Monday, June 11, 2018

The precarious state of fuel economy policy

Rated at 25 mpg, the Toyota RAV4 is a good example of the average new personal vehicle now being
sold in the United States, emitting 5.2 metric tons of CO2 per year over 15,000 miles of driving.
 
Any day now, the Trump Administration will formally propose its revisions to the coordinated program of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for cars and light trucks. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has determined that the existing standards, set in GHG terms by the previous administration for model years 2021-25, are too tough. Everyone expects that the proposal will weaken the regulations; the question is by how much.

As a long-time analyst of automotive fuel economy policy, over the past few weeks I've written several pieces providing perspectives on the issue as linked here.

Even though it's not a good reason to weaken the standards, automakers do have a valid concern about low consumer interest in ever-higher fuel economy. The tension between what consumers desire and the need to cut GHG emissions is a problem to take seriously and address creatively. This challenge is discussed in my recent piece "Why aren't automakers connecting better with green-minded consumers?" in Automotive News.

A broader look at the regulatory dispute is given the piece, "After Years of Green Promises, Automakers Renege on Emissions Standards," published last week by Yale Environment 360. Hooking to visionary-sounding statements by GM's chief executive, it highlights the contrast between the automaker's promise of technological solutions and the efforts to fight the policies needed to bring such solutions to fruition. That's an old story in the long-running debates about clean cars. However, with automakers now able to exploit the empowered political hostility to the environment that they (and some other industries) cultivated over the years, progress may soon grind to a halt. My comments echo those of others who point out California's crucial leverage on the issue.

A concise take on this very point is given by my Axios Expert Voices piece, "Automakers struggle to head off the California–EPA legal battle," published earlier last week.

A couple of months back, shortly after Administrator Pruitt issued his notice about the process to revisit the CAFE and GHG emissions standards, I argued that "Stronger fuel standards make sense, even when gas prices are low" in The Conversation (and also republished by Salon and other outlets).

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Breaking down biofuels analysis

Debates about the merits of biofuels have gone on for at least a generation. Over time, one might think that the accumulation of data would resolve key issues, especially those about biofuels and global warming. Nevertheless, the arguments not only persist but have become even more heated.

What has taken things to a new level of contention is that some researchers (myself included) are now rethinking the heart of the matter, namely, the belief that biofuels are inherently carbon neutral. This is the assumption that the CO2 emitted when biofuels are burned does not lead to a net increase in emissions because the carbon in the biofuel is recycled during feedstock growth. My new paper, "Methodological issues regarding biofuels and carbon uptake" published in the journal Sustainability, breaks this aspect of the debate down to its bare essentials.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Stronger fuel standards make sense, even when gas prices are low

The current Republican administration is taking steps to weaken EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for cars and light trucks. One of the stated reasons is that lower fuel prices make it more difficult for automakers to comply with the regulations. However, car companies are already well on the way to re-engineering their vehicles to cut emissions through higher fuel economy. Fuel prices are a fickle friend when it comes to the crucial long-term quest to cut climate-disrupting GHG emissions. So that's all the more reason to keep strong standards in place, as explained in this recent piece published on The Conversation. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Biofuels vs. Biodiversity and the Need to Think Beyond Carbon Neutral

Seminar given at the University of Michigan, Thursday, February 8, 2018, as part of the 2016-2018 Beyond Carbon Neutral seminar series.

Download the presentation slides [PDF]

ABSTRACT

Just over a decade ago, policymakers gave a big boost to biofuels through the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and similar policies. These policies included sustainability provisions for protecting sensitive lands; the intent was to spur the production of advanced biofuels that would be sustainable in many ways including low CO2 emissions. Now, new studies appear each year revealing the destruction of diverse habitats as biofuel production amplifies the global demand for land. There have also been multiple bankruptcies of highly-subsidized advanced biofuel operations. What went wrong and how can we find a better path forward?