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Outlook from Biennial Conference on Transportation - Addressing the international transportation and climate demands
Outlook from Biennial Conference on Transportation
Transportation matters to CO2 but CO2 prices are too low to matter to transportation.
This statement was one of the views expressed by participants at the 12th Biennial Conference on Transportation, Energy and Policy hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies at U.C. Davis and held at Asilomar, Calif., in July 2009.
This meeting of transportation experts from around the world is an excellent source of current thinking on the issues of transportation and its role in global warming. Members of E2 have been attending this conference for several years (see 2007 Conference). For the last four years the conversations have increasingly focused on policies that will collectively cut greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and solve transportation problems. Click here for a list of presenters and their presentations.
Reducing the impacts of transportation on climate change is typically described as a “three-legged stool” of (1) improving the efficiency of the vehicles, (2) reducing the carbon content of fuels and (3) reducing miles driven. Over the last two years, for the first time, the U.S. made significant progress on all three fronts:
This is all within the context of a new Presidency and an Administration that is using economic stimulus funds to advance the dual goals of economic recovery and advancing low carbon solutions to transportation.
Transportation Needs Different Climate Policies
A price on carbon (e.g. cap and trade) has little effect on transportation as compared to other sectors. For example, a $20/ton price (the estimated price resulting from the Waxman-Markey Climate bill) on carbon translates to a 13 to 20-cent/gallon increase in gasoline; a price that will not cause significant change. On the other hand, if everyone in the developing world gets a car, there simply isn’t room for all of them! In other words, it is the immediate problems faced by transportation systems that are more likely to drive change than a carbon policy. Moreover, the price for carbon that would drive major changes in the electric sector is far lower than the price that drives changes in transportation. In summary, transportation matters to CO2, but CO2 price does not matter to transportation.
Improved Transit - Mexico City Bus Rapid Example
As with other developing countries, Mexico has seen a rapid increase in the number of passenger vehicles, going from 8.3 million in 1996 to 21.5 million in 2006 (a 9.6 percent annual growth rate). Mexico City made a significant improvement in transportation through the use of dedicated bus lanes (called Bus Rapid Transit - BRT). The implementation of BRT reduced travel time by up to a factor of two because people switched from car to bus to save time and because the reduced cars on the road improved circulation. Mexico City’s BRT consists of two lines, traveling a total of 50 km and carrying 450,000 people/day.
The carbon benefit from the BRT project was a reduction of 80,000 tons/year. The economic value of improved commute times, health benefits from reduced pollution and fuel savings dwarfs the economic value of carbon. In addition, changing the way people travel is much more cost-effective than changing their vehicles. According to the Centro de Transporte Sustentable in Mexico, saving a ton of carbon through BRT costs -$140/ton, that is it saves $140 for every ton of carbon reduction.
The conclusion we can draw from the case of the Mexico City BRT is that changes in transportation systems that in turn change behavior are more cost effective and more socially beneficial than technology improvements alone. The driving policy is not the carbon reduced. Rather the carbon reduced is a side benefit of better transportation.
The backdrop for the conference was President Obama’s May 2009 announcement of new federal automobile fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards, based on the California Clean Cars Bill (AB 1493 – Pavley). It is a significant mandate to improve fuel efficiency by 2016 to approximately 35 miles/gallon (mpg). By contrast, the standard for 2011 is 27.3 mpg. The standard represents unprecedented cooperation between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (responsible for GHG emissions), the Department of Transportation (responsible for fuel efficiency) and automakers, state governments and environmental groups.
Oil Prices Drive Consumer Behavior
The implied U.S. policy is to keep gas prices low. The political dialogue reflected this when, in summer 2008, gas prices reached $4/gallon. In the face of threats of electoral backlash, Congress is avoiding climate policies that have any significant effect on fuel prices. The EPA is forecasting an increase in gas prices of 13 cents/gallon in 2020 to 69 cents/gallon in 2050 from proposed national climate policy.
The chart at left shows monthly total miles traveled for the month of June in 2005 through 2008. Total miles traveled dropped from 260 billion to 250 billion when gas rose from $3.10/gallon to $4.10. Gas prices also affect drivers’ vehicle choice. In May of 2008, cars outsold light duty trucks (including SUVs) by 33 percent and gas was at $3.81/gallon. While vehicle efficiency is an essential part of the solution, the absence of a pricing policy on fuels is a major weak point in U.S. policy.
Gas Tax or VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) Tax
The previous discussion would argue for an increased gas tax or the use of a gas tax to set a floor price on gasoline and diesel (i.e. the floor would make sure that gas did not fall below a minimum price). The tax serves the combined purpose of influencing behavior and funding improvements in transportation systems. Many conference attendees felt that an increased gas tax, in addition to being politically hard, would be taxing the wrong thing and going against future trends. For example, electric vehicles do not pay any gas tax (even though they utilize and cause wear-and-tear to the same roads as gasoline vehicles) and some forecasts predict a significant shift towards electricity that would result in insufficient funds to maintain the transportation systems.
An alternative system would be a tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT). This has several policy advantages.
Oregon has one of the most advanced experimental programs and it provides some insights on how to administer a VMT fee (see presentation).
Low Carbon Fuels
The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) goes into effect in January 2010. It requires that both diesel and gasoline fuels reduce their carbon intensity 10 percent by 2020, which will reduce California’s GHG emissions 16 million metric tons, or about 10 percent of the total California reduction (see overview by Sonia Yeh & Dan Sperling). One argument in favor of the LCFS is that it forces technology innovation resulting in new, compatible fuels entering the market. By contrast, a tax or a cap on emissions with trading would allow fuels to remain the same while lower cost options such as emissions trading and offsets are used in the short term. We need to make progress on all sources of emissions. The LCFS provides a way of assuring early progress on fuels.
The most contentious issue with the LCFS is the way it deals with land-use policy and estimates the total GHG emission associated with production of biofuel crops. A presentation by Mark Laser of Dartmouth highlighted ways to minimize the land-use impacts.
The major energy companies all have large investments in specific low carbon strategies, including ExxonMobil in algal biofuels, Shell in cellulosic ethanol and BP in biobutanol. The competitors to liquid fuels include electricity and electric vehicles, and natural gas.
VMT Reductions and Smart Growth
VMT reduction was a major theme at this year’s conference. The “Moving Cooler” report by Cambridge Systematics analyzed the effectiveness, costs, benefits and equity of changing travel behaviors to reduce GHG emissions. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) presented their plan to reduce VMT from new growth by 10 - 30 percent per capita and GHG emissions by 15 - 40 percent per capita. The SACOG planning process was the model used for passage of SB 375 in California that sets targets for regional planning VMT and GHG reductions.
For every trillion-dollar increase in GDP, the U.S. can expect an additional 242 billion ton-miles in goods movement (see Winebrake page 6). Unlike consumers purchasing passenger vehicles, goods movement is highly sensitive to fuel costs and transportation companies will pay extra to get more efficient vehicles. One question is whether switching modes, for example from truck to rail, reduces GHG emissions. The answer is “sometimes, but not always.” A model (see Winebrake page 13) developed by the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Delaware estimates the GHG emission, cost and time of delivery for a variety of shipping options. Some goods are not time-sensitive and can be shifted. Others have specific reasons why they are transported in their current mode.
Transportation in the Developing World
There were several presentations (see Huizenga and Schipper) with some disquieting pictures and statistics on rapid increases in CO2 emissions from transportation in the developing world. In Mexico, for example, CO2 emissions are forecast to increase by a factor of 2.3 from 1996 to 2010. Vehicles emit 33.4 percent of total emissions in Mexico. The BRT demonstration discussed above is just the beginning of coming to grips with the problem.
The problems of time and fuel wasted waiting in traffic are worse in the developing world than in Mexico City as bicycles and motorbikes get exchanged for cars. Fuel efficiency standards may be strict in China, but the 15-percent annual increase of automobile use is overwhelming. The business-as-usual scenario predicts that in 2030 the developing world will have contributed 80 percent of the increase in emissions from the 2005 level.
As in Mexico City and Sacramento, the benefits of well-planned urban growth that includes strategic public transportation are much greater than the economic value of carbon savings alone. Unfortunately, the world is only beginning to develop the concepts and institution structures needed to address the combination of urbanization, economic development, climate policy and transportation.
In principle, the developing world needs to create cities like Curitiba (Brazil), Seoul or Singapore, where more that 70 percent of transportation is either non-motorized or public without an intermediate stage of mass adoption of automobiles. For example, in China there are more than 100 million battery powered bicycles and scooters, growing at 20 million per year. These vehicles produce one-twelfth as much CO2 pollution per passenger mile as cars and one quarter as much as a conventional motorcycles – and cost less than U.S.$500! There are probably many more ways to achieve sustainable urbanization than we have yet considered.
The Next Two Years
While there was no attempt at the conference to predict what will happen in the next two years, we will lay out what E2 expects to happen and correspondingly our areas of focus.
Efficiency – The Federal government will complete the process of implementing new national vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards. Concurrently, California and other states will move forward on the next set of Pavley standards that will include incremental improvements in traditional engines, performance standards for hybrids and some electrification. These will be completed in 2010 within a backdrop of industry concern about moving too quickly. For efficiency overall, the big unknowns will be the rate of electrification of vehicles and what vehicles consumers will choose. If oil prices continue their climb, consumers are likely to buy more fuel efficient vehicles.
Low Carbon Fuels – The LCFS will be adopted in California. Eleven northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States are considering a regional LCFS. Their adoption of an LCFS will put new pressure on Congress to create a national program. The European Union is also considering an LCFS. A discussion will continue in Congress over the role of the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard versus a LCFS and some members of Congress will continue to object to the way the LCFS computes the GHG emissions from land-use changes. Adoption of a national LCFS that supersedes the existing Renewable Fuel Standard will go a long way towards a policy of GHG reduction.
VMT reductions – The big opportunity for VMT reductions rests in two areas. The first is the Federal Transportation bill. If it can be changed to focus on VMT reductions and the corresponding reduction in congestion, it will set a long-term path for changing the way cities and regions are designed resulting in improvements similar to SACOG (above). The second area depends on the price of fuel. High fuel prices will make more compact and urban oriented houses more desirable and could change consumer behavior. A return to cheap gasoline will do the reverse. Replacing the fuel tax with a VMT tax is a long-term way to provide consistent pricing signals in a world of volatile oil prices.
The 2009 Asilomar conference recognized the significant policy advances that have been enacted in the last two years. A wide variety of incremental improvements are possible; however, our current rate of improvement is insufficient to solve the problem. The good news in the U.S. is that state efforts are paying off and the federal government is capable of accelerating change through the Administration and maybe even through Congress.
We conclude with two of our favorite quotes from the conference:
If you torture data long enough, they will admit to anything.
If the people at this conference haven’t figured it out, how can Congress?
Thanks to Tony Bernhardt, Dan Sperling and Roland Hwang for contributing to or reviewing this article.
Revitalizing E2's Northwest Presence
Clean Energy Business Forum in Ft. Collins
On September 1, E2 Rocky Mountains co-hosted the Clean Energy Business Forum, “Building on Success: Impacts of Federal Legislation for Colorado’s Clean Energy Economy,” at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. Over 85 people attended, including E2 Rox members, and staff members from the office of Representative Betsy Markey (D-4) and from the offices of Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Press coverage of the event included The Coloradoan and the Northern Colorado Business Report.
The panel of speakers included representatives from Vestas American Wind Technology, Abound Solar, Horizon Wind Energy, Bella Energy, Renewable Energy Systems Americas and E●On Climate and Renewables. The panel discussed the impacts of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and a federal renewable energy standard on Colorado’s clean tech sector and the state’s overall economy. The panel also thanked Representative Markey for her vote on ACES, and it emphasized the importance of passing climate/energy legislation in Congress. E2 Rox co-hosted the event with InterWest Energy Alliance, American Solar Energy Society, CO Cleantech Industry Association, Solar Nation, Namaste Solar, Horizon Wind Energy, Bella Energy, E●On Climate and Renewables, Mile Hi Solar, Abound Solar, CO Solar Energy Industries Association and Vestas American Wind Technology. Read the article from The Coloradoan’s coverage.
E2 Rox Chapter Leader Andrew Currie and a small team of E2 CO members, including Channing Arndt and Brian Propp, met with Representative Betsy Markey earlier this month to discuss the congresswoman’s work on pending climate/energy legislation. Our chapter continues to schedule meetings with CO public officials. If you are an E2 member and are interested in attending these meetings to represent E2 and the independent business voice for the environment – or for any other questions or comments about this chapter – please contact E2 Rox at E2RockyMountains@gmail.com or (303) 448-1951.
NY Climate and Transportation Event
Shai Agassi shared his bold vision as to how intelligent networks may enable the broad adoption of electric vehicles by making them cheaper and more convenient than traditional combustion engine vehicles. He provided a perspective on the global economy, the auto industry and also discussed his specific efforts working with Renault-Nissan and various foreign governments to bring his vision to market.
Ralph Cavanagh placed the efforts of entrepreneurs like Shai into a policy context. He discussed the history of policy successes and failures in the U.S. and how well-crafted policy can unleash innovation through companies such as Better Place and others. Current key policy initiatives include a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), a market-friendly, performance-based standard that aims to reduce carbon intensity and stimulate clean alternative fuel technologies. The low carbon fuel standard is being considered as a key part of the current climate legislation working its way through the Senate. The second key policy initiative is the next transportation bill, which may for the first time prioritize projects that reduce miles driven and lead to greater transportation efficiency and reduced carbon intensity. The bill will determine how $300-$400 billion of transportation infrastructure monies are spent over the next 4-5 years.
Opening remarks were followed by a lively session of Q&A from Shai and Ralph. One attendee described the evening as “scintillating.” Suffice it to say, says E2 New York Chapter Co-leader Chris Arndt, it was a “live theatre” on energy policy the likes of which Broadway has not seen. E2 would like to thank the Westin New York at Times Square for providing the venue for this event.
Lederer and Lubber in Boston
Mindy Lubber shared her experience working with corporations and investors moving toward sustainability. She emphasized that businesses are starting to realize that energy conservation throughout the supply chain is good for the bottom line. However, she believes the move to sustainable business practices would be dramatically accelerated if a regulatory framework provided certainty and a level playing field. Federal climate policy that sets a price on carbon will provide businesses with the right market signals to act, and we should seize the opportunity today. Both speakers agreed that comprehensive energy and climate legislation is vitally important this year to help deliver economic, energy and climate security, and put us in the right track for the UN climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
ACES is a Clean Energy Bargain
The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), passed by the House of Representatives this summer, is a win-win for our economy and our environment, according to data released September 17 by NRDC. The report, “A Clean Energy Bargain,” demonstrates that there will be more jobs, less global warming pollution and greater security under ACES and – importantly – at an affordable cost of less than a postage stamp per day for the average American household. The analysis projects clean energy investments to reach more than $300 billion by 2030, which implies tremendous job growth. Simultaneously, the implementation of ACES will decrease our oil imports through lower demand and increased domestic production using carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. The average cost of 25 cents per day for American households is consistent with analysis completed by the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), points out Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center.
NRDC Promotes Alternative Energy in Developing Countries
NRDC has announced its support of the Energy Development Program Implementation Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), that would help developing countries meet their energy needs with sustainable energy alternatives to both proliferation-prone nuclear energy and costly and dirty imported fossil fuels. The bill also calls for the development of an Alternative Energy Corps, similar to the model of the Peace Corps, which would employ large numbers of technically trained volunteers to support the identification and use of indigenous renewable energy resources in developing countries. Christopher Paine, director of the Nuclear Program at NRDC, praised the bill’s comprehensive approach that tackles the global threats of failing economies, climate change and nuclear weapons proliferation.
Agencies Propose First National GHG Vehicle Limits
The U.S. EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have announced a joint proposal for national greenhouse gas pollution standards for cars and trucks. The proposal will cut global warming pollution from vehicles by an aggressive 30 percent, improve fuel economy to an average of 35.5 mpg and save drivers thousands of dollars at the pump over the life of their vehicles. The new rules, which adopt the “size-based” standard favored by domestic automakers, will begin with 2012 models and mandate the fleet-wide efficiency improvements be fully in effect by 2016. The national limits on greenhouse gas emissions follow in the footsteps of California’s ground-breaking standards, on which E2 and NRDC worked for years. This proposal was preceded by President Obama’s historic clean car agreement announcement in May that was supported by car makers, states and environmental organizations.
Power Companies Accountable for Carbon Pollution
In a landmark decision, a Federal Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of eight states (CT, NY, CA, IA, NJ, RI, VT and WI), one city (New York) and two private land trusts that sued America's largest global warming polluters to curb their emissions. The court found in State of Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co. that five large electric power companies can be sued in federal court because the 650 million tons of carbon dioxide they emit each year are contributing to rising temperatures and a host of damaging impacts in other states, including heat waves, smog episodes, droughts and forest fires. Current NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner, formerly with the New York Attorney General’s Office, took a leadership role as the assistant attorney general for the state and David Doniger, Policy Director of the NRDC Climate Center, was also a very important figure in the litigation strategy.
An endorsement for judicial powers to protect citizens from harm, this decision affirms that large polluters are not above the law and that the threats from a warming globe are real and must be tackled with haste. The ruling held that federal courts can curb damaging greenhouse gas pollution as long as the legislative and executive branches aren’t already regulating that pollution, either under the existing Clean Air Act or the comprehensive new energy and climate legislation pending in Congress. The case will now go back to the federal district court in New York City.
New "Pulso Verde" Blog
NRDC’s Latino Outreach Program, La Onda Verde, has launched a new Spanish-language blog – Pulso Verde. The blog will highlight diverse environmental voices and perspectives with contributors ranging from NRDC scientists and experts to celebrated Latin American musicians and Spanish-language television personalities. The blog will cover a wide range of environmental topics of importance to Latinos including global warming, green jobs, protecting the last wild places in the Americas, oceans protection and public health. The launch of Pulso Verde coincides with the redesign of the La Onda Verde website where people can take action on various environmental issues. Any suggestions on topics and/or contributors to Pulso Verde can be directed to Adrianna Quintero, Director of NRDC’s La Onda Verde, at email@example.com.
"The Informant!" Premiere in New York
Calendar of Events
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 (12:00 PM - 2:00 PM EST) EcoSalon
Charging Ahead: Is There an Electric Vehicle in Your Future? (Boston)
Are electric vehicles the next big thing – or just the Betamax of cars? With CO2 levels passing the 400 ppm mark this month, should we all go out and buy one right now? Can EVs become a distributed source of energy to power our homes and the grid? What about the infrastructure and the up front costs?
Please join E2 New England for a small, exclusive roundtable discussion with Mark Sylvia, Commissioner at MA Dept of Energy Resources (DOER); Daniel Frakes, Manager Advanced Techology & Vehicle Fuels Policy at General Motors; Steve Morgan, product specialist at Mirak Automative Group; and Luke Tonachel, Senior Vehicles Analyst at NRDC, to discuss these and other issues involved in this exciting new technology.
This event is open to E2 members and their invited guests only. Invitation have been sent. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Saturday, July 20, 2013 SpecialEvent
NRDC Local Sea to Table Dinner Hosted by Chris and Patty Arndt (Montauk, NY)
SAVE THE DATE
Please Join NRDC’s Ocean Team for a Local Sea to Table Dinner
By Chef Sam Talbot
Hosted by E2 and NRDC members Patty Jen Arndt and Chris Arndt at their Home
July 20, 2013
Invitation to follow
For more information, contact email@example.com
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