Archive for the ‘Fuel Efficiency’ Category

Second Term Preview of Environmental Regulation

Photo by Carl Chapman, some rights reserved

In the next four years, the Obama administration will make its mark on energy and environmental laws, working through pending legislation and proposed regulation as well as considering further reforms in response to environmental and industry lobbying.

A Marten Law memo has the rundown on anticipated changes to energy and environmental laws. Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, well chronicled at the Green Mien, is likely to continue. Federal renewable energy programs have seen opposition recently, and the outcome of the pending battle of the wind energy production tax credit will be an early test of the Obama Administration’s policy. Either way, renewable energy growth is likely to be lower in the coming years as production of natural gas continues to increase.

Fracking, too, has contributed to the domestic supply surge, while prompting calls for closer regulatory scrutiny. In response, the Obama Administration has proposed regulation of fracking on federal lands, and EPA is studying the potential impact of horizontal drilling on drinking water.

Energy infrastructure questions are on the agenda, too. Most importantly, the Administration will decide whether to authorize a re-routed Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Proposals for coal and natural gas export terminals are making their way through state and federal agencies as well.

In the news this week is Obama’s stance on climate change, a topic he avoided during his election campaign. A second term will ensure that EPA will proceed with its plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under existing provisions of the Clean Air Act, a plan upheld last summer by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition, EPA is expected to release standards for greenhouse gas emission from power plants and refineries. Several challenges to air quality rules are still pending, though, notably the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Boiler MACT rule affecting industrial facilities.

At a press conference Wednesday, President Obama responded to a reporter’s question about his specific plans to address climate change. You should read his entire response here, but he made himself clear that ignoring jobs and growth simply to address climate change is not on his agenda: “I won’t go for that.” An agenda for job growth that includes making a dent in climate change, however, is “something the American people would support.”

In addition to air and energy policy previews, Marten Law’s memo has summaries of expected policy developments in natural resources and hazardous waste regulation.

EPA Uncovers Hyundai/Kia Mileage ‘Discrepancy’

Photo by Alex Proimos, some rights reserved.

Today, we get to see how the EPA can impact 900,000 people almost immediately – that’s the number of car owners across the U.S. who could be affected the agency’s recent findings. Hyundai and Kia will lower their fuel economy estimates for 2012 and 2013 models after EPA testing found discrepancies between the agency’s testing and the companies’ data of up to six miles per gallon, the agency reported last Friday. New labeling on most vehicles will reflect only a one to two mpg reduction.

EPA’s audit testing, which also ensures vehicles on the road meet tailpipe emissions standards, occasionally discovers that the mileage listed on vehicles’ labels is incorrect, and requires the manufacturer to re-label – but this has happened only twice since 2000. Between 150 and 200 vehicles a year are tested, some randomly and others targeted, based partially on consumer complaints. EPA received a number of consumer complaints about Hyundai’s mileage estimates, and after it observed discrepancies between Hyundai and EPA testing data, expanded its investigation into data from other models, including those made by Kia, of which Hyundai is a part owner.

Already, three lawsuits targeting the Korean automakers have been filed. One, filed in the U.S. District Court for Central California, is seeking class-action status and $775 million in damages. Hyundai and Kia, though, have proposed a reimbursement program that reimburses owners for the difference between how much would have spent on fuel had the stickers been right (based on odometer readings and the old mileage estimates) and the amount they actually spent (based on the new estimates), plus a 15% ‘inconvenience’ premium.

More Efficiency Standards, and Transportation Finance

Photo by Andrew Curtis. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a related measure, on Thursday President Obama issued an executive order to spur energy efficiency upgrades at manufacturing facilities across the country. Energy efficiency policy, put on the back burner for years, has hardly moved forward despite support from members of both political parties. Some of that support comes from DOE studies indicating that doubling the nation’s industrial efficiency could create 1 million skilled jobs and bring in $234 million of investment.

The directive aims to boost combined heat and power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, an increase of 50 percent compared with today. Agencies will craft best practices and help states encourage combined heat and power implementation. The administration said that reaching the goals outlined in the order would reduce energy costs by $10 billion annually in addition to attracting $40 to $80 billion in private investment.

Combining heat and power facilities to produce both simultaneously on-site is more efficient than having separate facilities. By burning less fuel, the combined heat and power technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers energy costs. By having a fuel source on-site, manufacturing facilities are protected from electricity outages.

Also in the news are the fiscal policy repercussions of the new vehicle mileage standards announced earlier, because the requirements will make less fuel tax money available for road construction and maintenance. The highway trust fund, which pays for a large portion of road projects, will take a $71 billion hit due to the requirements. Already included in the current transportation bill, set to expire in 2014, are tax loopholes and fee increases to cover a $10 billion shortfall in gas tax revenue. Expect to hear more about financing transportation projects as the gas tax brings in less revenue in the future.

 

 

 

 

White House Issues Landmark Fuel Efficiency Regulations

Photo by MJ/TR. Some rights reserved.

After much delay and hubbub, today the Obama Administration, via the Department of Transportation and the EPA, issued new final rules boosting vehicle mileage standards in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (we all know the drill by now).  The DOT and EPA’s joint mileage/carbon limit rules set two models, targeting a 34.1 MPG standard by 2016 for passenger vehicles and 54.5 MPG by 2025.

The DOT asserts that the issuance of these rules “will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads” and will save Americans “more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels,” which sounds like a positive in theory, but may well be met with some political opposition from Republicans who would claim that these rigid rules pose a threat to an American economy that’s struggling to get back on its feet as it is (Romney himself has criticized the standards as a “regulatory overreach,” though ThinkProgress points out that this is actually a reversal of his previous stance on fuel efficiency).

The standards have much in common with proposed figures that were issued last November which also required steady increases in fuel efficiency between the specified years. President Obama calls them “the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” Sierra Club President Michael Brune praised Obama’s bold actions as “the most significant…  by any President in history to move our country off oil.” As of now, there are only two American cars on the market that currently meet the standard: the Chevy Volt and the BEV FWD model of the Ford Focus.

Vermont’s Plan for 90% Renewable Energy

Photo by Andrew Curtis. Some rights reserved.

While Irene proved little more than a light rain shower where I waited it out in New Hampshire, Tropical Storm Irene launched a surprise assault across the Connecticut River in Vermont. The resulting damage shocked the state and people across the country, but Vermonters now see the potential to rebuild infrastructure in a smarter way. The state government is hoping to align local, regional, and state energy policies to support “resilient growth,” foster economic stability, and safeguard the environment.  New Governor Peter Shumlin led the effort to develop a Comprehensive Energy Plan, Vermont’s first in more than a decade, setting their sights on obtaining 90% of their total energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Vermonters have a history of thinking progressively about their energy. In 2011, they got 23% of their energy from renewable sources, compared to 14% across the U.S. (though Knowledge Mosaic’s home state of Washington’s number stands close to 80%).  Even before Irene, the state had set a goal of reducing energy usage in state government by 5%. And while proud of their efforts to increase efficiency and keep demand for electricity down, the CEP goes further.

Identifying oil and fossil fuels, which remain the backbone of heating and transportation, as particular areas of focus, the CEP emphasizes four drivers of progress: finance and funding, innovation, outreach and education, and regulatory policy and structures. Their goal is to consider all four areas in every energy policy.

A first priority of the plan is to promote efficiency and make progress metrics, while continuing to improve the structure for allocation and pricing of energy. It supports reducing household heating cost through building codes and biofuels, and recommends a plan to move transportation infrastructure towards supporting electric vehicles.

It is a bold vision. But even the state’s own overview of the program recognizes that they are a “state leading by example.” Vermont’s economy is the smallest in the U.S. But they hope to make progress they could not consider if not facing significant infrastructure repairs across the state, and maybe have an outsized impact on other states’ future decisions.

New Fuel Economy Guide Released by EPA and DOE

Photo by Ubi Desperare Nescio. Some rights reserved.

The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency both seemed very excited to announce the release of the 2012 Fuel Economy Guide, a consumer resource for determining the fuel efficiency of their current cars or cars-to-be. The guide is available as both a downloadable PDF version (for 2012 model vehicles) and an online interactive tool called Find-a-Car that covers vehicles model year 1984 to the present.

Some of the 2012 models in the guide may include the “new generation of labels” that the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been working on, though, officially, those labels are not required until 2013 models debut.

You can learn more about fuel economy in general at the DOE’s website: www.fueleconomy.gov.

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