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Savings May Come Soon Under New Fuel Economy Standard

Consumer group says 54.5 mpg by 2025 a win for drivers & car makers

Mark Blinch / Reuters

The new fuel economy standard gives automakers credits for using electric power and cleaner air conditioning systems.

Gasoline prices hit record highs in 2011 and for the first time last year, the cost of gas equaled or exceeded even the cost of owning a vehicle: on average, the roughly $2,800 dollars that a household spent at the pump was more than a year’s worth of car payments.

Crunching the numbers on a hypothetical new car purchase 13 years from now, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says what we’ll save in gas will more than cover the extra spent on new fuel-saving technologies — an $800 savings even at the end of a five-year loan.

What’s  different about this new fleet standard standard — 54.5 MPG by 2025, proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) — is what it means for the auto makers as well. Cooper says that by setting the standard far enough in the future, it gives car makers a reliable goal and enough time to work things out.

And it’s an “attribute-based” approach: it doesn’t tell carmakers to build smaller vehicles or different types of vehicles (like electric or alt-fuels), it just mandates the mileage standard itself and allows the manufacturers to come up with an individualized mix of vehicles and features to accomplish it. This is part of the reason you’re seeing more large hybrid SUV’s on the road, and why one of the most touted vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show this week was a V6 “eco-boost” Ford F-150 truck. The first five pages of this report from the Congressional Research Service has a good explanation and the back story.

The automakers get credits or allowances for attributes like electric power and cleaner air conditioning systems, so that 54.5 number works out to just under 40 MPG across a given manufacturer’s fleet. But CFA’s Cooper acknowledges that and still sees the new standard as “a landmark in U.S. Energy policy. They will be making fewer trips to the gas station when they get these vehicles,” he told reporters in a conference call today.

Now I’m just waiting to hear about the woman suing Honda in Small Claims Court down here in Torrance, California. She claims the automaker told her that the hybrid Civic she bought would get 50 miles per gallon. Not so, says the woman. An L.A. County Superior Court judge wants more info. Stay tuned.

How Plastic Trees Could Help Pull Carbon Dioxide Out of the Air

We know that real trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere — but fake trees?

Kimberly Ayers

And you thought plastic palm trees had no redeeming value...

A cheap plastic that removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere? “Yes,” says a team of chemists at the University of Southern California’s  (USC) Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, led by Nobel Prize winner George Olah. Science Now reports on their work with an inexpensive polymer called polyethylenimine or PEI.

But how to maximize its absorption capabilities? Olah’s team dissolved the polymer in a solvent and spread it out, peanut-butter-style, on fumed silica — you know, like the stuff in those desiccant packets in your electronics packaging (“Do not eat,” by the way).  It’s also used as a stabilizer for lipstick and other make-up.

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Is AB 32 Headed for the Rocks?

After all this, California’s global warming law may have hit a legal wall

Lawyers at the gates. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Oil companies couldn’t bring it down with a well-funded statewide ballot initiative. But the state’s landmark 2006 law to combat climate change by regulating carbon emissions might be undone by another of California’s major environmental laws.

Cara Horowitz reports for Legal Planet that a San Francisco superior court could set aside implementation of AB 32, finding that the “scoping plan,” the implementation strategy developed by the state’s Air Resources Board, does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA. Continue reading

The Other Effect of CA’s Clean Air Laws

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

By Andrew Freedman

Pollution reduction measures that were aimed primarily at reducing California’s notorious smog problem and improving public health, also helped cut emissions of black carbon — a key global warming agent — according to a new study published Tuesday.

Black carbon, more commonly referred to as soot, is an atmospheric particulate that scientists have shown to be a significant contributor to global warming. It is an attractive target for emissions reductions because relatively cost effective technologies to reduce it already exist, such as diesel particulate filters for trucks, and because unlike carbon dioxide (CO2), which stays in the air for decades to millennia, black carbon only remains airborne for days to weeks. Continue reading

Parks Chief: No “Free Ride” for Renewables

Renewable energy developers will get no special treatment in the National Parks, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis at McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park (Photo: Craig Miller)

Jarvis made the comment yesterday while touring Glacier National Park in Montana, with members of the Society of Environmental Journalists. “Renewables do not get a free ride,” said Jarvis, when asked about how the parks would treat development of renewable energy sources on park property.

Using the backdrop of Glacier National Park, where the remaining 25 glaciers (out of an estimated 150) are expected to disappear by 2030, Jarvis called climate change the most serious threat ever posed to the integrity of the park system. Continue reading

Prop 23: The View from Valero

Carbon dioxide is “not pollution,” say engineers for the nation’s biggest refiner.

Listen to Rachael Myrow’s radio feature on The California Report.

Valero's Benicia refinery in Solano County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Last week, as the campaign rhetoric for and against Proposition 23 was heating up, The California Report host Rachael Myrow and I spent an afternoon with three of Valero’s environmental specialists at the company’s refinery in Benicia, up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay. They briefed us on the refining process in some detail and drove us around the 400-acre refinery site, near the Carquinez Strait in Solano County.
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Major California Utilities Rejecting Prop 23

(Photo: Craig Miller)

While some oil & gas companies are behind it, none of California’s three major electric utilities appear to support Proposition 23, the ballot measure to upend the state’s comprehensive climate law, known as AB 32.

The growing list is a Who’s Who of the state’s electrical grid:

This week, Sempra Energy made it’s declaration against the measure, completing a sweep of the big-three utilities. Sempra is the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas Co., Sempra Generation, Sempra Pipelines & Storage and Sempra LNG. A Sempra spokeswoman told Climate Watch that the energy giant is against 23 because it’s for AB 32.  “AB 32 plays a critical role in helping California develop a low-carbon economy,” she said, and added that Sempra is “heavily invested” in clean technologies, like “smart meters” and the infrastructure designed to support mass adoption of electric vehicles in the next few years. Continue reading

California Oil Refiners Split on Prop 23

A Shell oil refinery in the aptly named town of Oildale (near Bakersfield) back in 2004. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times today runs down the list of California’s major oil refiners, which are also California’s biggest individual carbon emitters, and finds Tesoro, Valero, and Koch Industries  have not brought along their industry brethren in the fight to stop AB 32 with Proposition 23.

Prop 23 would suspend the 2006 law until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below and stays there for a year, something that’s happened three times in the last four decades, depending on how you count. Continue reading

Cow Power Not Cutting It

Cows at Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, California. (Photo: Sheraz Sadiq)

Last year, as part of a radio series on methane, I drove down to visit John Fiscalini, who was building a huge methane “digester” to convert his cows’ “byproducts” into clean energy, and reduce the carbon footprint of his sizable dairy farm and cheese factory outside Modesto.  After millions of dollars in design and construction costs, Fiscalini was fed up with state air and water regulators, who he felt were pulling him in different directions. A year later, have things improved? Not so much, as Quest’s Lauren Sommer found out, when she returned to the San Joaquin Valley for an update. — Craig Miller

Three years ago, KQED’s QUEST visited a Central Valley dairy that was taking an innovative approach to its waste problem. Instead of collecting thousands of pounds of cow manure in open holding ponds, Joseph Gallo Farms uses it in a renewable energy technology known as a methane digester. Continue reading

Feds to States on Global Warming Suit: Back Off

Navajo Generation Station. The place of coal in California's energy diet is shrinking, but that's not necessarily true for the rest of the country. (Photo: Alex E. Proimos via Flickr)

Bit by bit, the US Environmental Protection Agency is moving to limit the gases that scientists say cause global warming. Over five years, the agency is limiting auto emissions and is also requiring new industrial plants to use improved pollution controls

Sooooo, US Justice Department lawyers argue, California, seven other states, New York City and three land trusts should not be suing major utilities, demanding that they reduce global warming emissions.

In papers filed with the US Supreme court this week, Justice Department lawyers argue the authority to curb emissions that cause climate change belongs to the Environmental Protection Agency and to Congress. Continue reading