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EPA's New Clean Car Standards: The Right Kind of Energy Solution

Frances Beinecke

Posted April 1, 2010

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America took a major step forward in our efforts to fight climate change on Thursday. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized new clean car standards that will slash greenhouse gas pollution from cars, minivans, and pickup trucks.

President Obama queued up this announcement yesterday in his address at Andrews Air Force Base, but it was largely drowned out by news of the administration’s misguided offshore drilling policy.

But these standard are precisely the kind of clean energy solution we need right now. Not only will they save consumers an estimated $65 billion at the pump in 2020, but they will also cut oil consumption by 1.3 million barrels of oil a day and slash global warming pollution by more than 220 million metric tons in the year 2020 alone.

That is equivalent to taking 38 million cars off the road for a year.

Think about it. That is 1.3 million barrels of oil we won’t have to extract from unspoiled landscapes or ocean ecosystems. It is 1.3 million barrels of oil we won’t have to import from unstable regimes. It is 1.3 million barrels of oil we won’t have send our troops to fight for.

President Obama entered office saying he would reduce America’s oil addiction and today he is delivering on that promise. Yet this is only the beginning. We can save even more oil--and create nearly 2 million jobs in the process--but passing a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill. This legislation will unleash even more oil-saving technologies for our cars and trucks.

As we fight hard to pass this bill in the Senate, I am proud to say that NRDC played a central role in establishing the new clean car standards announced on Thursday. We helped draft the original standards in California, we defended them in court when automakers tried to block them, and we helped broker the “Clean Car Peace Treaty” that led to Thursday’s announcement.

Now we are bringing the same relentless approach to the climate fight, as we can help generate more clean energy solutions.




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Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.Apr 5 2010 05:51 PM

Dear President Beinecke,

It is encouraging that things sometimes improve, but oh so slowly. I am afraid that the new standards will not really be as helpful as you expect. Many tricks and traps as we go forward are yet to be revealed.

There are ways to get ahead of this. Start with a good thing that should be strongly encouraged which is the well designed hybrid as demonstrated with the Toyota Prius. For these to be emulated well, we should not discourage the expectation that fuel will be there, and this means that some way to extend oil supplies would be desirable. Hence, to decry any off-shore oil drilling seems not so appropriate. We might look for ways to be supportive of Pres. Obama in his drilling decision, which seems to be well reasoned.

After locking in the hybrid gains, a next step needs to be locking out electricity generated by coal. More reasonably, it should be a gradual closing of the door, not locking it out. That seems possible.

However, the current hope that electric plug-in vehicles will be a gain in this regard needs some thoughtful reconsideration. Please look carefully at Figure 5-1 of your report at and note that going from hybrid to electric actually increases CO2. This is indicated by the third bar which represents the reality of electric power, not the hoped for future. The yellow part of the bar should be doubled, and just that larger yellow bar would represent the CO2 for electric operation, and that should be compared with the second bar which represents the hybrid. (Much of the rest of this report is devoted to promotion of the electric car, not analysis of it.) plug-in

The reality of electric power is that any new electric load will have a consequence of more use of the kind of power generation that is both cheapest and available from vast reserve capacity. There is a mythical "mix" that many think will be the responding system; the electric generating systems of the world do not respond proportionately to the "mix" of production before a new load is added.

Once we defeat the threat of the electric car as it is emerging, we can begin to work on different kinds of vehicles which would use much less energy, of whatever type is convenient and sensible.

In the meantime, we could make a major difference in CO2 emissions by converting electric appliances such as ovens, cook-tops, and clothes driers to natural gas operation. That would be a very high use for natural gas, since it would not involve the inefficient conversion to electricity. We could cut CO2 from power generation from coal by about 70% by this conversion.

Unfortunately the California Energy Commission, which is highly regarded for other reasons, has failed to recognize the power plant losses when they rate appliances. This system is being picked up by the US DOE, and that is leading to serious mis-direction in policy. The CARB has also been a leader in making improvements, but they also seem unable to understand that electricity is not a fuel, but only a carrier of energy that is made in a heat engine "somewhere over the hill."

An example of how this distorts policy is the case of heat pumps. These seem ideal until the real heat losses in generating the electricity are recognized, and of course, the corresponding CO2 emissions as well. When correctly analyzed, the heat pump only slightly improves on direct use of natural gas for heating. Thus a large rebate for installing such expensive equipment is inappropriate, not to mention the cost to the well intended home-owner.

What I am saying is well grounded in fundamental physics, so it will eventually turn out to be recognized. It would be better if a plan based on these realities be formulated earlier rather than later. The current bad plan will establish bad feeling which will be hard to contend with when we get things figured out correctly.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.Apr 7 2010 06:57 PM

I was ahead of myself with the above comment. It turns out that the EV rule is not yet issued; just a plan about it.

NRDC folk speak about much involvement in the rule making process, and as such should be alerted to a problem with it that threatens to rival the trick of using the truck as a car to evade the restrictions.

This comment addresses a significant EPA problem. I consider it necessary to complain widely about this. If there is a defense by the EPA I would be glad to hear it.

Those of us concerned about CO2 need to notice, with the recent attempt to set emission standards, that the EPA, CARB, and NHTSB have blown themselves into irrelevancy with their latest 1470 page rule.

I was actually looked at the rule just issued by EPA and NHTSA to find out about their treatment of electric vehicle in its 1470 pages. That seemed to be missing. I guess that is to come later. The plan for handling EVs appears to be leading to a serious mistake.

I did find however that a much bigger disaster has struck with the basic CAFE rule. THE CAFE STANDARDS ARE A FUNCTION OF FOOTPRINT!!! Footprint is track width times distance between axles.

This makes the whole thing a joke. All a manufacturer has to do to reduce the mileage target is to move the rear wheels back a few feet. The only thing that does is change the turning radius, which can be compensated for by enabling a greater pivot angle of the front wheels.

Of course the manufacturers know this. Apparently folks who are concerned about CO2 are asleep. (I was not on top of this. I try to be, but even reading the 1470 pages of this final rule, let alone all the stuff leading to it, is a little time consuming.)

I thought there was a big problem with ignorance about basic thermodynamics, but this stuff is only 4th grade arithmetic.

Here is a link to the EPA NHTSA document:

Look in vicinity of pages 818 and 1461 to see what I am talking about.

I brought this to the attention of Luke Tonachel as well.

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