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Posts from the "Greenhouse Gas Emissions" Category

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The New Way to “Screw Obama” — Poisoning Your Neighbors’ Air

Rolling coal is super fun, if poisoning the planet and endangering everyone else on the road is your idea of fun. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/RollinCoalandRaisinHell/photos/pb.562903110418434.-2207520000.1404834615./578932172148861/?type=3&theater##Facebook/Rollin Coal and Raisin Hell##

Rolling coal is super fun, if poisoning the planet and endangering everyone else on the road is your idea of fun. Photo: Facebook/Rollin Coal and Raisin Hell

Warning: The crazies are getting crazier.

Behold the new depth to which macho car culture, blatant anti-environmentalism, and Obama hating has sunk. “Coal rollers” retrofit their pickup trucks to “trick” the diesel engines into thinking they need more gas. The result: big, billowing plumes of black smoke — the better to spew at Priuses and pedestrians.

And that’s precisely the point. These coal rollers take fuel-efficient cars and people hoofing it to be agents of Barack Obama himself, and they delight at engulfing them in toxic smoke. And bicyclists? Don’t get them started.

Voactiv exposed this trend to the non-coal-rolling world last month, quoting people like 25-year-old Robbie from South Carolina, who says rollin’ coal is “just fun… Just driving and blowing smoke and having a good time.”

“I’m not a scientist,” Robbie says, “but it couldn’t be too horrible.”

No, not too horrible — just 21,000 premature deaths each year and a cancer risk that is seven times greater than the combined risk of all 181 other air pollutants tracked by the EPA. That’s what the Clean Air Task Force says about diesel. And they are scientists.

Adding a smokestack to make your man machine even manlier (manliness being measured in toxic smoke, remember) will set you back anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending, I suppose, on how manly you need to make it. And then there’s all the extra gas you’ll be pumping into your rig. But it’s totally worth it, if you hate Obama and the planet enough.

“I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all,” one seller of stack kits from Wisconsin told Slate’s David Weigel. “If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck — that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”

The EPA says coal rolling is illegal. The Clean Air Act prohibits tampering with an emission control device. And purposely suffocating people in a black cloud of poisonous smoke has to be a form of assault. But breaking those laws must just make coal rolling extra delicious to its practitioners.

According to Weigel, it’s a “use-it-before-liberals-ban-it instinct,” akin to the anti-Earth Hour campaign to keep all the lights on, or the anti-Michelle Obama campaign to eat lots of doughnuts.

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Dueling Forecasts: Does the Energy Dept. Know Something U.S. DOT Doesn’t?

Tony Dutzik is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group. This article was originally posted on the Frontier Group’s blog.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) — the data and analytical wing of the Energy Department — is out today with a fascinating analysis of changing driving trends and their implications for America’s energy future. The analysis, part of the EIA’s annual package of forecasts called the “Annual Energy Outlook,” reviews recent changes in demographic, economic, technological and other factors affecting the number of miles Americans drive.

It also serves as a telling contrast to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s own recent forecast of vehicle travel, presented in the biennial “Conditions and Performance” report.

We’ve criticized the U.S. DOT before for regularly overshooting the mark when it comes to forecasting vehicle travel, exaggerating the need for spending on highway expansion and maintenance. The EIA report, on the other hand, takes a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to forecasting than the DOT’s reliance on untrustworthy state data and straight-line projections. It also gives us some key indications of what slower VMT growth might mean for our energy future.

DOT is from Mars, EIA is from Venus – Diverging Forecasts

The EIA and DOT have very different thoughts about how the future will play out when it comes to trends in driving. The DOT forecasts an immediate resumption of rates of vehicle travel growth that haven’t been seen for a decade, while the EIA assumes that, while driving might pick up again soon, it also might not, and that, to the extent driving does increase in the future, it is likely to grow way more slowly than it did during the post-war Driving Boom. This is the case we made in our 2013 report, A New Direction.

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DC Region’s New Long-Range Plan Fails to Meet Its Own Climate Goals

Image: ##https://www.mwcog.org/uploads/committee-documents/YV1aVlhZ20131218092900.pdf##MWCOG 2013 Constrained Long-Range Plan##

While the Washington, DC region has set of a goal of reducing carbon emissions to 10 million tons by 2040, current transportation plans show emissions increasing to 26.5 million tons by then. Image: MWCOG 2013 Constrained Long-Range Plan

If sea levels rise just one foot in the Washington, DC, area, nearly 1,700 homes could be lost. Is the region’s transportation planning agency doing enough to stop that from happening? Several environmental and smart-growth organizations in the region are saying no. Seventeen groups have signed on to a letter, being delivered today, urging the agency to take action. The comment period on the agency’s latest long-range transportation plan closes tomorrow.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments committed in 2008 to an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions below a 2005 baseline by 2050. Two years later, the agency added a goal of 20 percent reductions by 2020. But according to its own analysis, the agency’s current transportation plan doesn’t get the job done.

The chart above is from last year’s long-range plan, but the picture hasn’t changed much with this year’s additions. While three of the 11 projects MWCOG has added for 2014 are streetcars and another two are commuter rail, the list also includes a new highway to Dulles airport, an interchange, two road widenings, and the removal of bus-only lanes.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has asked MWCOG to reopen the plan and shift “significantly more funds to key transit projects,” said CSG Director Stewart Schwartz. He says MWCOG’s long range plans have an “artificial transit constraint,” since the plan can only include projects that have reasonably identified financial resources. However, existing funds could be shifted to transit projects. Schwartz would like to see more money go toward Metro’s Momentum 2025 plan to increase capacity.

MWCOG's ##http://www.mwcog.org/clrp/projects/highway.asp##2013 long-range plan## calls for spending significant resources on road expansions.

Major highway improvements in MWCOG’s 2013 long-range plan

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Obama’s Climate Speech: Mostly Mum on Transportation

President Obama announced a sweeping package of measures to address climate change today. But with a couple of exceptions, he was largely silent on the 27 percent of carbon emissions that come from the transportation sector.

President Obama outlined his new Climate Action Plan in a speech today at Georgetown. But the president's actions to address climate change are hindered by Congressional resistance. Image: Whitehouse.gov

One of the most important reforms the president announced is presidential memorandum he plans to issue to the EPA to develop carbon standards for power plants. Carbon emissions from these sources, unlike other harmful chemicals, have until this point gone unregulated by the federal government.

“Today about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants,” said the president, speaking at Georgetown. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollutions those plants can dump into the air. None.”

“We’ve got to fix that,” he said.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan establishes a goal of doubling the amount of energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. The plan would also establish efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings.

The most substantive portion of the plan related to transportation was the announcement that the president wants to expand new fuel efficiency standards for trucks and heavy vehicles beyond 2018. Those standards, the White House says, are projected to save about 270 million metric tons of carbon and 530 million barrels of oil.

The plan also calls for the elimination of “fossil fuel subsidies” in 2014, which would require Congressional cooperation. Research by the International Energy Agency has shown that eliminating those subsidies alone would reduce carbon emissions 10 percent by 2050, according to the Climate Action Plan.

In his speech, President Obama also made reference to the Keystone Pipeline, saying the State Department has been instructed not to approve the project if government analyses determine it would increase carbon emissions.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, a policy analyst with the Sierra Club, says the Climate Action Plan is mostly a collection of policy fixes the president can enact without Congressional support — such as new emissions standards — which might explain why transportation got short shrift.

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How Green Is Grocery Delivery in Cities?

Grocery delivery can cut carbon emissions compared to driving your car to the store and back. But delivery services also replace walking, biking, and transit trips. Image: Transportation Research Forum

In a recent study out of Seattle, researchers Erica Wygonik and Anne Goodchild found that having groceries delivered by truck can cut mileage by up to 85 or 95 percent compared to driving a car. ”It’s like a bus for groceries,” Goodchild told NPR. ”Overwhelmingly, it’s more efficient to be sharing a vehicle, even if it’s a little larger.”

The most efficiency can be squeezed out of grocery delivery when dispatchers can design short routes that serve many people. When customers can choose their delivery times, however, the routes become significantly less efficient.

But in urban areas, where houses are close enough together that delivery might be relatively efficient, not everyone drives to the store. And people without access to a car might be the most likely to use a delivery service. In these locations, perhaps delivery services are replacing walking, biking, and transit trips more than driving trips.

It looks like more research is needed to evaluate the full impact of grocery delivery services on travel choices and carbon emissions. “We don’t have great data about how people get to the store,” Goodchild said in an email exchange. “We also don’t know to what extent these shoppers (bike/ped) might choose to shop online, versus those who drive to the store.”

She said she and her co-author have talked about conducting simulations where they consider biking “but would need to estimate calorie burn.” Yes, calorie burn — but hopefully not “increased respiration.”

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Will Big Highway Projects Have to Consider Climate Change?

Expanding NEPA to include climate impacts and adaptability won't necessarily mean a future free from this. Photo: Macomb Politics

Since 1970, the National Environmental Protection Act has required federal agencies to consider the impacts of their projects on air, water, and soil pollution — but not on climate change.

Until recently, carbon dioxide, which causes global warning, wasn’t classified as a pollutant and so couldn’t be regulated under environmental laws. The EPA in 2009 asserted its power to regulate carbon emissions but hasn’t applied it to NEPA analyses for infrastructure – until now.

President Obama hasn’t made the announcement yet, but Bloomberg reported Friday that he “is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.”

There’s more – projects could also be evaluated according to resiliency in the face of climate change. Would the new infrastructure be destroyed if faced with flooding, drought, or other severe weather? Bloomberg reports that the White House is also “looking at” requiring these climate adaptability and resiliency reports for projects “with 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions or more per year, the equivalent of burning about 100 rail cars of coal.”

Does this mean no more highways?

The conservative National Review’s headline about the changes was, “Did Obama Just Block Keystone?” Columnist Stanley Kurtz speculated that Obama could publicly approve the Keystone XL pipeline and then let the new environmental review process rule it out.

Could the same go for highway projects?

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Obama’s Clean Energy Policy Elevates Efficient Cars Over Efficient Modes

It has a nice ring to it: using oil and gas revenue to shift transportation off oil and gas dependence. President Obama announced a plan to do just that on Friday — but the details of his plan are disappointing if you want to see the conversation on clean transportation go beyond cars.

Hey, it's OK -- they're all electric cars. Photo: A Marked Man

The Energy Security Trust would be funded with $2 billion in oil and gas revenues, in what the Washington Post called a “jujitsu” move – using oil and gas money to hasten the elimination of oil and gas as a transportation fuel.

This handy infographic from the Energy Department about what the money will fund shows just how narrowly defined the trust is. Light fuel tanks for natural gas, advanced vehicle batteries, cleaner biofuels, hydrogen fuel-cell technology. But as David Burwell of the Carnegie Endowment’s Climate Program notes, “it has the distinct sound — to use a Zen Buddhist metaphor — of one hand clapping.”

“Certainly, electric vehicles and advanced biofuels are a key tool in drastically reducing the 70 percent of total U.S. oil consumption devoted to transportation,” Burwell said. “However, it misses at least two additional key elements of any oil-back-out scheme — (1) more trip choices and (2) reducing the need to travel.”

Obama has shown an impressive resolve to reduce vehicle emissions but not much desire to reduce vehicle trips. While his transportation budgets have enabled some progress on rail and transit, and his infrastructure initiatives focus on maintenance instead of road expansion, his signature program – the increase in CAFE standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – would do nothing to reduce traffic, create more transportation choices, or encourage walkable development.

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Getting Hosed on a Hybrid

Hybrid drivers: Nice try, but your wheels aren’t really saving the planet.

Your environmental concerns aren't over when you buy a hybrid. Photo: Mississippi Business Journal

Consumer Reports announced Thursday that the mileage ratings on Ford’s hybrid models were inflated. Instead of getting “47 city/47 highway/47 combined mpg” as advertised, the Fusion sedan gets 35/41/39 and the new C-Max wagon gets 35/38/37. That’s a pretty big difference — far bigger than any that Consumer Reports found for other cars.

And it can add up to a lot if hybrid drivers follow the guidance and do a ton of driving — that’s the only way to get their money’s worth, after all. An article this morning in Business Insider offers this perverse incentive for environmentally-minded hybrid owners to spend lots of time on the road:

Hybrid cars get better fuel economy, so the more miles you drive, the faster you will recoup the extra cost [of the vehicle purchase]. To get to the break-even point the quickest, you’ll want to be someone who logs at least an average number of miles annually (12,000 is typical) or more.

When you’re driving those 12,000+ miles a year, should you drive them in the city or on the highway? You’ll get better mileage on the highway, but hybrids really shine in the city, since they recharge when you brake. That’s the beauty of a hybrid! Except the more you brake and recharge that battery, the more long-term capacity the battery loses.

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Study: Electric Cars Not So Green Unless Powered by Renewables

A study by the government of the Australian state of Victoria highlights the limits of electric cars, in isolation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Australian government researchers say electric vehicles are no environmental panacea. Photo: The Age

The Victorian government’s ongoing “electric vehicle trial” [PDF] found that electric cars powered by coal may actually produce more carbon emissions than petroleum-fueled cars over the lifetime of the vehicle, from manufacturing to junkyard. This is due in part to the added environmental impacts of the lithium batteries that electric cars require.

This is not to say that EVs won’t improve on internal combustion engines. It all depends on where the electricity comes from. The authors found that, taking into account the full vehicle life-cycle, an electric car powered by 100 percent renewable energy — like wind and solar — can begin outperforming gas-powered cars after two years of use.

In the United States, the cleanest sources of electricity are near the coasts, and EVs in those areas outperform the best hybrids, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists released last spring. But in the Midwest and Mountain West, coal-powered energy generation makes EVs dirtier.

Of course, even setting aside the deaths, injuries, chronic diseases, and traffic jams caused by a car-dependent transportation system, vehicle emissions are far from the only environmental cost of cars. To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, cutting down on the “embedded energy” that comes with sprawling development is absolutely essential. And while cleaner cars can help curb global warming, the wrong incentives for their use can also dump more carbon into the air. To the extent that policies discourage transit, biking, or walking in order to favor electric vehicles, the net effect can actually backfire. Witness Denmark’s incentives to park electric cars in the center city, which undermines the high mode-share for greener modes of travel.

The Australian government has been providing a better incentive, helping gas stations install electric vehicle charging facilities. The city of Melbourne currently has about 30 such stations in the central business district but 10 more are on the way as part of a government trial, reports Melbourne’s The Age.

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Yes, We Have No Carbon Tax

About 12 hours after President Obama won re-election, Bloomberg News ran this tantalizing headline: “Obama May Levy Carbon Tax to Cut U.S. Deficit, HSBC Says.”

A carbon tax could finally put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, but the Obama administration says it's not on the agenda. Photo: Boxoid

The article suggested that a $20-per-ton tax on carbon emissions, rising gradually over time, could help reduce the deficit by half within a decade.

Within the same story was the antidote to the optimism the headline may have evoked: The founder of the world’s biggest carbon trading exchange said Obama probably won’t seek to install such a program in his second term, but that something might be possible around 2020. As Philip Bump wrote in Grist, it’s best to take with a grain of salt what some guy from HSBC — based in Great Britain — says is a political possibility in the United States. “His finger might not be that close to the pulse of what the White House is thinking,” Bump wrote.

Indeed, the Bloomberg story cited absolutely no reason to think Obama was considering a carbon tax, except that it would be a good idea. And it certainly would be a good idea – incentivizing efficiency, raising revenues, and just maybe slowing the march toward catastrophic climate change.

Indeed, it might be our only hope. The day after the Bloomberg story ran, Oxford economist Dieter Helm wrote in The Guardian that carbon emissions are rising faster now than before the Kyoto Protocol was ratified (in every country in the world except the United States and Afghanistan) and the only way to make a real dent in it is to tax carbon.

But then the White House extinguished the flame of hope right quick.

“The Administration has not proposed nor is planning to propose a carbon tax,” a White House official told The Hill.

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