 Responses

The Wall Street Journal says electric vehicles are better – but underestimates how much

A recent Wall Street Journal article answers definitively YES to the question of whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment. But even this strong endorsement of electric vehicles underestimates just how good these cars, trucks and buses will be for our climate and air.

The article reports findings from researchers at the University of Toronto. The researchers compared vehicle emissions for a 2021 Toyota RAV4 and a Tesla Model 3. The study is clear that operations are cleaner for electric vehicles.  With each mile driven, the electric vehicles’ environmental performance outpaced gasoline-powered cars, quickly wiping out the slightly higher production emissions for electric vehicles.

Even with a relatively dirty fossil-fuel-based electricity generation mix and metal-intensive battery materials, this study – which looked only at a snapshot of technology as it is today – found that electric vehicles break even with gasoline-powered cars at about 20,000 miles of lifetime usage. And that break-even point is getting lower quickly, as electric vehicle technology accelerates faster than a Polestar with a tailwind.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News / Comments are closed

The benefits of clean trucks and buses: thousands of lives saved, less pollution, more jobs

Passenger cars have been leading the way, so far, in the development of zero emission technologies. But there’s also a movement underway to develop heavy-duty electric vehicles – like freight trucks and buses – that could have sweeping benefits for the climate, public health, and American jobs.

At EDF, we just released a new report, Clean Trucks, Clean Air, American Jobs, that analyzes the effects of eliminating tailpipe pollution from those medium and heavy-duty vehicles – including buses, semis and other long-haul trucks, and the “last-mile” trucks that deliver packages to American homes.

Our report found that a rapid transition to zero-emitting freight trucks and buses will significantly reduce dangerous air pollution – pollution that disproportionately burdens lower income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Air pollution standards that ensure all new heavy-duty trucks and buses sold for urban and community use are zero-emitting by 2035, and all such vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2040, would:

  • Prevent a sum total of more than 57,000 premature deaths by 2050
  • Eliminate a sum total of more than 4.7 billion metric tons of climate pollution by 2050.
  • Significantly reduce two main components of smog – nitrogen oxides pollution by a sum total of more than 10 million tons by 2050, and particulate pollution by a sum total of almost 200,000 tons by 2050
  • Save $485 billion in health and environmental benefits alone as a result of pollution reductions.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

EDF experts weigh in: President Biden’s executive actions on climate

Professional worker installing solar panels. Shutterstock.

President Joe Biden is taking executive action to combat climate change while creating high quality American jobs, building on the steps he took on his first day in office. EDF is providing this analysis of some of the actions the President took on January 20th and is taking today.

Wednesday, Jan. 27 Climate actions

Omnibus Domestic and International Climate Executive Order

If there was any doubt before today that the Biden administration was making climate change central to policy across the administration, today’s major action erased it. The Omnibus Executive Order clearly implements a “whole of government” approach to climate change:

  • A new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy under the leadership of National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
  • A new post of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, filled by John Kerry, charged with the development of U.S. international climate policy.
  • A National Climate Task Force, led by McCarthy and Kerry, that will coordinate climate policy across the administration and ensure that climate is integrated into every aspect of domestic and international policy.

The administration clearly intends today’s major announcements to be the start of a historic push to reduce climate pollution. That vision should include 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 together with 100% clean cars by 2035 and all new zero emitting trucks and buses no later than 2040. Eliminating the extensive climate and air pollution from these sources together with the administration’s commitment to slash methane from new and existing oil and gas extraction activities are among the single most important steps we can take immediately as a nation to address the climate crisis.

These actions will save tens of thousands of lives each year as smokestacks, tailpipes and oil and gas discharge deadly particle pollution, smog-forming contaminants and air toxics. For far too long, too many communities and neighborhoods have been disproportionately afflicted by the heavy and unjust burden of industrial air pollution.

The race to deploy clean solutions will also create new American jobs, strengthening American manufacturing now and for years to come, and create economic opportunities in urban and rural communities alike to build 21st Century infrastructure. As shown by two new EDF reports, eliminating pollution from new cars by 2035 will bring extensive health, climate, cost saving benefits of eliminating pollution from new cars by 2035.

Climate Leaders’ Summit

The White House also confirmed that it will host the online Climate Leaders’ Summit on April 22, Earth Day. The summit, which fulfills one of President Biden’s campaign pledges, will bring together world leaders to discuss pressing climate issues ahead of COP 26. It will mark the next key step in the U.S. government’s engagement on international climate.

Pausing federal oil and gas leasing

After years of giving away oil and gas leases at fire-sale prices, tapping the brakes is a sensible and necessary step. It will give the administration time to determine whether oil and gas leasing on public lands can be reconciled with the need to rapidly transition to a clean energy economy. It will allow permanent protections to be put in place for the Arctic, parks and monuments, lands that are culturally significant to Native American communities and coastal areas that have long been off-limits. Critically, it will also allow time for EPA and BLM to reinstate and strengthen methane and waste prevention rules rescinded by the previous administration. With industry already sitting on more than 13 million acres of idle oil and gas leases, claims that a pause on leasing will cause economic harm stretch all credulity.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, Jobs, Policy, Science / Comments are closed