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California’s “Clean Car” Rules: A Historical Perspective

A leading transportation expert weighs in on California’s tough new emissions standards

Craig Miller/KQED

California's new emission standards would mandate a 15% increase in zero-emission-vehicles by 2025.

UPDATE: Today, California air regulators approved a package of “Clean Car” standards that many are calling historic. But there’s nothing new about that. California’s been out front in the clean car derby for decades.

In her recent story on QUEST, Lauren Sommer unpacks the proposed emissions standards. As part of her reporting she spoke with Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and a member of California’s Air Resources Board. Sperling puts the state’s new emissions standards in historical perspective, arguing that since the 1960s virtually all innovation in automotive emissions controls can be traced back to California. Here’s a snippet of Sommer’s conversation with Sperling. Continue reading

Not Connecting the Dots

grid_0295Two developments this week would seem to validate concerns that things aren’t quite lining up for the vaunted new age of renewable energy.

While the Secretaries of Energy and Interior were offering confident assurances to a Senate panel about the future of renewables, a consortium of environmental groups was suing them over a plan for major new transmission lines for the western electrical grid.

The groups, represented by lawyers at Oakland-based EarthJustice, produced their own maps to show that the proposed routes appear to miss many areas with the most potential for solar, wind and geothermal resources. Instead, environmentalists say the West-wide Energy Transmission Corridors approved under the Bush administration would seem to line up just about perfectly with major existing and proposed coal-fired power plants (note that the maps themselves are PDF downloads).

According to EarthJustice:

“The Bush corridors plan ignores the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) adopted by nine of the eleven western states to increase use of the region’s vast wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. The approximately 6,000 miles and 3.2 million acres of federal land in eleven western states designated as energy corridors puts imperiled wildlife at risk and slices or brushes against the borders of iconic public lands. Among these are Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arches National Park, and New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.”

I asked Katie Renshaw, a Washington-based lawyer for EarthJustice, if Energy and Interior wouldn’t have updated their plans since the Bush-era maps were approved. “As far as we’ve seen, they haven’t,” said Renshaw.  “An analysis was never really completed.”

The lawsuit comes just days after energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens revealed that he’s having to reconsider his plans for a major network of wind turbines through Texas. The reason: no transmission lines.

In California and elsewhere, proposed transmission lines have run afoul of environmental interests, as Rob Schmitz reported in his New Gridlock series for Climate Watch.

Update: Scott Streater has more on the controversy over siting renewables in a New York Times Greenwire post.

“Smart Grid” Getting Some Juice

img_3197_blogThe mainstream media’s beginning to catch up to the “smart grid” story; the grand plan to remake the nation’s electrical distribution system.

On Friday, NPR began a ten-part series; “Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid.” The reports will air on both of the network’s flagship programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

KQED’s Lauren Sommer set up the series earlier this month, with her backgrounder on emerging smart-grid technologies for Quest. Her report also includes a narrated slideshow, that includes a look inside PG&E’s version of “Mission Control.”

In March, Rob Schmitz previewed some of the challenges in his two-part series for Climate Watch, “Green Gridlock.”

And if you’re still “power hungry” after all that, Scott Pelley’s piece on the coal power industry is well worth a twelve-minute investment at the 60 Minutes website.