vehicle emissions

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California Holds Lead in Clean Car Derby

Air Board adopts landmark rules to curb emissions

The California Air Resources Board has unanimously approved sweeping new rules designed to facilitate the transition from gasoline-powered to electric and hydrogen-powered cars. By 2025, automakers are now required to produce 1.4 million “zero-emission” vehicles for the California market, a number that would make clean cars 15 percent of  all new car and truck sales.

Josh Cassidy

A Nissan all-electric Leaf in San Francisco.

The rules also require automakers, by 2025, to halve greenhouse gas emissions emanating from vehicle tailpipes, compared to current levels. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is considering similar emissions rules, as well as a new fuel economy standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

State regulators hope the new rules will lead to the widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles, which they say is critical for meeting California’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. That goal was established by executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger, and goes beyond the cuts mandated by California’s landmark  global warming law, AB 32. Continue reading

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

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.

CA, Capitol Republicans Lock Horns over Tailpipe Regs

Committee calls CA Air officials “unresponsive, ” suggests CA stepping on feds’ toes

Reed Galin / Lone Tree Productions

Updated Monday, November 28, 2011

For California Air Resources Board (ARB) chair Mary Nichols, pre-Thanksgiving prep meant responding to list of requests from Orange County Republican congressman Darrell Issa and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

As part of its expanding probe into how the newest Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were set, the letter asked for information about how California came up with its vehicle emissions standards and what role state officials played in developing the newly announced federal fuel economy standard. Continue reading

The Air Quality-Carbon Connection

I-80Here’s a news flash: California has an air pollution problem.  According to the American Lung Association’s 2009 State of the Air Report, 38 of California’s 52 counties get failing grades for either high ozone or particle pollution days.  (You can see your own county’s grades for ozone and air particle pollution at the State of the Air website.)

In fact, last month the federal EPA’s new director for San Francisco-based Region 9 made an astonishing claim on KQED’s Forum program. Jared Blumenfeld said that more Californians die from air pollution than from car wrecks. When a caller asked him to back up the claim, Blumenfeld provided the following statistics:

– Traffic-related fatalities: 3,949 deaths per year from 3,535 fatal collisions (average for 1999-2008)
– Deaths associated with PM2.5 exposure above 5 ug/m3 in California : 18,000 deaths per year

Cars are doing double duty in these statistics, since passenger vehicles are a large source of air pollution. Over the decades the state has addressed this fact with landmark efforts to regulate vehicle emissions, in efforts initially to improve local air quality and more recently, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a new study released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC),  researchers looked at two state priorities: reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and improving air quality to benefit public health, and evaluated the effectiveness of four potential transportation strategies to address both.

What they found is something that policymakers have known all along: there are no easy answers.  And everything involves a trade-off.

PPIC research fellow Louise Bedworth compared the cost, public health benefits, and GHG reduction potential for various alternative-fuel vehicles; battery-electrics, fuel cell, ethanol, and for reducing overall vehicle miles.  What she found is that transforming California’s vehicle fleet to battery-electric vehicles provides the greatest public health benefit, but that high costs and technological uncertainty make this option far from ideal.

On the flip side, said Bedsworth, while we have the technology for vehicles to run on corn-based ethanol, research shows that when indirect land-use costs are considered, corn-based biofuels provide no significant public health or climate change benefit.

But while the PPIC looks at local health and global warming effects separately, a new study out of Stanford has found that the two are directly linked. It’s well established that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and that increased temperatures can exacerbate air pollution, but the new study shows that CO2 “domes” that develop over urban areas are, in fact, causing health problems for city-dwellers.  The study, conducted by civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobsen, looked at models for the contiguous 48 states, for California and for the Los Angeles area. Results showed an increased death rate in all three areas compared to what the rate would be if no local carbon dioxide were being emitted.

Neither current regulations, nor the federal cap-and-trade bill passed by the House address the local effects of CO2 emissions on health.  Jacobsen says that this study provides evidence that they should.  He estimated an increase in premature mortality of 50-to-100 deaths per year from local CO2 emissions in California.

Jacobsen talks about his study in the video, below.