UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

Trump Administration Just Can’t Stop Lying About Vehicle Standards

As California continues to deal with vehicle emissions and its impacts, the Trump administration attacks its ability to set strong vehicle standards. Flickr: photos_mweber

Today, Secretary Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) and Administrator Andrew Wheeler (EPA) officially released their attack on California’s Advanced Clean Car standards, which reduce global warming emissions and tailpipe pollution from new cars and require manufacturers to sell a minimum number of electric vehicles in the state. 13 other states and the District of Columbia have signed on to this program, but the Trump administration is now revoking California’s waiver to administer this program.

This action is disastrous on many levels, but one thing that struck me during their announcement today was the blatant willingness to lie the administration has shown with regards to this program. While we’ve heard many of these outright falsehoods before, it’s worth taking a look at some of the nonsense they are trying to sell the American people.

Artist’s rendering of Administrator Andrew Wheeler at today’s press conference. (No one was harmed, although some pants may have caught aflame.)

Andrew Wheeler pulls an EV switcheroo

Much of the administration’s false claims about the current standards rely upon a lie about the technology needed to meet them. We’ve already pointed out that plug-in electrification isn’t necessary to meet these standards (though it certainly is a good thing), and we’ve got a new blog series showing exactly what tomorrow’s gas-powered vehicles could look like under strong standards, but Andrew Wheeler doubled down on this, claiming that 1) analysis shows that manufacturers would need up to 50 percent electrification to meet the 2025 standards and that 2) these vehicles cost $12,000 more and people don’t want them. This is absolutely FALSE and was designed to deceive the American public.

The “electric vehicles” Andrew Wheeler describes are vehicles deploying mild hybridization like the Ram 1500 pick-up and Jeep Wrangler, which boast new “eTorque” systems. With more than half a million of those vehicles already sold this year, it’s hard to argue that consumers don’t want them. And last I checked, Fiat-Chrysler didn’t suddenly jack up the price of these vehicles by $12,000 when they added this mild hybrid system.

What Andrew Wheeler is trying to do here is use the public’s lack of familiarity with new technology like plug-in electrification to lie his butt off about the difficulty in meeting the standards they’re working to undo…as he’s already done previously. These standards are strong, achievable, and cost-effective…and they already form the basis of One National Program.

The administration’s proposal has severe consequences for climate change

Another canard Andrew Wheeler pulled out today was the nonsense that this will have a minimal impact on climate change. This, of course, fails to acknowledge that this rule is part of a bigger picture—delaying action for five years pushes us off the trajectory on which we need to be and halts investment in and deployment of technologies that we desperately need in order to address climate change. It also fails to acknowledge the global nature of the automotive industry today, and the way in which the United States, second in new vehicle sales only to China, can help either push or hinder the global marketplace’s adoption of more efficient vehicles.

Incredibly, the administration walked out as one of their spokespersons for this rule Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California, who then proceeded to talk about the impact of wildfires in his district, absolutely failing to make the connection between wildfires and climate change. A surefire way to make things worse for his district is limiting consumer choice of more efficient cars, trucks, and SUVs and increasing fossil fuel use, both of which this administration’s action today will accomplish.

California is not in this fight alone

One of the most annoying things this administration continues to try to do is pretend like California is somehow usurping federal control, when this is patently false. This fails to acknowledge both the states who, like California, are pushing for stronger standards to protect their citizens, and the power granted these states by Congress, a right which the Trump administration cannot just will away.

California’s own efforts to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles predates federal action, so in writing the Clean Air Act Congress wisely gave California the go-ahead to continue to fashion its own emissions rules under Section 209, provided these rules are at least as stringent as the federal standards. That continues to remain true, and in Massachusetts v. EPA the Supreme Court even specifically noted how this right extends to global warming emissions.

Congress further gave states the right to adopt California’s standards, under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, and 13 states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s strong global warming emissions regulations. These states recognized the adverse impacts that global warming emissions holds for their communities and adopted the standards as a way to try to address this tremendous issue.

The Trump administration cannot magically sign away authority explicitly granted by Congress to the states to protect their citizens.

This action is about as strong as the paper it was printed upon

The thing I thought the most while the administration was putting forth this proposal was this: just because you say the same thing repeatedly, does not make it true. It seems that Andrew Wheeler has not yet learned this lesson, and apparently it is going to take legal action to compel this administration to do the right thing.

But as I said before: California is not in this fight alone. UCS, states, and other organizations will be lining up with California to protect the legal authority granted to it by Congress, authority which protects its citizens, increases consumer choice, and reduces fossil fuel use. And if this stack of lies is the best this administration can come up with, this is a fight we can no doubt win.

photos_mweber FreeClipArt

Trump’s Witch Hunt Against California and Carmakers

For years, President Trump has decried the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” Putting aside whether that characterization was fair, the Trump justice department has now initiated a witch hunt of its own—an investigation into whether four car companies violated antitrust laws by agreeing with the State of California to build cars that are more efficient and emit less carbon pollution.

It is painfully clear that this investigation was launched to retaliate against these four companies and California and deter other car companies from joining it. I say this because: 1) the president was enraged by this agreement; 2) the antitrust claim is utterly baseless; and 3) the current attorney general has demonstrated a remarkable lack of independence from the president. (Mis)using antitrust laws to punish those who disagree with a policy is beyond scary.

The background

In 2012, all of the major automakers, the state of California, and two federal agencies (EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA) agreed to standards to roughly double miles per gallon for cars and light duty trucks and dramatically cut carbon pollution from these sources. As UCS has demonstrated, these standards will save a typical consumer approximately $6000 over the lifetime of a vehicle, even after accounting for a higher purchase cost, and cut carbon pollution in the aggregate by hundreds of millions tons per year. These rules are the most significant greenhouse gas cutting measure that the United States has implemented, and they are working.

Notwithstanding this success, the Trump administration is determined to roll them back, proposing that there be no increase in fuel economy after the year 2021. In addition, the Trump administration seeks to take away the right of California and thirteen other states (and the District of Columbia) to maintain the stricter standards agreed upon in 2012. (This latter gambit is also legally problematic, to say the least—California’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is expressly allowed under Clean Air Act, EPA approved the CA standards, and two courts have already ruled that California can regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the CAA).

In what may be a first in regulatory history, the regulated entity—carmakers—do not support Trump’s rollback or the assault on CA’s authority, and they have urged the Trump administration to work with California on a compromise that will increase fuel economy over time. The administration has not heeded this call and so California and four automakers (Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW) made a reasonable decision to work together.

The four automakers agreed that notwithstanding any federal rollback, they will continue to build more fuel efficient cars nationwide, and California agreed to make several changes to its standards to allow more time for compliance and more credits for prior actions. This voluntary agreement gives these automakers the certainty they need to plan their fleets, and achieves roughly 75% of the economic and environmental benefits of the original standard. And while it is far from perfect (compromises rarely are), it keeps the trend line moving in the right direction, and it is vastly superior to the standards that the Trump administration is expected to issue this fall.

Apparently, the president was furious with this agreement. Shortly after it was announced, he publicly rebuked the four executives who signed it, and then hauled other carmaker CEO’s into the White House to demand that they not join the agreement. He also called upon his agencies to expedite taking away California’s independent authority.

Not content with this, the Justice Department, headed by William Barr, has now sent letters to California and the four carmakers apparently alleging that this agreement violates anti-trust laws. (Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the new Deputy AG, Jeffrey Rosen was the Deputy Secretary of Transportation from May 2017 to February 2019 and a key architect of the proposed rollback of the federal rules and the plans to undermine state regulatory authority.)

A baseless claim

Any notion that these four companies and California have violated anti-trust laws is absurd. Anti-trust laws are designed to foster competition, and so they forbid actions such as price-fixing, bid rigging, dividing up sales territories or product lines, using market power to destroy competitors, and the like. This voluntary agreement bears no similarity whatsoever to any of these practices. Under the agreement, these carmakers will continue to compete against one another, selling the cars they individually choose to manufacture at prices that they think the market can bear, benefiting all consumers by saving them money at the pump.

Indeed, even if a voluntary agreement of this kind were anti-competitive (which this one is not), the courts have long held that companies can join together to exercise their First Amendment rights and petition government for a change in policy. (If this were not the case, trade associations that lobby on behalf of an entire industry would violate antitrust laws). Such conduct is on its face exempt from anti-trust scrutiny, as many legal experts have noted.

This is part of a pattern

In this case, the Trump administration is directing the fearsome threat of federal prosecution against companies and a state because they favor more fuel efficient cars than does the White House. This is strikingly contrary to our constitutional values. This is also part of a widespread pattern. In recent weeks, acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross have apparently threatened to fire officials who rebuffed the President’s assertion that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian. And this is on top of years of sacking government scientists or transferring them to meaningless roles, disbanding advisory panels, and ordering reports to exclude information on topics such as climate change, all with an eye towards rooting out those who disagree with the president.

Increasingly, our president acts as a mad king, ruling in fits of pique. The cabinet officials who might have once said no to him are largely gone, replaced by underlings who carry out his orders blindly. This is the time for leaders of all branches of government, and civil society, to fight back. For the carmakers who have joined the agreement, stand strong. For the carmakers who have not yet joined this agreement, do it now, as this president does not have your interests in mind. And Congress—now is the time for searching oversight of this and many other abuses of power.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

How the Honda CR-V Can Get Back on Top in 2025

Honda's popular CR-V is the 2nd best-selling crossover on the market, but improving fuel economy to meet 2025 standards would be a surefire way to top the charts again. Honda

Utility vehicles are all the rage these days, outselling cars nearly 2:1. So it only makes sense in our second blog in a series on how automakers can meet the 2025 standards to focus on one of the best-selling utility vehicles on the market, the Honda CR-V. While this year its sales have dipped slightly below its Toyota rival, the next generation Honda CR-V could put one of the most long-running utility vehicle nameplates back on top, in both fuel economy AND sales.

The rise of the utility vehicle means strong standards are critical

Crossover vehicles like the CR-V toe the line between car and light truck, at least as far as the regulations are concerned—two-wheel drive versions are treated like cars, and the four-wheel drive versions are classified as light trucks. As sales drop away from true passenger cars in favor of crossovers, they’re held to a lesser standard, which means increasingly more stringent requirements are the only thing standing in the way of actually moving backwards on fuel economy like the country did in the late 1990s. Rolling back those standards as the current administration proposes would be terrible as the market continues to favor the higher profit margins

Luckily for Honda, the CR-V actually shares a platform with its most popular car, the Honda Civic, which it only recently passed in sales. That means to meet stronger standards, the crossover can take advantage of many of the same technologies driving improvements elsewhere in the fleet, including the incredibly efficient 1.5L turbocharged engine shared between the Civic and the CR-V. This has led the latest CR-V to be the most efficient conventional vehicle in its class—but by 2025 it will need to do more.

Continuing to incrementally improve the CR-V would place the next generation at the top of its class in fuel economy, improving by up to 7 mpg over the current version and saving consumers thousands in the process.

On the right track

The 2019 CR-V is one of the safest automobiles on the road according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—that is, in part, thanks to a significant use of high-strength and ultra high-strength steels (UHSS) in the body. However, since its debut, the CR-V has gained over 200 pounds—while the latest model has reversed that trend, shedding about 50 pounds from the previous generation, there’s still a lot more room for improvement. Increased use of UHSS and incorporating aluminum could continue to provide the same safety for Honda’s passengers, while dropping the CR-V’s curb weight to its lowest ever.

The same strategy can be applied across the board—Honda has made great strides to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve the efficiency of the electrical system in the latest CR-V, but here too there are lessons to be learned from around the industry that can continue that progress, further reducing the amount of fuel used to move the vehicle forward.

I’ve already got one of those!

The biggest change Honda could make to the next CR-V is to the baseline 2.4L engine—first released in 2013, the current “Earth Dreams” baseline engine was carried over from the previous generation CR-V and is in need of an update. The best replacement engine would take advantage of the future lighter weight CR-V and use the more efficient Atkinson cycle instead of the conventional Otto cycle—and Honda already has an engine on which to base it, a ridiculously efficient 2.0L (40% peak thermal efficiency!!!) now deployed in the Honda CR-V Hybrid in Europe. Rather than combining this engine with Honda’s impressive (and complicated) multi-motor hybrid setup as it is today, deployed in a lighter weight CR-V the engine could act as the primary propulsion source paired only with a simpler 48V stop-start system.

In addition to taking advantage of an engine already developed, Honda could also use its latest transmission to significantly improve the CR-V’s efficiency—a specially developed 10-speed automatic already available in the Honda Odyssey minivan and Acura’s RDX SUV, where it can be paired with front- and all-wheel drive, just as it would be in the CR-V.

The 1.5L turbo already in the CR-V would see a performance boost as a result of the reduced weight, but incorporating cylinder deactivation akin to the Jetta EA211 “evo” mentioned in the previous blog would help further boost fuel economy as well in the next iteration.

Honda doesn’t need to slow down progress

It’s clear from our analysis that the best thing Honda can do to meet 2025 standards in the CR-V is essentially to keep doing what it’s been doing—the company continues to improve technologies in an incremental fashion, developing solutions that can be deployed across a wide range of vehicles. This is in large part why Honda routinely ends up at the top of our Automaker Rankings.

It also helps explain why Honda pushed back more than any other major automaker on the Trump administration’s rollback and have now made a deal with California—the company is well positioned to meet the 2025 standards as they stand, thanks to continued investment in progress. If Honda actually met the standards as written instead of with the help of the paper credits they’ve pushed for, their customers would save thousands of dollars in fuel.

Improved performance and improved fuel economy could help put the CR-V back on top in sales—but at the very least, it makes an easy case for how crossover utility vehicles can meet the 2025 standards.

For more details on the analysis, check out the methodology and our blog posts about other vehicles.

Photo: Honda

Trump Administration Goes After States for Protecting the Environment

Photo: Prayitno/Flickr

The Trump administration has been on a collision course with California, and it appears that collision is imminent. An administrative action to undermine the authority granted to the state by the Clean Air Act to protect its citizens from vehicle pollution appears to be imminent. This illegal attack is not just harmful for the nation’s most populous state—it is an attack on the 13 states and the District of Columbia that follow California’s lead and, ultimately, the entire country. The American auto industry and the American public will be worse off as a result.

California’s laws to reduce pollution from cars and trucks have long been a target of the Trump administration. Along the way various officials have given lip service to a commitment to negotiate with California and the desire to maintain a national program. Yet the administration ended the supposed negotiations despite Congress members from their own party telling them to go back to the negotiating table.  There may be no surer sign that the administration negotiated with CA in bad faith than a deal that California and several automakers agreed to weeks ago. Fed up with an intransigent administration proposing actions that will undermine their businesses, BMW, Ford, Honda and VW agreed to a compromise agreement with California.

So it comes as little surprise that despite opposition from the regulated industry to a roll back and overwhelming public support for more efficient vehicles, the Trump administration is launching a direct attack on California’s long held authority to clean up vehicle pollution.

Trump legal strategy = throwing spaghetti at a wall

Successfully attacking California’s long held legal authority will be no easy task. The Trump administration has struggled to find a compelling argument for why California, and other states that follow it, cannot protect their citizens from vehicle pollution. They’ve come up with every excuse in the book and then some to claim California can’t do what it has done for decades.

They have claimed that California does not have an immediate and pressing need to reduce global warming emissions, when extreme heat, wildfires, drought, and sea level rise prove that California is at the front lines and needs action NOW.

They have claimed that eliminating tailpipe pollution via electrification, a critical step in the state’s fight against poor air quality, is somehow equivalent to setting fuel economy standards (it’s not).

They have claimed, incomprehensibly, that it is not possible to meet the zero-emission vehicle requirements of the state’s standards when manufacturers are both ahead of schedule and promising even more options.

The states will be fighting this in court…and so will we.

State leadership has been critical to protecting the environment, driving innovation in the auto industry, and bringing new clean car technologies to world from catalytic converters to electric vehicles. California’s laboratory for clean air technology and policy innovations has not only led to cleaner air across the US but across the globe. American automakers and technology companies have benefited from this leadership by being at the forefront of global automotive trends.

Fortunately, the Clean Air Act is crystal clear about the unique authority granted to California to be a leader. Unfortunately, this action by the administration will guarantee years of lawsuits and create enormous uncertainty for the industry at a time when the industry is navigating unprecedented technology disruption – from electric drivetrains to self-driving technology.

The states will be fighting this injustice in court, and we will be joining them in that fight—the stakes are too high to let this administration, not just ignore its responsibilities to protect this country, but to run roughshod over the longstanding environmental laws that are meant to protect us from such reckless behavior.

Photo: Prayitno/Flickr

Today’s Vehicles, Tomorrow: How Automakers Can Meet Strong 2025 Efficiency Standards

The next generation of the sporty Jetta GLI and its traditional Jetta counterpart could see a nearly 25 percent reduction in global warming emissions, meeting the 2025 standards and saving consumers thousands of dollars in fuel. Photo: VW

Four years ago, we noted that auto manufacturers were well on their way to meeting the 2025 vehicle efficiency standards set under the previous administration, with a number of vehicles  overachieving on their targets. Since then, manufacturers have squandered that head start and pushed for a rollback of the standards. This is the first post in a blog series on how manufacturers can, and should, get back on track.

This series details on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis different strategies to reduce fuel use from gasoline-powered vehicles. It will demonstrate that, using known fuel-saving strategies, manufacturers can make existing vehicle models that comply with emissions standards for 2025 while saving consumers money and dramatically reducing fuel consumption. This is true in vehicles that span all shapes and sizes, from compact sedans to pick-up trucks and SUVs.

Electric vehicles are a critical part of a sustainable transportation future. But even as sales of EVs continue to ramp up over the next decade, the vast majority of vehicles sold in the United States in that timeframe are going to continue to be powered by internal combustion engines and remain on our roads for decades more. It is therefore of the utmost importance that those fossil-fuel powered vehicles get substantially more efficient, even as we make the transition to cleaner, alternative fuels like electricity.

In direct contradiction to claims made by the administration and automakers alike, our research shows that the 2025 standards can, in fact, be met largely based upon improving gasoline-powered vehicles. And it is the goal of this blog series to show what that would actually look like, both for manufacturers and consumers. (Spoiler: consumers save money as a result.)

Some details of how we modeled these vehicles along with a link to the full methodology can be found at the blog series’ landing page. So without further ado, let’s take a look at our first test case…

By shedding over 200 pounds and incorporating technology already deployed in Europe, the 2025 VW Jetta could both improve performance and save consumers money while cutting global warming emissions and fuel use.

How the VW Jetta can clean up its act

The Volkswagen (VW) Jetta was at the heart of the infamous “dieselgate” scandal, which rattled the industry as a result of the deception and devastating public health and environmental consequences of the company’s actions. Since then, VW has shifted away from diesel and has announced that the next generation of internal combustion engines will be its last, choosing instead to invest in electric vehicles and even partnering with competitors on its shared platform to scale up and bring down costs of EVs faster.

While waiting for that transition, however, the global automaker is slated to sell a hundred million vehicles globally, most of which will run on fossil fuels. In the United States, the VW Jetta remains one of the company’s top sellers, so cleaning up its act in its future, 8th generation redesign, is critical to the company’s success in meeting future vehicle efficiency standards. By deploying its most efficient technologies already developed and matching its competitors’ curb weight, VW could cut fuel use from the Jetta by nearly 14 percent, reducing lifetime emissions from each vehicle by more than 8 tons and saving its customers up to $900.  Here’s how.

Just don’t make the car so heavy!

The newest Jetta will now use the company’s shared MQB platform, which allows the manufacturer to simplify design and manufacturing for vehicles of a broad range of sizes and types. While moving to this more modern platform helped reduce a small amount of weight, the company missed a greater opportunity—despite shedding just over 50 pounds from its previous incarnation, the new Jetta weighs up to 200 pounds more than its competitors’ compacts as a result of continuing to rely on mild steel for nearly a third of the Jetta’s body (by weight).

Lightweight materials can serve a dual purpose, offering both enhanced stiffness for handling and safety while also reducing the amount of power needed to move the vehicle. A peer-reviewed report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), incorporating Honda’s own comments on what was possible, showed how the mass of the Honda Accord could be reduced by more than 20 percent, even while meeting the latest safety tests, thanks to a mixed material deployment involving advanced high-strength steel, aluminum, and even plastics. That same knowledge can be applied to the smaller Jetta sedan.

VW began incorporating higher-strength steels to enhance safety way back with the fifth generation Jetta, and the latest Jetta (7th gen.) uses less than one-third conventional, low-tensile strength steel, a considerable decrease in that time span. However, they could do a lot more, such as utilizing aluminum closures and increasing the tensile strength of the advanced high-strength steels already deployed while increasing the share of ultra-high strength steels in line with the NHTSA study.  If they were to do these things, the Jetta could shed another 225 pounds, which would put it right in line with the vehicles in its class with the best fuel economy.

Your engineers have already done better—use it!

Another significant opportunity to reduce fuel use would be to utilize technology already available in VW’s vehicles in Europe. For example, rather than the 1.4L turbocharged engine currently deployed in the Jetta, they can deploy their new 1.5L “evo” engine, which uses both a more efficient thermodynamic cycle (Miller) and cylinder deactivation (in a 4-cylinder!). Mating this with a 48V mild-hybrid system (again, already deployed in Europe) also improves upon the stop-start system used in the current Jetta, allowing for improved electrification of accessories and more responsive and seamless “on-off” behavior.

Incorporating technology that the company has already developed like the 1.5L “evo” engine and 48V mild-hybrid system deployed now in Europe could drastically reduce fuel used by the next generation Jetta.

For the bigger 2.0L engine in the Jetta GLI, which powers the Jetta from 0-to-60 mph in under 7 seconds, VW could utilize the more efficient and newer EA888 Gen.3B engine, which runs a modified version of the Miller cycle and is already available in the Audi A3 and VW Tiguan. The one new innovation to the 3B VW should incorporate is the advanced cylinder deactivation strategy already demonstrated on VW’s EA888 platform in the 1.8L engine.

These tech changes mean savings for consumers

By incorporating these known technologies into the redesigned 2025 Jetta, VW can save its consumers thousands of dollars in fuel, more than offsetting the direct cost of the technologies themselves. Even after assuming that Volkswagen passed along the entire cost of the technology improvements with an increased retail price, factoring in financial costs of the vehicle, and discounting future fuel savings, customers would still net $900 over the vehicle’s lifetime. And it would cut global warming emissions by nearly 25 percent compared to the current model.

The current standards are achievable, feasible, and critical to a sustainable path forward

The administration is looking to gift the oil industry unnecessary fossil fuel use, paid for on the backs of consumers and the economy writ large. False claims from manufacturers about the feasibility of the current vehicle efficiency standards enable that disastrous policy.

VW itself knows that there is more to be done—they’ve told California as much, agreeing to standards that go well beyond the Trump administration’s rollback. But they’ve also previously recommended against making any changes to the current standards, owing to “its own investments in fuel saving and electric drive technology as well as to the development of market acceptance for these measures.”

The VW Jetta is just one example of how manufacturers can clean up their gasoline-powered fleet, even as they shift their fleet to vehicles powered (at least in part) by electricity. The solutions are known and simply require putting the best of what the industry has to offer in a package that is actually made available to consumers.

Manufacturers have the ability to meet the existing 2025 standards and deliver for their customers—stay tuned for further examples that showcase the different strategies available to make vehicles of all sizes and types more efficient.


AB 5 is an Opportunity to Protect Workers and the Environment

Among the major issues still being debated by the California Legislature this year is whether to codify a new standard for determining if certain workers must be hired as employees rather than independent contractors. AB 5, authored by Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, is a top priority for organized labor and, as you might expect, is drawing considerable opposition from some segments of the business community, such as technology, agriculture, and trucking industries.

One largely overlooked angle to the debate is the impact some misclassified workers, largely truckers, have on California’s efforts to clean the air and fight climate change. UCS is supporting AB 5 because we see the bill as a way to help workers and our environment.

What is AB 5?

In 2018 the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Dynamex Operations West, Inc v. Superior Court of Los Angeles that established a new standard for determining whether workers must be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. The Court established a three-point test, which it calls an “ABC test,” to determine whether workers may be classified as independent contractors. Under the test, a worker must be hired as an employee unless all three of the following are proven:

  1. the worker is free from control and direction of the hiring entity;
  2. the worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  3. the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established occupation of the same nature as the work performed.

AB 5 would codify the Dynamex decision in state law and create exemptions for occupations where the Legislature believes the stringent ABC test is not warranted (such as doctors, realtors, and hair dressers, among others). Much of the public debate about AB 5 has surrounded “gig economy” workers, namely those who provide services to the public via the cornucopia of app-enabled companies that have sprung into existence in the last decade or so, such as Uber, DoorDash, and TaskRabbit.

However, the use of independent contractors is not an entirely new phenomenon. Since the 1970s many industries have shifted from an employment model to a contractor model. A chief example is the commercial trucking industry, where trucking companies began shifting decades ago from hiring drivers as employees to hiring drivers as independent contractors. Unfortunately, this shift has reduced pay and shifted liability for maintaining trucks to the drivers. Notably, it has also made it harder to reduce air pollution.

Contract truckers and dirty air

Diesel exhaust in California is responsible for 70% of the cancer risk from airborne toxics and so the state has taken an active role in reducing pollution from diesel trucks. The most significant regulation to address air pollution from diesel trucks has been the Truck and Bus Regulation. This rule, originally adopted in 2008, requires the owners (or lessees) of most heavy-duty diesel trucks to add a diesel particulate filter to their vehicle or upgrade to a newer truck. Ultimately, all trucks will need to be upgraded to model year 2010 or newer engines by 2023.

The Truck and Bus regulation is already having a big impact. Particulate matter emissions from vehicles subject to the rule have declined about 70% since 2010. Despite this success, compliance and enforcement has been a challenge, evidenced by the fact that particulate matter emissions are about double what they would be if all trucks were in compliance with the regulation.

Which trucks are disproportionately out of compliance with the rule? It’s small truck fleets, which is the category most often associated with misclassified independent contractors. (I should note that not all independent contractors are misclassified; some are truly independent businesses.) The regulation’s 2017 annual enforcement report (see Appendix I) shows that 39% of fleets with one to three trucks are out of compliance, meaning the truck has failed to add a particulate filter or upgrade to a newer, cleaner engine. It is understandable that some individual truck owners have a hard time coming up with the money to upgrade their equipment, or perhaps are still not aware of the rule. The state has recognized these real challenges and responded with delayed compliance for small fleets, funding, and outreach to help truckers comply.

What’s frustrating is that many of the truckers who are considered a small “fleet” are actually leasing their services to a single, large trucking or freight company that have ample capital to finance investments in cleaner trucks. Clarifying worker classifications would help ensure that companies hire as employees the workers who do the work of employees, and as such, take responsibility to pay for their workers’ equipment. This will help remove a troublesome bottleneck in our collective efforts to clean the air.

Proper worker classification will reduce diesel pollution

As important as the Truck and Bus Regulation has been to reducing diesel pollution, in many ways the real challenge of transforming heavy-duty transportation is just beginning. To reach net-zero global warming emissions by 2045 and federally-mandated air quality standards, California must move aggressively to electrify as much of the transportation sector as possible. To accomplish this, new rules are needed to require manufacturers to make electric trucks, and fleet owners to buy them.

Fortunately, the technology for electric trucks is quickly developing, and is already fully commercialized for many use cases. And while fuel and maintenance costs are cheaper for electric trucks than diesel trucks, the upfront costs are higher. This makes it harder for undercapitalized truckers to upgrade their equipment, meaning that we’ll fail to quickly transform the trucking sector to electric trucks if misclassified contract truck drivers bear the burden of financing new electric trucks.

All workers deserve fair pay and employment benefits for the work they perform. That’s reason enough to support the goals of AB 5. But the obstacle that misclassified truckers pose to our clean transportation agenda should not be missed. It’s time to make sure that all truckers in California are properly classified and that more clean and electric trucks quickly get on the road.

public domain

Now’s the Time for California to Start Planning for Self-Driving Cars

Photo: Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious/Flickr

Traffic. I’m not a big fan. I’m lucky enough to have commuted to work by bike and BART for the last 15 years and avoided countless hours in gridlock. But last week, faced with the tricky summer camp logistics that comes with being a parent of two children, I had no choice but to drive. And I was reminded just how soul sucking bad traffic can be. By the end of the week I was exhausted.

Imagine if traffic gets even worse? Uber and Lyft are already being implicated in the rise of congestion in San Francisco and other cities.  Add self-driving cars in the coming few years to the mix and things could look even worse. But it doesn’t have to turn out that way.

As I noted in my last blog post, automated vehicles (AVs) could be an integral part of a future multi-modal transportation system. For example, AVs could facilitate connections to high quality mass transit, increase sharing of rides, and accelerate a transition to electric vehicles. But ensuring self-driving cars improve our transportation system will take thoughtful policy from local, state, and federal decision makers. Without it we are likely to end up with more traffic clogging our streets, and we will fail to cut transportation pollution anywhere close to what we need to. Plus, the last thing we need are more cars on the road emitting carbon and making the climate crisis worse.

California is not prepared for self-driving cars

California’s known for being a pioneer in transportation innovation. Everything from the invention of freeways (for better or worse!) to kick-starting  the EV revolution.  So California must be prepared for AVs. Right?

Wrong. So far, the state’s primary actions on AVs have been led by the DMV. They’ve focused on the rules of the road for AVs including requirements for companies seeking permits to test the vehicles on public roads.  But they aren’t taking into account climate pollution or a whole host of other issues that come up with AV deployment, from impacts to workers and economic development issues, to congestion and infrastructure needs.  The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, as part of a multi-agency work group, has helped organize a set of helpful principles around AV deployment which is a good start, but turning these principles into actions is a critical next step.

California has the opportunity to start planning ahead before this technology is commonplace on our streets and Senate Bill 59, introduced by Senator Ben Allen, would do just that.

What does SB 59 do?

SB 59 creates the California Council on the Future of Transportation. The title is a bit grandiose perhaps, but if created, could profoundly influence the future of transportation in California.  The Council is charged with recommending policies to the Governor and legislature to maximize the benefits of a self-driving future.  Currently, there are piecemeal approaches, with different cities trying different things and very little guidance on the broad ranges of issues and interests involved. SB 59 can bring all these pieces together and catalyze the statewide innovative, multi-stakeholder thinking we need to maximize the benefits of new technologies while addressing these challenges.

To cover the wide range of issues related to transportation and deployment of self-driving cars, the committee would bring together a diverse mix of stakeholders. Committee members would come from both industry and public interest groups as well as local and state government agencies.  These range from representatives from labor organizations, research institutions, disability rights and pedestrian safety groups, health and science organizations, and environmental justice advocates.  Technology companies, automakers, and motorists would also be represented. State and local agency representation would span local transit agency representation to state department of transportation, DMV Air Resources Board, Workforce Development, Office of Business and Economic Development and more.

The issues raised by self-driving cars are many and the committee is charged with reporting back to the legislature on several topics with its first report due by January 2022, and subsequent reports due every two years thereafter. The topics include, but are not limited to, road safety, infrastructure improvements, reducing congestion and vehicle miles traveled, furthering the state’s environmental, public health and energy goals, labor and economic impacts, accessibility and insurance.

Will self driving cars be climate heroes?

Importantly, the legislation requires establishing subcommittees to delve into specific issue areas.  With such a broad group of stakeholders and issues to cover, this is a critical component to ensure progress is made.

The bill would establish a subcommittee to examine the health and sustainability issues related to self-driving vehicles and would be guided by the Automated Vehicle Principles for Healthy and Sustainable Communities formerly released by a multi-agency working group.  These principles, similar to policy principles UCS previously developed, importantly call out the need for self-driving cars to be shared and electric, to support highly quality transit and active transportation (walking and biking), and to improve livability. They also call for improving transportation equity by ensuring that self-driving cars increase access to mobility for communities and individuals currently lacking affordable transportation options. Our recent report, Where are Self-driving Cars Taking Us?,  highlights the importance of proactive policy to achieve this outcome, otherwise self-driving cars could end up exacerbating pollution and congestion in communities already overburdened.

What kind of recommendations might the committee come up with to address climate emissions related to AV deployment? Road pricing to encourage pooling of rides, investments to improve or expand mass transit systems, setting limits on private vehicle use when no passengers are present, and incentives or requirements for electric drive are the types of policy ideas that should be explored by the committee amongst others. Many of these solutions aren’t unique to AVs, but become even more critical as AVs hit the road.

Now’s the right time to prepare for self-driving cars

A Waymo self-driving vehicle in Mountain View CA.

We are already seeing the negative impacts of Uber and Lyft on congestion and public transit in urban centers. A recent analysis, released by Uber and Lyft, found 13 percent of all vehicle travel in San Francisco is from Uber and Lyft and that about 45 percent of travel was without any passengers. Self-driving cars are likely to be deployed in similar services and exacerbate these problems.

Self-driving cars are already on the road in California, shuttling employees at companies like Google and Cruise, and it may take a few years or more before they substantially replace regular cars. Even if the technology takes longer than expected to mature (as some are now thinking), interest in the technology does not appear to be waning.  When I checked how many technology and auto companies were registered to test self-driving cars earlier this year, I estimated about 40 companies registered.  The list is now over 60 and that’s only in California. The longer timeline for AV deployment provides a window of opportunity for policymakers and they should take advantage of it.

The California Legislature should pass SB 59

Transportation emissions are the largest source of climate emissions in CA and they’ve continued to grow despite our best efforts.  We can’t afford to take a wait and see approach with AVs. SB 59 is an important step in creating the level of coordination necessary to realize the promise of emerging self-driving cars and avert outcomes we want to avoid. It ensures state and regional decision-makers, state transportation officials and other stakeholders have a forum to coordinate on various aspects of AV deployment before it’s too late.

Photo: Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious/Flickr

More Charging Infrastructure Coming for Electric Trucks and Buses in California

Great news from San Francisco today. The California Public Utilities Commission approved San Diego Gas and Electric’s (SDG&E) five-year, $107 million proposal to invest in charging infrastructure for electric trucks and buses. The proposal will result in at least 3,000 new electric trucks and buses in the San Diego region. But the utility is aiming for the budget to support closer to 6,000 vehicles.

Approval of SDG&E’s proposal is a significant step towards cleaning the air and meeting climate goals in the San Diego region and California. And utilities have an important role to play in the electrification of trucks and buses not only through infrastructure investments, but also by offering fair electricity rates for vehicle charging.

The funding will support Class 2 through Class 8 vehicles such as delivery trucks, transit buses, garbage trucks, port trucks, and school buses. Infrastructure for off-road vehicles (e.g., forklifts) and transport refrigeration units is also eligible for funding.

Recognizing inequities in exposure to air pollution from vehicles, at least 30 percent of the funding must be invested in communities most burdened by pollution. These include neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, and Sherman Heights, if you are familiar with San Diego.

A pilot for electric school buses

The approved proposal also includes plans for a “vehicle to grid” (V2G) electric school bus pilot project. SDG&E will partner with a school district to purchase ten electric buses and install charging infrastructure capable of using energy from the buses’ batteries for the electric grid. So, while children are at school, their buses will be sending clean energy back to the grid.

The relatively high downtime of school buses compared to other heavy-duty vehicles make them prime candidates for V2G. I expect that many utilities and school districts will closely follow the outcomes of this project. V2G offers a potential revenue stream for school districts or anyone else that sells power from vehicles to the grid.

The proposal had a lot of support

UCS was one of 15 stakeholders, or “parties,” that reached a settlement agreement supporting a modified version of SDG&E’s original proposal. Parties represented a broad range of interests, including community groups, ratepayer advocates, charging companies, electric truck companies, and environmental organizations.

This broad agreement made for a relatively easy vote by the Commission. The final decision was nearly identical to the settlement agreement.

The funding will support electrical upgrades and equipment needed for electric vehicles. School districts, transit agencies, and small businesses in disadvantaged communities will also be eligible for a 50 percent rebate on the actual vehicle charger. A minimum of 10 percent of the investment must serve transit buses and school buses. A maximum of 10 percent of the budget can serve electric forklifts (which are already trending towards electrification).

SDG&E’s funding will come in two phases, $84 million in the first phase, and $23 million will become available in the second phase if SDG&E shows progress towards deployment goals outlined in the settlement agreement.

The investments span a five-year period and will be paid for by all SDG&E customers. SDG&E estimates it will add $0.38/month in 2022 to the bill of a residential customer that uses 500 kWh of electricity per month, which is roughly average for SDG&E customers.

In all, progress on air quality and climate change can come in many forms – large demonstrations and marches in the street and decisions at public utility commissions that fly under the radar of most. All are important to getting where we need to be. If you’re a business or entity thinking about buying an electric truck or bus and get your electricity from SDG&E, you should contact them about benefiting from this funding.


Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Why Colorado Needs a Zero Emission Vehicles Standard

Subaru vehicles are popular in Colorado and environmentalism is part of their brand identity, so it's troubling that their sole electric vehicle isn't available in Colorado. Photo: Tim Hurst/Flickr

Colorado is poised to enact requirements for automakers to sell “Zero Emission Vehicles” (ZEVs) in the state. In 2018, Colorado was already in the top 5 states in terms of percent of vehicle sales that are electric in the country, so why is this important? It’s because despite progress, Colorado could be moving even faster to switch from gasoline to electricity to power cars and trucks, if there were more models of electric vehicles available.

Colorado lacks a ZEV standard

Subaru wrote to Colorado’s regulators in October 2018 to “clarify” that the new plug-in model will be “available to all Subaru retailers nationally”, though to-date it’s not on Colorado dealers’ lots. Click to enlarge.

In 2018, Colorado ranked 4th in the nation in percent of new cars sold that were electric vehicles, at 2.6 percent. But that was less than half the rate of sales in California (7.9 percent sales), despite Colorado’s more generous electric vehicle (EV) rebate program. While there are many factors that lead to that sales difference, one key factor is the greater availability of EVs in California.

Automakers have argued that the ZEV standard is not needed to ensure EVs are available in Colorado. For example, Subaru said in a letter to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission:

“Product mandates on manufacturers are not responsible for moving the ZEV market forward, cooperation and buy‐in from all stakeholders are the best course of action.”

And Subaru also “clarified” that its new plug-in hybrid Crosstrek SUV would be “available” to dealers in Colorado, a statement that seems targeted to assure the regulators that its ZEVs would be available in the state:

“Regarding the sale of the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid (Plug‐in Hybrid Electric Vehicle or PHEV) in the State of Colorado, please allow us to clarify a possible misunderstanding. When the new Crosstrek Hybrid goes on sale in December of this year, it will be legal for sale in Colorado and available to all Subaru retailers nationally.”

Well, yes, the Subaru Crosstrek is technically legal for sale in Colorado, but that’s not the concern. The important question is: Is it available in the state for interested customers? What have we seen to date? Exactly 2 plug-in Crosstreks have been registered in Colorado in the first six months of 2019 because it’s not available at Subaru dealers in the state. A search on Edmunds.com of new cars available at dealers shows 0 cars available within 100 miles of Denver, CO, with the nearest one 800 miles away in Riverside, CA (as of August 6, 2019). By comparison, doing the same search 100 miles around Oakland, CA reports 23 Crosstrek plug-in hybrids available at dealers’ lots.


Subaru vehicles are very popular in Colorado and part of their brand is environmentalism. The CEO of Subaru of America told the website brandchannel: “We’ve been identified as granola-crunchers and tree-huggers, and people with lots of stickers on the backs of their vehicles, and it’s true. We’re proud of that. Why run away from that?”

But yet the only states with more than 10 new Crosstrek plug-in registrations in 2019 (so far) are California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon. What do these states all share in common? They have all adopted the ZEV standard. Clearly the ZEV regulation is needed to move the market forward in Colorado.

I’ve singled out Subaru in this example, but there are other manufacturers that have also avoided bringing electric drive cars to Colorado and other states that aren’t part of the ZEV regulation. For example, the Volkswagen e-Golf, Fiat 500e, Kia Niro EV, and Honda Clarity are all virtually unavailable in Colorado. And in its own letter to regulators, Kia bragged about the Soul EV being available for sale in 13 states, but not Colorado. So, while Colorado has had more EV sales than much of the rest of the country, EV sales could potential be even higher if more models were available to car buyers in the state.

Colorado needs to send the right message on climate change

The air pollution from vehicles on Colorado’s roads today is significant. And the state is already experiencing the impact of climate change, driven by combustion of fossil fuels. Zero Emission Vehicles are a solution that will help address both air quality and climate change. While the impact will be small initially compared to the number of gasoline cars on the road, the most important part of adopting the ZEV regulation will be to put Colorado on a clear path forward towards moving away from gasoline and towards lower emissions.

Photo: Tim Hurst/Flickr

Four Automakers Stand Firm With California Against a Trump Administration Rollback

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, announced an agreement last week between the state of California and four automakers to make their vehicles significantly more efficient than would be required under the Trump administration’s rollback. Photo: Emmett Institute/Flickr

Last week, California’s governor and lead regulator announced an agreement with four automakers (BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen) on vehicle emissions standards that exceed anything the Trump administration has proposed, though it remains lower than what is on the books today.

With the current administration shirking its responsibility to reduce emissions from the passenger vehicle fleet, California has once again stepped up to its longstanding leadership role by negotiating a compromise directly with four automakers. The agreement allows manufacturers to sell a national fleet which meets a reduced standard to count as compliance with the state’s own, stronger standards, providing certainty and meaningful global warming emissions reductions.

This is an important step forward—first and foremost, the automakers are acknowledging California’s leadership on reducing emissions and the continued role the state must play in moving the nation forward. The automakers are also acknowledging what we’ve been saying all along, which is that they can go well beyond the rollbacks proposed by both the administration and their own trade groups. Honda and Volkswagen have made similar statements previously, but BMW and Ford committing to this proposal shows the breadth of the consensus in the industry that the technology is there to reduce emissions—what is needed now is a full commitment across the board to go beyond letters and actually manufacture the efficient vehicles needed to reduce emissions and save consumers money.

There are many details which I’ll work through below, but the obvious question is simply, “What about all the other automakers, like General Motors and Toyota?” Are any more going to step forward to the challenge, or are they just going to remain as they have throughout the past six decades, pushing for weaker regulations that cost consumers and the environment?

What automakers stand to gain

Right now, we have a nationwide program on vehicle emissions—the Obama administration looked at the evidence on the current standards and saw that its standards remained feasible and appropriate. California agreed, and the standards we currently have on the books would nearly halve global warming emissions from vehicles through 2025, saving consumers money at the pump and reducing emissions from transportation, the US’s largest contributor to global warming emissions today.

The Trump administration came in and threw a giant wrench in the gears, eliminating the consensus-based nationwide program by proposing to roll back the federal standard at the industry’s request. The administration is also trying to illegally eliminate the authority of California and the 13 states who’ve adopted California’s Advanced Clean Car Standards, leaving manufacturers with the challenge of complying with two sets of books, one for the 35 percent of sales reported in the states maintaining California’s program, and the other for the rest of the country dealing with the Trump rollback. It also falls out of line with more stringent requirements from China and Europe for these global companies. Combined with the inevitable lawsuits resulting from the Trump administration’s gift to the oil industry, this creates massive uncertainty for automakers (albeit of their own making).

In the agreement with BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen, California has agreed to accept as compliance with its own standard automakers selling a fleet nationwide which averages 3.7 percent per year improvement from 2021 onwards, up to 1 percent of which can be made up of bonus credits given to electric vehicles. This is weaker than what California would have otherwise required of those manufacturers within its state’s borders, but recreates a nationwide standard for those automakers, providing greater certainty and ease of compliance.

What we stand to gain

Many in the industry are investing in technologies to reduce fuel use, whether that is more advanced and efficient transmissions, next-gen engine designs involving more efficient combustion or ever more clever engine “right-sizing” strategies, or cutting gasoline use altogether by switching to battery-electric vehicles.

Some of these new technologies have been deployed in new cars that consumers have been buying over the last 8 years, thanks to the existing standards.  However, the Trump administration’s proposed rollback threatens to stall out these and further advancements in the industry. Automakers don’t put energy-saving technology in cars without a push—with the Trump administration shirking its responsibilities, that push is having to come from California and the states adopting California’s standards

Ensuring that these manufacturers sell more efficient vehicles nationwide means that not only will Californians, or New Yorkers, or other folks who live in states with strong standards get the most efficient vehicle choices—these agreements help bring parity of choice to consumers across the country, which means the amount we all spend on gas stands to decrease, no matter where we live.

For the environment, what this means is that while a cloud of uncertainty hangs over anything the administration puts forward, as it lies in legal limbo, we are continuing to push efficiency forward. If a future administration acknowledges the problem of climate change, we will be closer to the needed trajectory to solve it under this proposal than under the years of delay which would result from the President’s proposal.

Better than standing still

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that this agreement is not going to put us on the path we need to be to meet the Paris agreement targets, nor is it keeping us on the path we are on right now. There will be increases in emissions, even under the agreement signed by California and the four automakers.

Notably, this agreement only covers four automakers, representing just 30 percent of annual sales in the US. In order for this agreement to really make a dent in emissions, the entire industry needs to be bought into it. This is what makes the Trump administration’s rollback so frustratingly stupid—they have the biggest lever to exercise in the fight against climate change, and they’re using it instead to benefit oil companies.

Our analysis shows that if all manufacturers were to join this agreement, we would retain about 75 percent of the benefits of the current standards.

If the entire industry signed up for California’s plan, our analysis indicates that about 75 percent of the emissions reductions from vehicles sold through 2025 would be retained. This agreement represents a significantly better proposal than the 100 percent of emissions lost under the Trump administration’s proposal, but the foregone emissions reductions will have lasting consequences.

The average lifetime of cars exceeds 15 years and is getting longer—even if all automakers bought into the agreement with California, the vehicles sold under this weaker proposal would cost consumers around $100 billion more in fuel over their lifetimes. The nearly 300 million metric tons in additional global warming emissions will also cost us and future generations precious time in the fight against climate change.

Who will be the next to stand up?

BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen did the right thing in stepping away from their trade associations to work directly with California, but this agreement alone is simply not enough to address the severity of the challenge. President Trump may be ignoring the problem entirely, but it’s time to show the American people that the auto industry is serious about addressing climate change.

Toyota talks a big game about its environmental bona fides, but its fleet has actually increased its average fuel use and emissions over the past few years thanks to a lack of investment in the very segments it’s working to grow, trucks. Committing to, and taking, strong action is a way to show it’s serious about reversing that trend.

General Motors has lobbied for a meager 1 percent per year improvement from its gasoline-powered fleet, despite them making up more than 90 percent of its projected sales over the next decade. While it may claim to be “driving toward a future of zero emissions,” GM’s proposal was slated to get there at horse-and-buggy speed. If GM wants to finally merge into the fast lane toward its zero emissions future, joining this agreement with California would be a way of assuring its commitment to “meaningful year-over-year reductions.”

Getting those two manufacturers on board would double the number of vehicles covered by this agreement with California and go a long way towards bringing the rest of the industry on board. But whether GM and Toyota are leaders in the next phase of this agreement or the last ones to sign on, we need to get more companies on board to really push forward and undo the damage that the industry has done by seeking Trump’s help in a rollback.

We know that the industry can be doing a lot more to reduce emissions from the vehicles it sells—while this agreement is still not commensurate with where we could and should be going, it’s at least a welcome step in the right direction.

Photo: Emmett Institute/Flickr Mary Nichols @ Twitter brionv @ Flickr

New Electric Options for Drivers Looking to Cut Carbon Emissions

The all-electric Audi e-tron SUV is responsible much lower carbon emissions than a similar gasoline-powered Audi SUV Photo: Dave Reichmuth/UCS

Electric vehicles can significantly reduce the emissions from driving by substituting increasingly cleaner electricity for gasoline. At UCS we’ve been tracking how the difference between gasoline and electric car emissions have been changing and where in the US has the lowest electric vehicle emissions.  In 2018, UCS updated our estimates of the carbon emissions of electric vehicles with latest electricity data and now we’ve updated our vehicle emissions calculator with the latest models to reflect the carbon emissions savings from these new vehicles.

UCS’s electric vehicle emissions calculator shows the carbon emissions from different models across the country.

More options for super-efficient electric vehicles

The emissions of the Tesla Model 3 “Standard Range Plus” edition now match the Hyundai Ionic Electric for the lowest per mile carbon emissions for any passenger car in the US. On the cleanest grid in the US (in upstate New York), driving the Tesla Model 3 Standard Plus is equal to a (hypothetical) gasoline car that gets 257 MPG, even including the emissions coming from electricity generation. Put another way, a fleet of 10 of these efficient electric vehicles would have the same emissions of one average new gasoline vehicle.

And the Model 3 isn’t alone: the new Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro Electric join the existing BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq, and Volkswagen eGolf as vehicles that have 60 MPG emissions equivalent or better for two-thirds of the US population.

New plug-in SUV options: significantly lower emissions than the gasoline alternatives

In addition to smaller vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 and Kia Niro, we’ve also added new plug-in SUVs to our calculator. These larger vehicles do require more electricity to use than the average electric vehicle, but still have considerable carbon emissions savings compared to the equivalent gasoline vehicle. For example, the new Subaru Crosstrek plug-in hybrid SUV driven in California has emissions equal to a 47 MPG gasoline car, while the gasoline version gets 29 MPG. And the all-electric Audi e-tron SUV has emissions equal to an 80 MPG gasoline car when driven in California, less than a third of the emissions of a similar Audi gasoline SUV (Audi Q5 or Q8).

Plug-in vehicles like these SUVs are critical to increasing the number of electric cars on the road (and decreasing emissions), because many new car shoppers are looking for SUVs and crossover vehicles. And having more manufacturers like Subaru and Audi means that shoppers not only have more size options, but greater consumer choice while being able to pick electric.

Photo: Dave Reichmuth

Who Breathes the Dirtiest Air from Vehicles in Colorado?

Vehicle pollution is a major issue for human health and the environment.

This post was written in collaboration with David Reichmuth

Most people know that cars, trucks, and buses from our highways and city streets are a significant source of air pollution. While this pollution impacts all communities in the state to some degree, Coloradans who face the greatest exposure to transportation pollution are those who live near highways, along major freight corridors, and in urban areas.

To help understand exactly which communities bear the greatest burden and breathe the highest concentrations of this dangerous air pollution, we used a computer model to estimate the amount of fine particulate matter air pollution (known as PM2.5) produced by on-road vehicles that burn gasoline and diesel. The findings, which are not likely not to be a surprise to many residents, are quite troubling—they show that people of color are disproportionally exposed to vehicular PM2.5. For example:

  • African Americans are exposed to 64 percent higher PM2.5 concentrations from on-road transportation than the average PM2.5 exposure for all Coloradans. Asian Americans and Latinos experience concentrations 24 percent and 15 percent higher, respectively, than the average resident. At the same time, white residents have an average exposure that is 9 percent lower than the average for the state.
  • African American, Asian and Latino residents are exposed to vehicular PM2.5 pollution levels, on average, that are 81, 37, and 27 percent higher, respectively, than the exposure experienced by white residents.
  • A higher percentage of white residents than the state average live in the cleanest areas: white residents make up 76 percent of the people who live in census tracts where exposure is less than the state average, yet white residents make up just 69 percent of the state’s population.
What is PM2.5 and why is it so important?

The science is clear: no level of particulate matter is safe to breathe, says the American Lung Association. Although fine particulate matter—referred to as PM2.5—is not the only air pollutant that adversely affects health, it is estimated to be responsible for approximately 95 percent of the global public health impacts from air pollution. Exposure to this dangerous pollutant is the largest environmental risk factor in the United States, responsible for 63 percent of deaths from environmental causes.

They include particles smaller than 2.5 millionths of a meter in diameter—at least 20 times smaller than the diameter of fine human hair—so they can penetrate deeply into the lungs. The ultrafine particles – smaller than 0.1 millionths of a meter – are particularly dangerous, as some can enter into the bloodstream.

Chronic exposure to PM2.5 causes increased death rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, and has been linked to other adverse impacts such as lung cancer, reproductive and developmental harm and even diabetes and dementia. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 in children has also been linked to slowed lung-function growth and the development of asthma.

PM2.5 is formed in many ways. A significant source of PM2.5 is fuel combustion. The combustion engines of cars burn gasoline and diesel. Power plants burn natural gas and other fuels to produce electricity. Burning wood for cooking and in residential fireplaces, as well as wildfires, are examples of biofuel combustion. To make things worse, not only does burning fossil fuels and biofuels produce PM2.5 directly, but the combustion reaction also emits gases such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds that go on to form additional PM2.5 through complex chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Because there are so many ways in which particulate matter is formed, you may ask yourself if some pose more health risks than others. Indeed particles can bind with bacteria, pollen, heavy metals, elemental carbon, dust and other building blocks, and so have a broad range of effects on human health. But size is one of the most important factors, and PM2.5 is responsible for a very heavy burden of disease, disability and death. That is why we focused our analysis on this pollutant.

Greater pollution for people of color

The results are clear: PM2.5 pollution burden from cars, trucks, and buses is inequitably distributed when looking at the exposure experienced by racial and ethnic groups in the state. People of color experience an undeniable “pollution disadvantage”.

We estimated exposure to PM2.5 pollution using a recently developed model from the University of Washington, and data from the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory and the US Census Bureau. This model allows us to calculate how vehicle tailpipe and refueling emissions ultimately lead to ground-level pollution exposure, so we can understand how exposure to PM2.5 varies among groups and locations.

Looking at the state as a whole, African Americans are exposed to 64 percent higher PM2.5 concentrations from on-road transportation than the  average PM2.5 exposure for all Coloradans.  Asian Americans and Latinos experience concentrations 24 percent and 15 percent higher, respectively, than the average resident.  At the same time, white residents have an average exposure that is 9 percent lower than the average for the state.

 In an equitable world, one might expect that every area with the same pollution level would have an approximately equal representation of all racial groups. In other words, the burden would be shared equally. But only 11 percent of all white residents in the state live in the dirtiest census tracts, where pollution is more than twice the state average, while 38% of all African American residents live in these polluted areas.

We can look at this data in a different way. In the cleanest areas of Colorado—in census tracts with average annual PM2.5 concentrations less than half the state average—whites make up 76 percent of the population, while constituting only 69 percent of the state’s total population. In contrast, the most polluted census tracts have a higher proportion of people of color. Almost 12 percent of people in the highest burden areas, where concentrations are more than 2.5 times the state average, are African American, compared with a state population that is just 4 percent African American (Figure 2). The inequities are clear.


This chart shows the PM2.5 exposure in groups of census tracts, defined relative to state average. In areas where PM2.5 exposure is low, the fraction of white residents is high. As the analysis looks at more polluted areas, this fraction decreases. In the highest pollution areas, which correspond to urban centers with heavy traffic, the fraction of white residents is higher. Notes: Each column refers to census tracts in areas with similar PM2.5 pollution concentrations. The columns show the fraction of people belonging to each of eight racial groups living in those areas. The least polluted areas are on the left and the most polluted on the right. The 0–50% area refers to census tracts where PM2.5 pollution is less than half the state average, the 50–100% area refers to tracts where pollution is from half the state average to the state average, etc. The column at the far right shows the state’s racial composition.

Furthermore, PM2.5 exposure varies greatly within Colorado. People in the urban areas of the state, like Denver County, are exposed to vehicle pollution at levels similar to Los Angeles County in California. Denver County, the second most populous county in the state, and the most polluted, has average PM2.5 exposure from vehicles 237 percent higher than the state average.

Finally, the analysis also shows that exposure inequities are more pronounced between racial and ethnic groups than between income groups.

What is to be done?

Clearly air pollution from on-road transportation such as diesel and gasoline vehicles places significant, inequitable and unacceptable health burdens on Coloradans. This inequity reflects decades of local, state, regional, and national decisions about transportation, housing, and land use. Decisions concerning where to construct highways, where to invest in public transportation, and where to build housing have all contributed to a transportation system that concentrates emissions in communities of color. In many cases, transportation policies have left those communities with inadequate access to public transportation.

We have the tools and the technologies to transform our transportation system away from diesel and gasoline and toward clean, modern, and equitable solutions. Electrification of vehicles, both passenger and freight, could greatly reduce emissions. Battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, with the exception of minor amounts of PM2.5 emissions from tire and brake wear. Not just that, but these vehicles eliminate vapor emissions associated with gasoline refueling.

Electric vehicles  can result in some additional climate emissions (carbon dioxide) from electricity generation, but these emissions are lower for an electric vehicle than for an average gasoline car, and vary depending on the location where the vehicle is charged. Seventy-five percent of people in the US live in places where driving on electricity is cleaner than a 50 mile per gallon car. It is very good news for Coloradans that Governor Polis has pledged for 100 percent renewable energy in the state’s electric grid by 2040.  By the way, Colorado ranks fourth in the US for solar potential, and eleventh for wind potential.

While residents can make a difference for local air pollution (as well as for climate emissions) by choosing cleaner vehicles and driving less, much of today’s air pollution comes from sources outside the direct control of individuals. Colorado needs regulations, incentives, and other policies to reduce vehicle emissions, with equity and the meaningful involvement of affected communities as key considerations in designing policies and strategies to reduce pollution from vehicles.

Last year, the state approved a low emission vehicle standard (LEV) for passenger cars and light trucks, which means Colorado will continue to sell vehicles that are progressively cleaner and more fuel efficient. Colorado is also considering adopting the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard, which would require automakers to increase the percentage of ZEV vehicles sold in the state. This state leadership is especially critical at a time when the federal government has proposed rolling back federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. Furthermore, the Colorado legislature recently approved the extension of the income tax credit for purchase or lease of electric vehicles until 2025.

Other specific investments that could reduce inequities in air pollution include:

  • Investments in electric transit buses and school buses, with a priority on serving communities exposed to the highest levels of gasoline and diesel emissions
  • Expansion of electric vehicle rebate programs to provide financing assistance and larger rebates to low- and moderate-income residents
  • Utility investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with a priority on serving communities exposed to the highest levels of gasoline and diesel emissions

Colorado has made much progress in reducing air pollution from vehicles, but it needs to continue this effort, placing a high priority on actions that reduce the inequitably distributed burden of air pollution in the state. This analysis provides important quantitative evidence of the need for and importance of such programs, and it can help inform and shape future actions to reduce on-road transportation pollution exposure and inequities in the state.

Trump Administration Dramatically Reduces Penalties for Auto Inefficiency

Photo: Marco Verch/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

In a Friday news dump last week, the Trump administration announced that they will be finalizing a reduction in fines for missing fuel economy targets. Not only is the administration working to roll back the strong standards set in place by the previous administration currently driving efficiency improvements across new vehicles, but now they are letting automakers off the hook if they miss targets between now and when that rollback goes into effect.

This action is par for the course for this administration, which is doing whatever it can to increase pollution and oil use.

Thwarting a Congressional mandate

Since 1975, manufacturers have been required to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets which govern the average efficiency of new vehicles sold. If a manufacturer missed its annual target, they had to pay a penalty, which was initially set at $50 per miles-per-gallon, per vehicle. This penalty was adjusted slightly in the 1990s to $55/mpg/vehicle, but obviously this is nowhere close to the level of inflation that has occurred since 1975, which is why in 2015 Congress required Federal agencies to adjust all of their penalties with respect to inflation in order to ensure that they remained as strong a deterrent as they were when initially finalized (Title VII, HR 1314). The resulting penalty of $140/mpg/vehicle put in place under the Obama administration did not fully account for inflation since 1975, but it was the maximum allowable increase under the law set by Congress.

Fines this low are not a deterrent

Historically, while luxury manufacturers often treated the fines as part of their business model of selling nothing but overpowered vehicles to high-income buyers, large full-line automakers have managed to comply with the standards (or get the federal government to weaken CAFE standards, as in the 1980s) in order to avoid millions of dollars in fines for noncompliance. However, last year saw Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) fined for failing to ensure that the FCA cars produced in North America are approximately as efficient as the average car sold in the United States. The penalty rate is the same as it is for the CAFE standard, and with FCA falling nearly 3 mpg short of the rest of the industry, the decision not to improve the efficiency of its domestically-manufactured vehicles cost the company $77 million in fines last year, a fine which would have been nearly three times higher if NHTSA had not delayed implementation of the CAFE fine increase.

FCA knew years in advance that it would miss its efficiency targets and would therefore have to pay fines, and it did not adjust its behavior. And according to the Auto Alliance, the largest automaker trade group, its members are willing to pay billions of dollars in fines instead of complying with the regulations.

Clearly, the fine is not acting as a deterrent and should be increased—however, to no one’s surprise this administration is instead moving in the wrong direction.

This action gives manufacturers a free pass to sell more gas guzzlers

Under dubious legal arguments that the CAFE fine is not, in fact, a “penalty”, the Trump administration is rolling back the penalty from $140 back down to $55/mpg/vehicle, an argument at odds with previous increases under the Clinton and Obama administrations. Automakers themselves are even saying the fine is not high enough to push them to comply with the regulations, since the fine may be lower than the cost of putting more efficient technology in new vehicles. Since automakers assume their customers don’t care much about saving money at the pump, regulations are a key driver in getting technology to market, even technologies which pay for themselves. Lower fines simply reduce that push to actually comply with the rules, limiting the availability of consumers’ choices of more efficient vehicle options.

The Trump administration is already standing in the way of improvements beyond 2020 by rolling back fuel economy regulations. This action serves only to mute progress between now and then.

This administration gives polluters a green light

This action is like far too many others under this administration—Trump’s EPA has seen substantial reductions in penalties assessed to polluters and the number of inspections and actions taken towards those who put profit over public welfare. The agency has also ignored the health impacts of air quality worsening under their watch.

Unsurprisingly, automakers lauded the decision to lower the penalty, even while working to roll back the standards to fuel economy levels which are so meager that nearly one-third of vehicles sold today already meet them.

The administration’s actions to make enforcement of strong fuel economy standards as toothless as possible are consistent with the rest of their environmental and energy policies—give industry what it wants, and to hell with the rest of us. But that’s not a justifiable policy in the courts, and it is up to NGOs like UCS, as well as the states bearing the adverse impacts of these policies, to give ‘em hell right back, holding the administration and, thus, industry accountable for its actions.

10 Ways Andrew Wheeler Has Decimated EPA Protections in Just One Year

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that would have reduced coal-fired plant carbon emissions. Photo: EPA

On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The next day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.

The good news, if there is any, is that Wheeler is an Eagle Scout compared to his ethically challenged predecessor, Scott Pruitt. The bad news is, as predicted, Wheeler has been more effective than Pruitt in rolling back and eliminating EPA safeguards.

My organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, has compiled a list of 80 Trump administration attacks on science since taking office, and Wheeler has been the driving force behind many of them. Below are 10 of the more egregious ways he has undermined the EPA’s time-honored role to protect public health and the environment so far.

1. Sidelined scientists

Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, has taken a number of steps to systematically reduce the role of scientists in the agency’s policymaking process. Last fall, for example, he eliminated the agency’s Office of the Science Advisor, which counseled the EPA administrator on research supporting health and environmental standards, and placed the head of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection on administrative leave. He also disbanded a 20-member scientific advisory committee on particulate matter, or soot; failed to convene a similar panel on ozone; and packed a seven-member advisory committee on air quality standards with industry-friendly participants.

2. Proposed to restrict the use of scientific data

Claiming his intent is to increase “transparency,” Wheeler is promoting a rule Pruitt proposed that would dramatically limit the scientific studies the agency considers when developing health standards. If adopted, the rule would restrict the use of scientific studies in EPA decisions if the underlying data are not public and reproducible, which would disqualify many epidemiological and other health studies the EPA relies on to set science-based public safeguards. Given that EPA health standards often rely on studies that contain private patient information, as well as confidential business information that cannot be revealed, the rule would significantly hamper the agency’s ability to carry out its mission. Wheeler plans to finalize the rule sometime this year.

3. Gutted the coal ash rule

The first major rule Wheeler signed as acting administrator refuted his claim that he could fulfill President Trump’s directive to “clean up the air, clean up the water, and provide regulatory relief” at the same time. By rolling back the Obama-era coal ash rule, Wheeler provided regulatory relief to his old friend the coal industry by weakening environmental protections established in 2015 to clean up coal ash ponds, which are laced with toxic contaminants that leak into groundwater. The move was a top priority for coal baron Bob Murray, owner of Murray Energy, Wheeler’s most lucrative client when he worked for the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm.

Coal-fired power plants have been dumping this residue from burning coal into giant, unlined pits for decades. According to the EPA, there are more than 1,000 coal ash disposal sites across the country, and a recent analysis by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project found that 91 percent of the coal plants filing monitoring data required by the 2015 rule are polluting water with unsafe levels of toxic contaminants. Wheeler’s EPA says the new rule—which extends the deadline for closing some leaking ash ponds and allows states to suspend groundwater monitoring and set their own standards—will save utilities as much as $31 million. But the agency ignored the enormous costs of cancer and neurological and cardiovascular diseases linked to coal ash ingredients, which include arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury.

4. Recommended unsafe levels of drinking water contaminants

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in firefighting foam and a variety of nonstick, cleaning, packaging and other household products, have been linked to thyroid disease and kidney, liver, pancreatic and testicular cancer. According to a recent study by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University, these chemicals threaten the drinking water supplies of an estimated 19 million Americans. A 2018 Union of Concerned Scientists report, meanwhile, found that PFAS water contamination at 130 military bases across the country exceed the 11-parts-per-trillion safety threshold determined by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Nearly two-thirds of the sites had contamination that was more than 100 times higher than the safe level.

In February, Wheeler announced the “first-ever nationwide action plan” to regulate PFAS chemicals in water, saying the agency would develop and set a limit for two of the most prevalent PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. During the announcement, he told reporters he believes the agency’s voluntary 70-part-per-trillion health-advisory level for the chemicals is “a safe level for drinking water,” despite the fact that this level is more than six times higher than what the Disease Registry considers safe.

While Wheeler slow-walks the EPA’s response, members of Congress have introduced at least a dozen bills to address PFAS contamination, and the Senate recently passed a defense bill that would require the EPA to set a science-based standard for PFAS in drinking water.

5. Rolled back Clean Water Act protections

Clearing up a decade-long dispute over the scope of the Clean Water Act, the Obama EPA adopted a broad, science-based definition of the law that included protecting intermittent and ephemeral streams and wetlands that do not have surface water connections to other waterways. A 2015 EPA meta-analysis of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies concluded that even infrequently flowing small streams and isolated wetlands can affect “the integrity of downstream waters.” Trash them and that pollution could wind up in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and estuaries.

Regardless, Wheeler announced plans during a December telephone press briefing to reverse the Obama EPA definition of waters protected by the Clean Water Act, a thinly disguised gift to land developers and the agriculture industry. When asked what wetlands would no longer be protected, Wheeler replied, “We have not done … a detailed mapping of all the wetlands in the country.” Likewise, EPA Office of Water head David Ross—who represented industry clients against the EPA before joining the Trump administration—told reporters on the call that the agency had no idea how many streams would be dropped from Clean Water Act protection under the proposal.

In fact, Wheeler and Ross were well aware of the damage their new definition would do. At least 18 percent of streams and 51 percent of wetlands across the country would not be covered under their proposed definition, according to an internal 2017 slideshow prepared by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers and obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act.

6. Suppressed an inconvenient formaldehyde report

Last August, Wheeler disingenuously told a Senate committee that the EPA was holding up the release of a report on the risk of cancer from formaldehyde to confirm its veracity. “I am sure we will release it,” he said, “but I need to make sure that the science in the report is still accurate.”

In fact, the report—which concluded that formaldehyde can cause leukemia and nose and throat cancer—was completed by EPA scientists a year before Wheeler testified, according to a Senate investigation, and their conclusion was hardly a surprise. Both the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the US Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program have already classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

The EPA’s review process normally takes 60 to 90 days. The formaldehyde report has been in limbo for at least a year and a half, a blatant giveaway to the American Chemistry Council, the US chemical industry’s premier trade association, which has blocked tighter restrictions on formaldehyde for decades.

7. Ignored EPA scientists’ advice to ban asbestos

Instead of heeding the advice of agency scientists and lawyers to follow the example of 55 other countries and ban asbestos completely, the EPA announced in April that it would tighten restrictions on asbestos—not ban it—despite overwhelming scientific evidence of its dangers. Manufacturers will be able to continue to use the substance if they obtain EPA approval.

Asbestos has not been produced in the United States since 2002, but is still imported for use in a wide range of commercial and consumer products, including auto brake components, roofing, vinyl floor tile, fire-resistant clothing, and cement pipes, sheets and shingles. One of the deadliest known carcinogens, asbestos kills nearly 40,000 Americans annually, mainly from lung cancer.

8. Weakened the mercury emissions rule

In late December, the EPA proposed to significantly weaken a rule restricting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by recalculating its costs and benefits. The Obama EPA, which issued the rule in 2011, estimated it would cost utilities $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually to install pollution controls and lead to $37 billion to $90 billion in health benefits by reducing not only mercury, a potent neurotoxin, but also sulfur dioxide and soot, thus preventing 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and as many as 11,000 premature deaths. The Wheeler EPA ignored the “co-benefits” of limiting sulfur dioxide and soot, and flagrantly lowballed the health benefits of curbing mercury alone at only $4 million to $6 million annually.

Most utilities have already complied with the mercury rule at a fraction of the estimated cost, but health advocates fear that this new, industry-friendly accounting method, which makes it appear that the cost to polluters far outweigh the rule’s benefits, will set a precedent for the EPA to sabotage an array of other public health protections.

9. Slammed vehicle emission rules into reverse

Last August, the EPA and the Transportation Department issued a proposal to freeze vehicle tailpipe pollution and fuel efficiency standards, rolling back a 2012 Obama-era rule requiring automakers to boost passenger vehicle fuel economy to a fleetwide average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “Make Cars Great Again” published a few days before the two agencies announced their proposal, Wheeler and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao charged that the Obama-era standards—the first to limit vehicle carbon emissions—are too burdensome for automakers and “raised the cost and decreased the supply of newer, safer vehicles.”

Parroting the Trump administration’s line of reasoning, Wheeler and Chao argued that fuel-efficient cars—which weigh less than gas-guzzlers—are not as safe, a contention that has been widely debunked. In fact, a 2017 study concluded that reducing the average weight of new vehicles could result in fewer traffic fatalities.

In any case, freezing the standards at 2020 levels would be hard on the planet, not to mention Americans’ wallets, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. It would result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040, amounting to 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone—the equivalent of the annual output of 43 average size coal-fired power plants. It also would cost drivers billions of dollars. In 2040 alone, they would have to pay an additional $55 billion to fill their gas tanks. Meanwhile, the design improvements automakers have made so far to meet the standards have already saved drivers more than $86 trillion at the pump since 2012, and off-the-shelf technological fixes, the Union of Concerned Scientists says, would enable automakers to meet the original 2025 target.

10. Rescinded the Clean Power Plan

Perhaps Wheeler’s most damaging move to date came late last month when he signed a final rule to repeal and replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have required coal-fired power plants to dramatically cut their carbon emissions. Yet another gift to the coal industry, Wheeler’s so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule grants states the authority to determine emissions standards but sets no targets, leaving them the option to do absolutely nothing.

Before Wheeler released the final rule, an April study in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that his draft version would boost carbon emissions in 18 states and the District of Columbia and increase sulfur dioxide emissions in 19 states. The EPA’s own analysis of the draft rule, meanwhile, found that the proposal could have led to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to an increase in soot, and as many as 15,000 cases of upper respiratory problems.

Reversing decades of bipartisan protections

If Wheeler truly cared about transparency, he would petition the Trump administration to change the name of his agency to “Every Polluter’s Ally.” In just 12 months, he has killed or weakened dozens of safeguards with the sole intention of bolstering polluting industries’ profit margins even after Congress slashed the corporate tax rate. As a result, millions of Americans will be drinking filthier water and breathing dirtier air, and more will suffer from serious diseases, according to his agency’s own accounting.

Wheeler and his predecessor Pruitt have sullied the bipartisan track record of one of the nation’s agencies entrusted with protecting public health and safety. So it is little wonder that three former EPA administrators who, notably, served under Republican presidents, recently sounded the alarm on Capitol Hill, urging legislators to step up their oversight of the agency and denouncing its attempts to hamstring science.

“There is no doubt in my mind that under the current administration the EPA is retreating from its historic mission to protect our environment and the health of the public from environmental hazards,” former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who served under President George W. Bush, stated in her written testimony for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “This administration, from the beginning, has made no secret of its intention to essentially dismantle the EPA…. Therefore, I urge this committee, in the strongest possible terms, to exercise Congress’s oversight responsibilities over the actions and direction of the EPA.”

Congress Investigates Rollback of the Clean Car Standards – an Epic Oversight Hearing

Photo: nsub1/Flickr

The House Energy and Commerce committee held its first oversight hearing on the soon-to-be-rolled-back fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards on Thursday, June 20.   The hearing highlighted how the rollback will be bad for consumers, the environment, health, and energy security – you can read more about the hearing set up in my colleague Dave’s curtain raiser blog, and Rep. Schakowsky does a nice job of setting up what’s really going on in her opening statement.

But the night before the hearing, Committee leaders called attention to the real beneficiaries of the rollback and officially launched an investigation into Big Oil’s covert campaign supporting the rollback, which was originally exposed in a blockbuster New York Times report late last year. The committee demanded answers on the coordination between the administration and  Marathon Petroleum, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Legislative Exchange Council, Energy4US and Americans for Prosperity. Those answers are due on July 3 – we will see if these entities comply with the Committee’s request.

The hearing

While we await those answers, the hearing provides some fascinating background about the machinations behind this ridiculous rollback. Some quick numbers:

  • 10 – There were ten (10!) witnesses at this hearing. There were two testifiers from the Trump administration, Bill Wehrum, (now outgoing) Assistant Administrator of EPA, and Heidi King, Deputy Director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Department of Transportation.  Mary Nichols, the Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), also testified on the second panel, along with witnesses from the United Auto Workers, Consumer Reports Advocacy, the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, Colorado Department of Transportation, the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the Louisiana Attorney General, and others.
  • 5 – Between opening statements, documents for the record, testimony, questioning, and drama, the hearing lasted more than five hours.
  • 17- About two weeks before the hearing, 17 of the world’s largest automakers, including Ford, General Motors and Toyota (many of whom are represented by the Alliance, who was a witness), sent letters to the Trump administration (also a witness) and California (also a witness), told the administration that their plan to rollback cleaner cars standards would reduce profits and create “untenable” instability in the auto manufacturing sector, promoting calls for parties to resume negotiations, which were summarily stopped by the Trump administration earlier this year.
  • 2 – As is typical, the hearing was split into 2 panels – the first panel was the administration officials and the second panel was everyone else. There was a little drama on this front though…..
The Wheeler letter

Mary Nichols, the Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), should have been sitting at the table with the administration witnesses, as California is (should be) an equal partner in setting the standards. However, the EPA was committed to undermining her at every turn.  Bill Wehrum refused to sit with her on the same panel.  While sparks were flying about this detail in the hearing room (with the Democrats arguing that Mary Nichols should have been on the first panel and Republicans arguing that she shouldn’t be sitting with administration witnesses), EPA Administrator Wheeler – who was not in the room – found a way to chime in.

David Shepardson tweeted out a letter from EPA Administrator Wheeler addressed (only!) to the minority (Republican) committee members. In the letter Administrator Wheeler basically called Mary Nichols a liar, said that her testimony was not truthful (!!), and accused her of “irresponsible testimony about conspiracy theories that ‘the oil industry drove this action’.” Again, this is the morning after the committee sent letters to oil industry members to disclose their involvement, based on evidence they had been communicating with the administration about this rule.  Having this letter drop as the hearing was starting made the hearing kick off rather strange, AND from all of the public statements we have seen, the content was absolutely inaccurate.  The (untrue) content of the letter was referenced multiple times during the hearing, both by Wehrum and by some Republican Committee Members.

What did the administration say?

The real fireworks of the hearing occurred while Wehrum and King were testifying.   They both made rather predictable (and untrue) statements about how the proposed rollback is actually good for people, said that everyone at both agencies are working together (even though there is ample evidence that EPA technical staff have been frozen out of the analysis), blamed California for stalled negotiations – it was the same stuff we have been hearing for over a year now.

But the back and forth with the Reps was still fun.  Here’s a sampling of some of the lines of questioning that the witnesses had to respond to (the number in parentheses is the district each Rep represents in their state) –

  • Schakowsky (D-IL-9) noted that the analysis that NHTSA relies on to say that mandating more efficient cars actually has dramatic negative safety consequences is untested and unproven – she asked Wehrum if EPA really signed off on it.
    • Bill Wehrum’s answer was that EPA had talked about it and they believed that the rule would save lives (refuted by the fact that EPA had to put their critique of NTHSA’s model in the official record during interagency review – an unusual move). He went on to simultaneously mansplain and brush off Rep. Schakowsky by saying that that the safety analysis was “very complex”.
    • Schakowsky’s answer to this was perfect – she noted that garbage in equals garbage out when modeling, demonstrating her understanding of complex issues.
  • Matsui (D-CA-6) talked about the importance of state authority and asked Bill Wehrum specifically about the administration’s intent to revoke California’s waiver to regulate tailpipe pollution – an authority the state has had since the enactment of the Clean Air Act, and an action that no administration has ever proposed.
    • Bill Wehrum refused to acknowledge that a waiver granted to California to regulate emissions has never been revoked, while in reality over 100 waivers have been granted to date and none have ever been revoked.
  • Dingell (D-MI-12) mostly wanted to get the Trump administration awe nd CARB back to the negotiating table and asked if EPA would restart negotiations if CA was willing to.
    • Wehrum said he would do what the President wanted him to do.
  • Blunt-Rochester (D-DE) asked why NHTSA wasn’t working on rules that would actually increase the safety of vehicles – like side restraint standards and side impact testing for car seats.
    • King said that rulemakings are complicated and they issue them when they’re ready (nevermind that NHTSA is many years overdue for several safety rules, as was noted by former Deputy Administrator David Friedman on the second panel).
  • Chairman Pallone (D-NJ-6) DeGette (D-CO-1) probed Bill Wehrum’s potential conflicts of interest as he is under investigation about his work with his former clients in the oil industry – they asked specifically about the rollback – he didn’t recall any meetings and didn’t know if any of his staff had meetings with these groups.*
    • Bill Wehrum refused to say he would definitely get the list of meetings to Rep. DeGette, instead saying that he would take the request back to EPA’s Office of Congressional Affairs.

*As an epilogue to this section – it’s worth noting that on Wednesday June 26, Bill Wehrum announced that he was stepping down from EPA – apparently because the ethics probes by both the EPA inspector General and the House Energy and Commerce Committees were having detrimental impacts on his former employer,  Hunton Andrews Kurth, a law firm where he represented power sector and energy and gas clients who were mostly fighting against regulations.

The main theme

One of the things that we heard over and over again was that most people don’t want the rollback of the standards, as the administration has proposed.  Representatives, both Democrat and Republican, the United Auto Workers, the Alliance of Auto manufacturers, the head of the Colorado Dept of Transportation – everyone wants the Trump administration to cease and desist with their relentless rollback of the popular and effective fuel economy and global warming pollution standards and go back to the negotiating table with CARB to find a solution that strengthens the standards.

Following the hearing, bipartisan letters were sent to the agencies and California, urging them to restart negotiations.  These letters were signed by Reps. Dingell and Tonko from the democratic side and Reps. Upton and Shimkus from the republican side.

While a negotiated outcome could be better than what we’re facing, particularly if it eliminates the administration’s attack on the Clean Air Act and state authority, the devil is in the details. As my colleague Dave has pointed out, the proposals that automakers put into the record are still a lot weaker than the existing standards—if that’s an indication of what a negotiated settlement looks like, that’s not much of a victory for the American public.

Moving forward, it will be critical that Congress continue to press the administration on its bad modeling and even worse proposals—strong oversight is needed to get the administration to uphold its Congressionally mandated responsibilities to protect public health and welfare and improve energy efficiency. The Energy and Commerce hearing is a good public display of the committee’s interest in this issue, and the letters that they sent to the oil companies and oil-funded front groups shows that they aren’t letting go of this issue any time soon.  We will continue to share our analysis and expertise in this issue and look forward to learning more about the committee’s work over time.  Ideally this level of interest stops the Trump administration from finalizing the rule as it was originally put forward in their proposal, and Congress will continue to play an important role in continuing to hold their feet to the fire.

Photo: nsub1/Flickr

Who Breathes the Dirtiest Air from Vehicles in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic?

Photo: frankieleon/Flickr

Most people know that cars, trucks, and buses  from our highways and city streets are a significant source of air pollution.  While pollution from transportation impacts all communities in the region to some degree, the people who face the greatest exposure to transportation pollution are those who live near highways, along major freight corridors, and in urban areas.

To help understand exactly which communities bear the greatest burden and breathe the highest concentrations of this dangerous air pollution, we used a computer model to estimate the amount of fine particulate matter air pollution (known as PM2.5) created by on-road vehicles that burn gasoline and diesel. The findings, which  are not likely not to be a surprise to many residents, are quite troubling: they show that people of color disproportionately breathe dirtier air than white people do:

  • On average, Latino, Asian American and African American residents are exposed to more PM5 pollution from cars, trucks, and buses than white residents of the region. These groups are exposed to PM2.5 pollution 75, 73, and 61 percent higher, respectively, than white residents.
  • Almost one-fifth of the region’s 72 million people live in census tracts where PM5 pollution levels are more than one-and-a-half times the average of the state where they live; more than 60 percent of the residents of those tracts are people of color.
What is PM2.5 and why is it important?

The science is clear: no level of particulate matter is safe to breathe, says the American Lung Association. While fine particulate matter – referred to as PM2.5 – is not the only air pollutant that adversely affects health, it is estimated to be responsible for approximately 95 percent of the global public health impacts from air pollution. Breathing PM2.5  is linked to increased illness and death, primarily from heart and lung diseases.

These minuscule particles are only visible to the naked eye when their concentration in the air is high, such as when a truck belches black smoke. They include particles smaller than 2.5 millionths of a meter in diameter – at least 20 times smaller than the diameter of fine human hair— so they can penetrate deep into the lungs. The ultrafine particles  – smaller than 0.1 millionths of a meter – are particularly dangerous, as some can enter into the bloodstream.

Chronic exposure to PM2.5 causes increased death rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, and has been linked to other adverse impacts such as lung cancer, reproductive and developmental harm and even diabetes and dementia. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 in children has also been linked to slowed lung-function growth and development of asthma.

PM2.5  is formed in many ways. A significant source of PM2.5  is fuel combustion. The combustion engines of cars burn gasoline and diesel. Power plants burn natural gas and other fuels to produce electricity. Burning wood for cooking and in residential fireplaces, as well as wildfires, are some examples of biofuel combustion.  To make things worse, not only does burning fossil fuels and biofuels produce PM2.5 directly, but the combustion reaction also emits gases such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds that go on to form additional PM2.5 through complex chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Because there are so many ways in which particulate matter is formed, you may ask yourself if some pose more health risks than others. Indeed particles can bind with bacteria, pollen, heavy metals, elemental carbon, dust and other building blocks, and so have a broad range of effects on human health. But size is one of the most important factors, and PM2.5  is responsible for a very heavy burden of disease, disability and death.

Greater pollution for people of color

We estimated exposure to PM2.5 pollution using a recently developed model from the University of Washington and data from the US Census Bureau. This model allows us to calculate how vehicle tailpipe and refueling emissions ultimately lead to ground-level pollution exposure, so we can understand how exposure to PM2.5 varies among groups and locations.

The results are clear: PM2.5 pollution burden from cars, trucks, and buses is inequitable when looking at the exposure experienced by racial and ethnic groups in the region. Looking at the region as a whole, Latino residents are exposed to 42 percent higher PM2.5 concentrations than a person breathing polluted air equivalent to the state’s average PM2.5. Asian Americans and African Americans experience concentrations 42 percent and 40 percent higher, respectively, than the average resident (Figure 1).  At the same time, white residents have an average exposure that is 19 percent lower than the average for the region. This means that, on average,  Latino, Asian American and African Americans are exposed to more PM2.5 pollution 75, 73 and 61 percent higher, respectively, than white residents.

Figure 1. Disproportionately High Exposure for People of Color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Note: This analysis uses the following US Census Bureau–defined racial groups: White; Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; Hispanic; Latino; and Some Other Race. In the chart above, Latino includes census respondents who select Hispanic, Latino, or both; Other Race includes respondents who select Some Other Race as their only race.

When we zoom in to the census tract level, defined as an area with approximately 4,000 people, pollution inequity is just as evident as the inequity we see at the regional level (Figure 2). In census tracts with low pollution and cleaner air (where average annual PM2.5 concentrations are less than half of the state average), whites make up 85 percent of the total population, although they constitute less than two-thirds of the total population in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. In contrast, more people of color live in census tracts where pollution is more than one and a half times the state average. In these areas, people of color constitute slightly more than 60 percent of the population, compared with about 35 percent of the regional population.

Figure 2. PM2.5 Unequal Exposure in Different Pollution Areas. Note: Each column refers to census tracts in areas with similar PM2.5 pollution concentrations. The columns show the fraction of people belonging to each of eight racial groups living in those areas. The least polluted areas are on the left and the most polluted on the right. The 0–50% area refers to census tracts where PM2.5 pollution is less than half the regional average, the 50–100% area refers to tracts where pollution is from half the regional average to the regional average, etc. The column at the far right shows the region’s racial composition.

We were also curious about the inequities in air pollution relative to income distribution, and found that exposure inequities are more pronounced between racial and ethnic groups than between income groups. Disparities based on income are not significant because the fractions of people in each income bracket are distributed fairly evenly over areas with different pollution levels.

Pollution also varies across the region

Of all the states in the region, New York ranks highest in the region in average PM2.5 concentration from on-road vehicles, followed by Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, all of which have averages higher than the regional average. Pennsylvania holds a close fifth place (Figure 3).

Figure 3. PM2.5 Exposure Varies Greatly across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Note: Metropolitan areas in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have many areas with PM2.5 pollution at least twice as high as the regional average. There is much variability between exposure in urban and rural areas of all states.

But averages can be deceptive, and so looking at the range of PM2.5 concentrations within each state paints a clearer picture. Even if a state average is low, pockets of racial and ethnic inequity pop up frequently in the analysis, showing that very high concentrations may afflict some areas, many of which are located near junctions of major highways.

For example, New York State has the census tracts with the highest PM2.5 concentrations in the entire region. These tracts are in the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. The Philadelphia area also has very high PM2.5 concentrations compared with the Pennsylvania average: pollution in the state’s dirtiest census tracts is more than three times as high as Pennsylvania’s average. On the other hand, Washington, DC, has a higher average than New York State’s because it is urban – but the most polluted air in the District of Columbia is only about two-thirds the concentration of the most polluted areas in New York State.

New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the region’s three most populous states with a total of 41.4 million people, have higher PM2.5 averages than the other states. In other words, almost 58 percent of the region’s population live in states where the average pollution from on-road vehicles ranges from 94 percent to almost 150 percent of the regional PM2.5 average.

In New York State, one-third of the population experiences PM2.5 pollution levels that are more than 150 percent of the state average. Because New York is the region’s most populous state, this higher level of pollution affects 6.3 million people, almost 70 percent of whom are people of color. The most polluted census tract in New York State is in Morris Heights in the West Bronx, at the juncture of interstates 95 and 87. This neighborhood is 70 percent Latino and 29 percent African American – and only 0.2% are white.

In Pennsylvania, while the state is 78 percent white, the areas where this pollution is less than half the state average are 93 percent white; the areas where it’s more than twice the state average are only 42 percent white. Even though the state’s average pollution level is slightly lower than the average for the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, the state has the second most polluted census tract in the region, just below the pollution level of the worst census tract in the region, in the West Bronx of New York City.

Massachusetts is another state where the state average can be deceptive. Residents of Suffolk County, where Boston is located, experience pollution levels that are almost twice as high as the Massachusetts average. In the two most polluted census tracts in the state, which are in downtown Boston, encompassing Chinatown, inequity is blatant: 70% of the population consists of people of color.

There are many such pockets of inequity throughout the region.

What is to be done?

Clearly air pollution from on-road transportation such as diesel and gasoline vehicles places significant, inequitable and unacceptable health burdens on residents of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. This inequity reflects decades of local, state, regional, and national decisions about transportation, housing, and land use. Decisions concerning where to construct highways, where to invest in public transportation, and where to build housing have all contributed to a transportation system that concentrates emissions in communities of color. In many cases, transportation policies have left those communities with inadequate access to public transportation, divided by highways, and exposed to air polluted by congested highways serving suburban commuters.

We have the tools and the technologies to transform our transportation system away from diesel and gasoline and toward clean, modern, equitable solutions. With targeted actions in electrification and clean fuels, the region can save more than $30 billion by 2050 and save thousands of lives.

Electrification of vehicles, both passenger and freight, could greatly reduce emissions. Battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, with the exception of minor amounts of PM2.5 emissions from tire and brake wear. Not just that, but these vehicles eliminate emissions associated with refueling. The electricity used to charge the vehicle can produce some emissions from electricity generation, but it’s critical to remember that these emissions are lower than those of an average gasoline car, even if it charges in coal country, and emissions vary depending on the location where the vehicle is charged. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, along with investments in solar, wind, and other renewable electricity resources, has greatly reduced emissions from electricity generation.

Significant new funding is necessary to expand access to clean transportation in these communities, as are strong regulations that limit transportation emissions and put a price on carbon pollution. And the communities most affected by transportation pollution often have the fewest available resources.

In December 2018, nine states in the region and the District of Columbia agreed to create a regional, market-based program that would limit transportation emissions and invest in clean transportation.  They plan to use funds raised from pollution permits to make strategic investments in clean transportation. States should seek input from communities disproportionately burdened by transportation pollution and ensure that equity is a key consideration in both design processes and future investment decisions.

Specific investments that could reduce inequities include:

  • Investments in electric transit and school buses, with a priority on serving communities exposed to the highest levels of gasoline and diesel emissions
  • Expansion of electric vehicle rebate programs to provide financing assistance and larger rebates to low- and moderate-income residents
  • Utility investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with a priority on serving communities exposed to the highest levels of gasoline and diesel emissions
  • State programs that provide aid to municipalities to support clean transportation, with a priority on serving communities exposed to the highest levels of pollution.
  • While residents of the region can make a difference by choosing cleaner vehicles and driving less, much of today’s air pollution comes from sources outside the direct control of individuals. States need regulations, incentives, and other policies to reduce vehicle emissions, with equity and the meaningful involvement of affected communities as key considerations in designing policies and strategies to reduce pollution from vehicles.

States need to continue to reduce emissions, placing a high priority on actions that reduce the inequitably distributed burden of air pollution in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. This analysis provides important quantitative evidence of the need for and importance of such programs, and it can help inform and shape future actions to reduce pollution exposure and environmental inequities in the region.

Photo: frankieleon/Flickr Sources: US CENSUS BUREAU 2018; EPA 2014. Sources: US CENSUS BUREAU 2018; EPA 2014. Source: US CENSUS BUREAU 2018; EPA 2014.

Electric Airport Shuttle Buses Are Taking Off

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Today, California is expected to pass a standard that will transition airport shuttle buses to zero-emission battery and fuel cell electric vehicles.

While California established a standard for zero-emission transit buses last year, airport shuttle operators are distinct enough from public transit agencies that a different policy is fitting.

The shuttle bus standard covers an estimated 950 vehicles operating at 13 airports. Transitioning these buses to zero-emission technologies by 2035 will reduce global warming emissions by an estimated 35,000 metric tonnes CO2e per year, the equivalent of taking 7,400 of today’s cars off the road each year.

The operational characteristics of shuttle buses (i.e., fixed, short routes and stop-and-go operation) are well matched to today’s electric vehicle technology. There are already 14 companies that make over 30 different models of electric buses ranging from large transit-style buses to small shuttle buses.

And airports are beginning to adopt these vehicles. One hundred electric shuttle buses are on order or operating at 9 of the 13 airports in California that will be covered by the standard. Notably, San Jose recently unveiled 10 electric shuttle buses and Los Angeles is expected to receive 20 electric buses soon. There are already 16 off-airport electric shuttles taking customers between LAX and a nearby parking garage.

“Why bother?”

Some might say that 950 vehicles is small compared to California’s 1.9 million heavy-duty vehicles. Or that 35,000 metric tonnes of emission reductions isn’t that much compared to the state’s annual 430 million metric tonnes of global warming emissions.

It may look like a small step in the right direction, but there are several reasons this policy—and others like it—can be big leaps.

First, if we’re going to reduce carbon emissions and inequitable exposure to air pollution by electrifying as many or all of the vehicles on the road, we have to start somewhere and airport shuttles are well-suited to be an early adopter of electric technologies. In fact, the policy for airport shuttle buses is even stronger than the one now in effect for transit buses, requiring every bus purchased beginning in 2023 to be zero-emission for airports. Compare that to 2029 for transit agencies.

Second, we usually don’t get big policy shifts without passing small policies first. The good news is that bigger policies—covering all categories of heavy-duty vehicles—are in the works. Even when bigger policies are in place, it often takes smaller policies to further strengthen them.

Third, shuttle buses have a lot in common with trucks. Just look at the two vehicles on the top. One carries passengers and the other carries packages, but otherwise they are the same vehicle.

The same goes for the shuttle bus and box truck on the bottom. They have the same business in the front, just different parties in the back.

What this means is that electrifying shuttle buses will increase the availability and market for all electric trucks.

Finally, heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately contribute to global warming and air pollution compared to cars. Buses and trucks are large vehicles with large engines that consume more fuel per mile than cars. Electric buses offer zero tailpipe emissions and 75 percent lower global warming emissions on today’s grid in California compared to diesel and natural gas buses.

Replacing just one diesel or natural gas bus with an electric vehicle has the same effect as eliminating the emissions from several cars. As mentioned above, this policy’s transition of 950 buses to electric technologies will have the same effect (from a global warming perspective) as taking 7,400 of today’s cars off the road each year.

Policy details

The standard applies to shuttle buses serving all 13 major airports in California, including: Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), Burbank (BUR), Oakland (OAK), Ontario (ONT), Santa Ana (SNA), Sacramento (SMF), San Jose (SJC), Fresno (FAT), Long Beach (LGB), Palm Springs (PSP), and Santa Barbara (SBA).

The standard applies to both public and private airport shuttle buses, but only those with fixed routes less than 30 miles long. Types of vehicles falling under the standard include buses operating between airport terminals, rental car sites, off-site parking lots, or airport hotels. Door-to-door charter services, taxis, and ridehails (i.e., Uber and Lyft) are not included in this policy.

Under the standard, any airport shuttle bus purchased after January 1, 2023, must be a battery or fuel cell electric vehicle. Fleets must achieve the following percentages of zero-emission vehicles on the road by these dates:

  • 33 percent by December 31, 2027
  • 66 percent by December 31, 2031
  • 100 percent by December 31, 2035

With fuel and maintenance savings expected from electric vehicles compared to diesel, natural gas, and gasoline, as well as decreases in vehicle purchase costs, the standard is estimated to save $30 million across the state from 2020 to 2040.

Significant state funding is available to incentivize early action before 2023, providing savings above and beyond the estimated $30 million. California’s HVIP voucher program, for example, provides $25,000 to $160,000 in funding for the purchase of battery electric shuttle buses (depending on the vehicle size) to offset higher purchase costs.

This is just the beginning

With policies only for transit buses and airport shuttle buses, many types of heavy-duty vehicles remain ripe for electrification. Nearly every truck operating in an urban setting with a local operating radius is suited for electrification today.

California is currently working to: a) set standards for manufacturers to make electric trucks and buses, and b) set standards for fleets beyond transit and shuttle buses to purchase these zero-emission vehicles, such as refuse trucks, delivery trucks, and port drayage trucks.

UCS supports the standard for zero-emission airport shuttle buses. It is the result of more than two years of public meetings and significant analysis of the airport shuttle bus industry.

No single policy will solve all of our air quality and climate problems, but progress is the sum of all things, airport shuttle buses included.

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photos: Jimmy O'Dea, Thomas R. Machnitzki, and MobiusDaXter

Congress Is Pushing Back on the Trump Fuel Economy Rollback. Why Aren’t Auto Companies?

The administration considered a number of alternatives in its proposed rulemaking, though none would yield even half the benefits of the current standards. Proposals from automaker trade groups, it turns out, were not any better. Honda’s proposal represents the highwater mark for the industry, though it, too, falls well short of the current standards.

On Thursday, two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees are holding a joint hearing examining the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel efficiency and emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks. The witnesses include the regulators moving forward with this disastrous plan and at least one of the key state regulators opposing it, but one voice likely to be missing from the hearing will be the auto manufacturers themselves, who set this rollback in motion by requesting the President undo the rules in the first place.

Auto companies refuse to own their role in the rollback

The auto companies have recently tried a new tack in its media strategy to urge the public to forget its role in this mess, playing the woe-begone victim of an administration ignoring both science and the public interest in a letter to the President urging him to rethink the current proposal. And unfortunately, many in the media have adopted the frame precisely as the auto companies intended, painting a story of the letter as an indictment of the President’s policies.

Unfortunately, the media has the automakers’ letter all wrong—it shows nothing new, and certainly isn’t pushing back on the outcome. The auto companies once again asked for a bevy of carve-outs, loopholes, and weak standards. They may be trying to hide the rust under a new coat of paint, but it’s the same old jalopy they’ve been trying to sell since day one—the President is giving them exactly what they asked for, but it’s just they really wish his administration had crafted a more legally defensible escape hatch.

The telltale sign is in the automakers’ letter to California. In their letters, the auto companies whine about the lack of a 50-state standard as a result of the administration’s proposal, but if the auto companies were so concerned about the need for a 50-state standard, they’d acknowledge that we already have one on the books that’s saving consumers at the pump. Instead, they continue to beg California not to exercise its right to protect its citizens while trying to weaken those rules.

Auto companies aren’t the victims—consumers are

While one might want better from companies, it’s hard to be surprised. This is an industry with a history of fighting regulations at every turn. As Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research puts it, “They are looking out for their own best interest, as every company and every person does at the end of the day.”

Of course, that’s precisely why regulators must set strong standards—these corporations aren’t actually interested in the public good, and they certainly aren’t going to do it themselves. And as a result of the auto companies’ ask for weaker standards and an administration all too willing to give it to them, consumers are going to pay more for gas as we veer towards environmental catastrophe. Thanks, guys.

Updated analysis shows auto companies still asking for a rollback

As I wrote last year, the auto industry has been asking for a rollback at every turn, damn the consequences to consumers and the environment. To more accurately assess the impacts of the flexibilities requested by the auto companies and their trade groups, I’ve recently modeled how the various automaker proposals would affect future compliance strategies. For example, incentives for electric vehicles could encourage more deployment of electric vehicles, but weaker overall stringency disincentivizes all technology deployment—our modeling examines the interaction of these various requests and considers the trade-offs.

Even the most beneficial positions by major automakers would represent a step backwards from the standards we have today, even if the stringency of the underlying curves were left intact. Our latest analysis (in red) continues to show that the magnitude of some of these proposals for “flexibilities” are so large that they could erode the standards as much as the flat-line alternative preferred by the Agency we have noted here as a “rollback.”

The end result is not particularly surprising—our updated analysis falls smack in the middle of our previous estimates (Figure 1), meaning that while automaker proposals may not be quite as bad as we feared, they are also not as good as we had hoped.

Automakers and administration seem to be in alignment

Earlier this year, it was reported that the administration may adjust its proposal upward up to 0.5% improvement per year (Figure 2, Alternatives 2/3), slightly better than the original proposal but just 1/10th of the nearly 5% per year required under current standards. Even doubling such a weak proposal to 1% would do little to mitigate its adverse consequences (Figure 2, Alternative 4).

The administration considered a number of alternatives in its proposed rulemaking, though none would yield even half the benefits of the current standards. Proposals from automaker trade groups, it turns out, were not any better. Honda’s proposal represents the highwater mark for the industry, though it, too, falls well short of the current standards.

The Auto Alliance’s proposal falls right in line with such an adjustment by the administration in terms of its impact on emissions and fuel use…which is to say, not much improvement. Furthermore, its comments on the proposal included telling the administration how it could bolster its flimsy legal basis for the awful regulation that, when finalized, will inevitably wind up in court.

The Global Automakers’ proposal is better, but essentially amounts to exactly the same thing as is rumored the administration is putting forth, except starting a year later in 2022 instead of 2021. One more year of strong regulation may be better than nothing, but not much better.

Will automakers push for improvements or side with the administration?

Honda’s is the only proposal which goes beyond the proposals offered by the administration. While it would represent nearly a 30 percent loss in emissions from the current standards, that’s only half as bad as its trade association’s proposal, making them one of few automakers who are on the record supporting something better than the administration has offered. During EPA’s actions under then-Administrator Scott Pruitt which started this rollback fiasco, Volkswagen supported maintaining the current standards as-is, but they’ve gone quiet since. Only Tesla has been a consistently vocal advocate among vehicle manufacturers.

Given everything at stake, it is up to these and other automakers to distance themselves from the administration’s proposal right now–and not just by asking for a different, loophole-friendly standard that harms the environment to an equal degree. For example, if a company like Ford wants to tout its environmental bona fides, it should be working with California to press forward with the strong standards working for American consumers today, not collaborating with its trade group and the administration to erode them.

The administration is getting ready to finalize a proposal that will hurt the economy, undermine national security, and increase emissions. When this regulation inevitably winds up in court, it will be incumbent upon the auto companies to side with the states opposing this destructive policy. The auto industry supported rolling back these standards—they must now fight them or forever be associated with the negative repercussions on their consumers and the environment.

Here’s Why New York Should Pass the CCPA

Photo: Zach Miles/Unsplash

New York State is on the verge of passing one of the nation’s most ambitious economy-wide climate laws.

The Community and Climate Protection Act, or CCPA, would not only require New York to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2040, but also pave the way for the complete transition of New York’s economy to clean energy. The CCPA is the result of years of work by grassroots activists and leaders within the New York Renews coalition, demonstrating that with persistence and determination, momentum on the ground has the potential to achieve big things in climate policy.

Ensuring that New York is on a path to becoming a national climate leader is not only about the future – it’s about today, too. New Yorkers are already feeling the impacts across the state, from superstorms to extreme heat. With each passing year of inaction, we face increasingly dire threats from climate change.

Elected officials in Albany have only a handful of days left before the end of this legislative session, but we cannot afford to wait another year before ensuring that New York has a climate law on the books. If New York succeeds in passing this historic legislation, it will be critical that state officials take a hard look at the largest and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation.

Tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses are the largest source of pollution in New York, as it is throughout the United States, and is responsible for 43% of New York’s climate emissions. Transportation is also a leading source of particulate matter and other forms of toxic air pollution that harm the health of our communities every day, particularly communities near highways and ports.

Implementation of the CCPA must therefore include a big-picture vision for how New York builds a clean, modern transportation system that works for everyone. Here’s what we believe to be the essential components of that vision:

We should electrify everything

Electric vehicles (EVs) are here, and they are increasingly available in all models and vehicle classes. Electric vehicles are also awesome. It’s a better mousetrap. Electric engines use energy far more efficiently, which means a great automotive experience with lower costs for consumers. They have fewer moving parts, which mean lower maintenance costs and greater longevity. By plugging into the grid and managing EV charging strategically, we can power EVs with renewable energy, make our electric grid more efficient, and help facilitate the transition to renewable energy.

But the better mousetrap doesn’t always win in the constrained market for vehicles. Gasoline and diesel vehicles still have major market advantages, in terms of infrastructure, consumer expectations, and upfront vehicle cost. Transitioning the 11 million vehicles operating in New York to electric vehicles will be a challenge that requires more ambitious policies. We need to build out the infrastructure that makes keeping an EV fully charged even more convenient than filling up at a gas station. We need to expand incentives to reduce the upfront vehicle cost for consumers, especially low- and moderate-income consumers and rural residents who currently cannot afford an EV. And we need to do more to make the buying of an EV a simple and easy process for consumers.

Electric vehicles are not only a solution for passenger vehicles, but also for heavy duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. We commend New York City for their commitment to achieve the complete electrification of their transit bus fleet by 2040 and we encourage other cities and RTAs operating in New York to make similar commitments. New funding from New York State could help transit agencies and fleet operators replace diesel engines with zero-emission alternatives, which in turn would help reduce fuel and maintenance costs and improve service for riders.

We should invest in alternatives to driving, through improved public and active transportation

Electrification alone cannot solve all the problems impacting New York’s transportation system. We also need to do more to provide New Yorkers with alternatives to driving, through enhanced public transportation, and improved infrastructure for walking, biking, and micromobility solutions such as electric scooters.

This year the legislature took a big step toward improving public transportation in the New York City metro area by approving congestion pricing and allocating significant new resources to the MTA. But we know that we need to do more to fully fund the national treasure that is the MTA and make it the first-class public transportation system New York City needs and deserves. And we also know that we need to do much more to improve public transportation services throughout the state. All New Yorkers deserve to be able to get where they need to go without a car, regardless of where they live.

We should build more affordable housing near public transportation

Issues of transportation emissions and congestion are inextricably linked to housing and land use. People want to live in neighborhoods that have strong public transportation services – if they can afford it. But for many low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, finding affordable housing close to public transportation is impossible. Expanding public transportation services to new communities without investing in affordable housing can inadvertently encourage gentrification. Climate policy in New York should look to expand the production of permanently affordable housing near public transportation so that more New Yorkers can get to work and the places they need to go without driving.

Solutions should focus on communities shouldering the greatest burdens from transportation pollution

Pollution from transportation impacts all communities in New York, but the communities suffering under the weight of the greatest burdens are those near major traffic corridors, highways, and ports. These impacts fall disproportionately hard on communities of color. For example, in the Bronx, where over 70% of the population is non-white, over 20% of children have asthma and the rate of asthma-related deaths is over three times the national average. We believe that the current CCPA language directing 40% of funds towards solutions in disadvantaged communities would be a good start and a potential model for other states looking to solve transportation challenges in these communities.

We should create a market-based limit on transportation emissions

The CCPA would also authorize one of the most important tools in achieving limits on emissions from transportation and other sectors: a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New York State already participates in one market-based climate program: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI works by setting an overall cap on emissions from power plants, requiring polluters to purchase allowances based on their emissions, and investing the proceeds from those allowance sales in efficiency and clean energy. RGGI, together with other smart programs like the Renewable Energy Standard as well as the switch from coal to gas, has helped put the Northeast region on track to reduce emissions 65% by 2030.

An expansion of this policy model into transportation fuels could create an enforceable limit on overall emissions from transportation and provide one source of funding for the investments we need in clean vehicles, public transportation, and affordable housing.

Our regional partners are at work on a policy that would build on the success of RGGI. Last December, nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic along with Washington DC made a commitment to design a market-based program similar to RGGI, covering transportation fuels through the Transportation and Climate Initiative. The CCPA would authorize New York State to join this important initiative.

Enact the CCPA

This is the time to act.

It has taken activists and champions years to get to this point, but today the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly have all indicated their support for ambitious and comprehensive climate legislation this session. It is important to get the details right, but it is also important to get this legislation done so that that hard work of implementing the CCPA can begin.

Photo: Zach Miles/Unsplash