The Obama Administration made some important announcements about offshore drilling last week. And in the near and medium term, we believe increasing U.S. oil production is compatible with successful efforts to significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Offshore drilling has been much talked about lately. Expanding offshore drilling in the federal outer continental shelf (OCS) areas and increasing oil and gas revenue sharing for nearby coastal states is part of the package of climate and energy policies being negotiated by Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman.
In tackling climate change, a diverse transportation sector can contribute greatly to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2008, the transportation sector accounted for 28% of U.S. GHG emissions, according to the EIA. In achieving the goal of reducing emissions, transportation policy must reduce GHG emissions from travel without compromising the mobility of Americans. To that end, electric vehicles provide a much-needed alternative to gasoline and diesel powered cars.
Carmakers are responding to this challenge by designing plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) and all electric vehicles (EVs). Nissan’s Leaf, a new electric vehicle, is slated to hit showrooms throughout the U.S in late 2010. One of two Leafs seen in public was on display last week at the Washington Auto Show where the Green Car Journal named the Leaf its 2010 Green Car Vision Award winner.
At first, Nissan will likely place prospective buyers on a waiting list, but it anticipates ramping up Leaf production at a factory it is retooling in Smyrna, Tennessee. The company secured a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week to prepare the plant to manufacture the vehicles and the advanced batteries that will power them. DOE points out that the facility will “create up to 1,300 American jobs and conserve up to 65.4 million gallons of gasoline per year.” The 150,000 vehicle-per-year factory positions the U.S. as a leader in the next generation of low-emissions vehicle manufacturing.
At the DC auto show, the Nissan representative shared details about the vehicle along with the company’s program to distribute it worldwide. Nissan is partnering with Better Place, an innovative electric vehicle services provider, to sell the Leaf in Denmark and Israel in 2011. The company intends to make modifications to the Leaf’s chassis to support Better Place’s battery switch stations. The Leaf will also meet SAE’s J1772 standard for electric vehicle charging. Lastly, by laminating the lithium-ion battery packs in order to make them self-cooling, Nissan solved a complex technical problem without using a computer control system. More information about the Leaf is available on Nissan’s website.
The L.A. Time reports Nissan hints at a sticker price of less than $30,000, before accounting for the $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles provided in the Recovery Act. No pricing information was available at the auto show.
The three most important issues to Americans today are the economy, jobs, and terrorism according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. If one makes the logical connection between protecting against terrorism and promoting energy security, Nissan is timely in releasing the Leaf in 2010. With the Leaf, the company will create American jobs to manufacture an affordable vehicle that lowers U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow
Transportation experts gathered in Washington last week for the Transportation Research Board’s 89th annual meeting. With over 10,000 participants and 600 sessions, it is hard to draw any crosscutting conclusions from the conference. With an eye on climate change, however, the TRB meeting indicated the transportation community is engaged and ready for reform. One of the conference’s hot topics addressed the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by limiting vehicle miles traveled (VMT). VMT is one of the four major influences on transportation GHG emissions. The others are vehicles, fuels, and the overall efficiency of our transportation system. We need policies to address all four.
At a session entitled “Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction Targets: Will This Strategy Get the Desired Results?,” the participants debated the effectiveness of VMT targets on reducing GHG emissions. Reducing driving may have been unimaginable in the previous era of urban sprawl and Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, but a confluence of interests in promoting livability and combating climate change has ushered in a new way of thinking about transportation. The idea of limiting VMT is not without its critics, however. Research is ongoing as to how much VMT can really be reduced, on the precise relationship between VMT and GHG emissions, on the costs and benefits of transportation alternatives, and on the distribution of those costs and benefits geographically and by income class.
Perhaps it was the panelists’ connection to the glory days of transportation in the United States or their own economic analyses, but they were mostly skeptical with respect to the efficacy of using VMT targets to reduce GHG emissions. As one speaker put it, “VMT is about technology versus behavior,” meaning lawmakers would use VMT targets to affect behavior due to a lack of confidence in technology.
Another speaker defined VMT targets and the subsequent effects on land-use policy as a “blunt instrument.” They argued VMT reductions would force a reorientation of the population in the United States without necessarily reducing GHG emissions. Furthermore, one panelist claimed VMT targets would be highly regressive.
The lone advocate for VMT targets acknowledged some of these detractions, but strongly pushed for the policy as a “good starting point” towards greater land-use reform. His research showed an economic benefit (i.e., jobs) from spending less on transportation, since people tend to spend that extra money on more labor-intensive products. He also highlighted polls and recent trends indicating that people want to live closer together. Lastly, the co-benefits of reducing VMT including improved safety and reduced congestion make the policy worthwhile even without considering the environmental benefits.
The panelists agreed on some things – for example, that researchers do not fully understand transportation behavior, and that there are substantial co-benefits of reducing VMT. They also agreed that a VMT tax would be preferable to the current Federal gasoline tax as a means of maintaining the surface transportation system, though they disagreed over its effects on GHG emissions. Enacting that policy, however, is politically challenging.
A proposal by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) to reform fundamentally the current transportation system stalled in 2009, and the legislative prospects in 2010 are unclear. In the absence of comprehensive reauthorizing legislation, action by the Administration – for example, through the Federal budget and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rulemaking – will be critical, as will state and local innovation. We could begin to see this needed leadership from the Administration in the form of the President’s budget, which is set for release on February 1st. DOT does have some discretion to improve federal transportation programs under its existing legislative authorities, and the President’s budget could include such reforms. The President could also propose more significant changes, but that would require Congressional approval.
Nick Nigro is an Innovative Solutions Fellow
Download the report (pdf)
Aviation and Marine Transportation: GHG Mitigation Potential and Challenges
Combined, aviation and marine transportation are responsible for approximately 5 percent of total greenhouse (GHG) emissions in the United States and 3 percent globally and are among the fastest growing modes in the transportation sector. Controlling the growth in these emissions will be an important part of reducing emissions from the transportation sector. A range of near-, medium- and long-term mitigation options are available to slow the growth of energy consumption and GHG emissions from aviation and marine shipping. Implementation of these options could result in reductions of more than 50 percent below BAU levels by 2050 from global aviation and more than 60 percent for global marine shipping. For these reductions to be realized, however, international and domestic policy intervention is required. Developing an effective path forward that facilitates the adoption of meaningful policies remains both a challenge and an opportunity.
“Aviation and Marine Transportation: GHG Mitigation Potential and Challenges” presents an introduction to aviation and marine transportation and a discussion of the determinants of GHG emissions from transportation; gives overview of current emissions and trends and growth projections; explains the technological mitigation options and potential GHG emission reductions; and discusses policy options at both the domestic and international level to achieve deep and durable reductions in emissions.
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Biofuels for Transportation: A Climate Perspective
Prepared by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
As the United States seeks to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles and to lessen its dependence on imported oil, biofuels are gaining increasing attention as one possible solution. This paper offers an introduction to the current state of play for biofuels: the technologies used in their production, their GHG emissions, and associated policy issues.
The amount of emission reductions that can be achieved through the use of biofuels varies widely, depending on choices made at each step from feedstock selection and production through final fuel use.
Technologies exist today to produce a wide variety of biofuels from a wide range of feedstocks. However, currently commercial options are limited to ethanol made from cornstarch or sugarcane, and biodiesel made from soybean or palm oil seeds. Current research and development focuses on lowering biofuel costs, GHG emissions, and land and water resource needs, and on improving compatibility with fuel distribution systems and vehicle engines. Policy priorities should be aligned with these R&D objectives as well as with other policies addressing climate, agriculture, forestlands and international trade.
The critical issue when considering the climate benefits of biofuels is each fuel’s GHG profile—not whether it is “renewable” or “fossil-fuel”-based. Also, vehicle efficiency is especially important for biofuels because less overall fuel demand means less competition with other uses for land and biomass. Therefore, policies to encourage further development and use of biofuels for climate-related purposes should focus on their GHG profiles and on increased vehicle efficiency. In addition to climate change and energy security, the opportunity to support the agricultural sector is an extremely important and powerful motivation for pursuing biofuels worldwide. However, any benefits to the agricultural sector must be weighed against impacts on food prices and land use, both of which are also major international concerns.
About the Author
Naomi Pena holds a Masters in City and Regional Planning, environmental focus, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her career has been devoted to reconciling economic and environmental objectives through analysis of policy, regulatory, and project options. Ms. Pena worked at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, C2ES's predecessor organization, for nine years before moving to Austria, where she currently works at the Joanneum Research Institute.
In addition to analyzing general policy options to address climate change, she has specialized in the role of land use and land use change (LULUCF) in climate change mitigation, biofuels as a mechanism to address climate change, and technologies and policies needed to capture and store in geologic formations the carbon dioxide that results from electricity generation and other industrial processes. Prior to working at the Pew Center, Ms. Pena worked internationally and domestically at a number of governmental and private institutions.
- Improve vehicle efficiency. Major gains in fuel efficiency are technically feasible for cars, trucks, and airplanes. There is evidence, however, that consumers undervalue fuel savings when purchasing new vehicles. In addition, the environmental and security benefits of fuel efficiency are external—i.e., dispersed throughout society rather than to the individual consumer. Because fuel efficiency is thus undervalued in the market place, policies are essential to pull efficiency improvements into the market. The current system for setting vehicle efficiency standards could be made more effective by providing longer lead times for tougher standards. Another option would be to require light trucks to meet standards as stringent as those for cars. Because it takes time for the vehicle fleet to turn over, programs must be initiated now and sustained over decades to realize this technological potential.
- Substitute low-carbon fuels for carbon-intensive fuels. Many alternative fuels produce less carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of energy than petroleum. Petroleum, however, has many advantages and is supported by an extensive and well-functioning infrastructure, so policy intervention would be required to spur a transition to alternative fuels. Requiring the use of ethanol as a gasoline additive could yield a 3 percent net reduction in GHG emissions in the near term and a 10 percent reduction in the long term, while maintaining the current fueling system.1 Work should also start now to lay the groundwork for longer-term solutions, such as a hydrogen-based transportation system.
- Increase transportation system efficiency. Numerous transportation modes—such as air, water, rail, car, bus, and bicycling—exist to move people and goods. Increasing the efficiency of the transportation system would require both improving accessibility to the various modes of transportation and using more efficient ones. Which mode is most efficient depends on the distance traveled as well as population density. In the United States, the evolution over decades of automobile dependence and land use patterns has resulted in an energy-intensive transportation system. Policy options for increasing system efficiency include funding public transportation, building infrastructure that eases the transfer of freight and passengers between modes, supporting "intelligent transportation" technologies. and promoting "smart growth."
Greenhouse gas emissions consequences are now unaccounted for in public as well as private transportation decisions. Taking climate change into account in these decisions would provide a major impetus to improve vehicle efficiency, substitute low-carbon fuels, and increase transportation system efficiency. Policy options include building institutional capacity at all levels of government to address the climate consequences of transportation, incorporating climate change as a consideration in disbursing monies from the federal Highway Trust Fund, and developing a greenhouse gas cap and trade program to constrain emissions at the lowest possible cost.
No single policy approach will be sufficient. Reducing GHG emissions from transportation calls for a balanced combination of cost-effective measures. Many of the policy measures discussed in this brief do much more than reduce CO2 emissions. For example, since U.S. transportation is almost entirely fueled by petroleum, decreasing GHG emissions from this sector would also decrease dependence on imported oil.