Scott Pruitt’s decision earlier this month to rollback Obama-era fuel economy standards has gotten a lot of media attention — rightfully so. In an interview last week with The Real News Network out of Baltimore, two other panelists and I had an opportunity to discuss the implications:
For those unable to watch the video, a transcript is available.
SB 827, to relax local restrictions on home-building near transit, faces a big test this afternoon at its first Capitol committee hearing. As the hearing draws near, it’s worth noting how disappointing the reaction to the bill has been from some advocacy groups that are supposedly in the pro-climate and transit worlds.
Scott Lucas at San Francisco Magazine has a lengthy piece exploring one of those groups’ opposition to the bill: the Sierra Club California. The article features this exchange with the head of the organization:
Although [Sierra Club California director Kathryn] Phillips says she supports infill development around mass transit, it’s hard for her to locate an actual place in California where she supports new buildings. This is also true of the Bay Area chapter, which in recent years has opposed the 8 Washington condo tower near the Embarcadero, the redevelopment of Treasure Island and the Hunters Point Shipyard, the expansion of Park Merced, and the new Golden State Warriors stadium. Recently, the chapter opposed a 66-unit development in the Western Addition because it would replace an auto repair shop it deemed historic.
With regard to upzoning near transit, Phillips rules out Sacramento, where some neighborhoods, she thinks, would use upzoning as an excuse to block new transit, concealing what she calls “racist” reasons under a civilized veneer. Nor does she think it’s appropriate in more outlying areas like Folsom, where a transit stop under the bill would lead to an upzoning too near wilderness areas. She doesn’t think it’s a good idea in San Diego, where taller buildings would block views of the ocean, nor does she support it in major cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, where “people who live in rent-controlled buildings worry about bigger and bigger buildings coming toward them.”
As she finishes enumerating those exceptions, she adds, echoing the national organization’s policy line, that “we see the value of infill higher-density development around transit.”
SB 827 has revealed a lot about the politics behind our current housing dysfunction in the state. We knew wealthy homeowners and their allies in office would oppose allowing more homes built in their transit-rich communities. But the bill has also pulled the curtain back on the hypocrisy, confusion and cowardice within much of the climate and transit advocacy community about how to deal with the massive housing shortage in the state.
If SB 827 is successful, it will unfortunately be in spite of many of these advocates. And that’s not a good sign, given how much work needs to be done to improve California’s land use policies in an era of climate change.
A few weeks ago, UC Berkeley Law released the report Delivering the Goods, with recommendations for how California could achieve a more sustainable freight system. Goods movement in the state is a major economic driver but also a significant source of pollution.
To accompany the report release, the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at Berkeley Law held a webinar to highlight key findings. The discussion featured these experts:
- Elizabeth Fretheim of Walmart
- Adrian Martinez of Earthjustice
- Chris Schmidt of Caltrans
Video from the webinar is now available, for those who couldn’t attend at the time or would like to review portions:
And if you’d like to learn more about sustainable freight at Southern California’s ports, please register for the free June 8th conference at UCLA on the prospects for deploying zero-emission technologies there, featuring experts from industry, government and advocacy groups.
California can’t meet its long-term climate goals without reducing its overall driving miles, per a state analysis of greenhouse gas emissions through 2050. This point was echoed in a recent New York Times article on SB 827, the measure to lift local restrictions on transit-adjacent housing. In the Times piece, bill author State Senator Scott Wiener said:
We can have all the electric vehicles and solar panels in the world, but we won’t meet our climate goals without making it easier for people to live near where they work, and live near transit and drive less.
Wiener isn’t just making that claim up. According to the California Air Resources Board’s staff report on regional greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, the state will need a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through 2035 and 2050, even with more zero-emission vehicles sold and renewable energy deployed. They have a simple chart showing the calculations:
Basically, if by 2035 half of all new cars sales are zero emission, with half of all electricity (and thus transportation fuels) coming from renewable sources, we will still need a 7.5% reduction in baseline VMT.
The good news is all that clean technology means there would be slightly less pressure to reduce driving miles. But as the staff report pointed out:
The GHG emissions reduction contribution from VMT is a comparatively smaller in share than the GHG emissions reductions called for by advances in technology and fuels, but necessary for GHG emissions reductions in other sectors such as upstream energy production facilities and natural and working lands, and are also anticipated to lead to important co-benefits such as improved public health.
My one critique of the analysis is that it is conservative on the renewable mix by 2035. California has a statutory requirement to achieve 50% renewables by 2030, and we’re already over 35%. I would guess we’ll be at 60% renewables by 2030 and maybe 65% by 2035, not including greenhouse-gas free hydropower. In addition, bullish estimates of zero-emission vehicles could have the state at 75% battery electric vehicle sales by 2035.
Still, the point remains that VMT reductions are crucial. And worse, these VMT efforts could be badly undermined by autonomous vehicles, which could encourage more driving as people take advantage of having robot chauffeurs for every little errand and trip.
All of this analysis points to the need for much more housing production near transit and jobs — an outcome that SB 827 would directly promote. Because clean technology alone won’t be sufficient when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Going vegetarian (or vegan) is a sure way to help the environment. Emissions from livestock and the agricultural inputs to feed the animals are a major contributor to climate change. But humans generally like to eat meat, and as more of the world develops economically, that preference will only exacerbate constraints on our planet’s resources.
Tonight at 7pm on City Visions, we’ll look at the prospects for “clean meat” and plant-based meat alternatives, a burgeoning high-tech industry based largely in the San Francisco Bay Area. Can these products really slow climate change, as well as improve public health and reduce animal cruelty? And how do these products taste?
My guests include:
- Arvind Gupta, managing director and founder of IndieBio
- Paul Shapiro, author of the Washington Post bestselling book “Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World”; and spokesperson and vice president for The Humane Society of the United States
- Mike Selden, founder and CEO of Finless Foods
This show will be the first in our series on sustainable food production. Please call in and share your stories, ask a question, or make a comment.
KTVU Channel 2 news in the Bay Area covered EPA’s proposed rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards last night, including an interview with me about the likely legal fight and economic repercussions:
Trump’s EPA just announced its intent to roll back fuel economy standards for all light-duty vehicles (passenger vehicles and trucks) between 2022 and 2025. The original standards were finalized in 2011 under the Obama Administration and in concert with California’s independent greenhouse gas standards for tailpipe emissions, with a goal of 54.5 miles per gallon vehicles by 2025. They would have saved 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 1.2 billion barrels of oil over the vehicles’ lifetime, according to government estimates.
EPA’s decision to loosen these standards will likely be challenged in court, notably by states that have adopted the stricter California standards. California adopted these standards pursuant to a waiver it received from the federal government under the federal Clean Air Act, which reserved for California the authority to develop air quality standards more stringent than federal ones. The waiver provision was included in the original act in recognition of the state’s unique air quality challenges and history as a pioneer in this area of regulation.
So what happens now? There are three potential outcomes:
- The state lawsuits are successful and the proposed rollback is delayed until a new administration takes over that is more interested in protecting the environment and public health over industry profit.
- The federal rollback is finalized and the country ends up with two markets for vehicles: a clean car market in California and the dozen states that have adopted the California standards, and a dirty car market in states that don’t have these higher standards. This outcome is not good for automakers, as they’d have to develop separate, cleaner cars for the California-led market. And it might be bad for consumers in these states who may lose access to some vehicles that would otherwise have been clean enough to sell in the California-led market.
- The federal rollback is finalized and the EPA tries to revoke California’s authority to set its own tailpipe standards. Never in history has an EPA administrator tried to revoke an existing waiver, but it seems likely that EPA chief Pruitt will try. My colleague Ann Carlson described the environmental and legal stakes with such a move. If the waiver is revoked, California will have a difficult time trying to achieve its near-term climate goals.
As with everything regulatory in nature, we’ll have to wait and see how the legal process plays out. But if EPA is successful in rolling back these standards, the agency will undermine the fight against climate change, increase toxic air pollution and attendant public health impacts, cost drivers money in terms of having to buy more gasoline for the same amount of driving, and diminish U.S. automaker competitiveness with international rivals who fully embrace more fuel-efficient and zero-emission vehicles.
California’s freight system is massive. Nearly 1/3 of all jobs in the state are in freight-related fields, and nearly 40% of all cargo moved throughout the United States enters or originates in California. The state’s seaports, airports, international border crossings and thousands of miles of rails and roads are integral to not just the state but the local, national and international economies.
However, the ships, trains, trucks and equipment that move goods throughout California are also responsible for up to 50% of the most harmful air pollutant emissions and 6% of greenhouse gas emissions statewide.
In response to environmental and public health concerns, Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) is today releasing a report that details key barriers and priority solutions to making freight more sustainable. Delivering the Goods was informed by a CLEE-convened discussion last July with a group of state regulators, industry leaders and environmental advocates. The group focused on how to achieve the state’s sustainable freight vision.
CLEE is hosting a webinar at 10 am Pacific today with three freight system experts who will discuss the report’s key findings.
Among the top barriers the group identified were the need to:
- Increase local community buy-in for new freight-related infrastructure projects and new technologies;
- Construct more infrastructure supporting smart goods movement; and
- Facilitate sharing of data among industry members and regulators.
The report discusses a broad range of near-term and long-term solutions to these challenges, including recommendations for state leaders, industry participants and community groups. Such actions include:
- Transportation corridor management strategies, such as new vehicle charging stations, freight-dedicated highway lanes and dynamic lane management to facilitate deployment of efficient technologies like heavy-duty truck electrification and platooning;
- Public-private information sharing platforms that encourage member organizations to share and analyze common efficiency-related data while protecting valuable IP, which could inform comprehensive “sliver” pilot programs to track each good’s path from production to consumption and identify efficiency opportunities throughout the supply chain; and
- Expansion of workforce development initiatives, and high school and college supply chain management and logistics programs, to ensure that freight projects are linked to local economies.
Ultimately, developing the state’s future sustainable freight system will depend on sustained efforts by all stakeholders to increase community involvement and support, embrace and effectively regulate emerging technologies, fund and build supportive infrastructure, and collect and disseminate more data. An integrated, collaborative planning and policymaking process, discussed in detail in the report, will be essential to the success of these efforts.
The full report, available here, includes a complete discussion of these concepts and more solutions proposed by the expert group.
CLEE’s free webinar, starting at 10 am Pacific today, can be accessed here. Speakers include:
- Elizabeth Fretheim of Walmart
- Adrian Martinez of Earthjustice
- Chris Schmidt of Caltrans
Hope you can join us!
California’s freight system contributes to one-third of the state’s economy. But it is also responsible for some of its most significant emissions challenges, including toxic air pollution and greenhouse gases. To discuss solutions, the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley Law is hosting a free webinar this Thursday at 10am on the future of sustainable freight in California, as part of the launch of a new report on the topic.
CLEE’s forthcoming report includes a detailed set of recommendations covering near- and long-term policy and stakeholder actions to increase freight efficiency and sustainability, while facilitating economic growth. The report features policymaker, industry and nonprofit input from a recent Berkeley Law symposium on the steps needed to drive environmental and economic progress.
The webinar will discuss the report findings and other law and policy needs to achieve more sustainable freight. Speakers include:
- Elizabeth Fretheim, Walmart
- Adrian Martinez, Earthjustice
- Chris Schmidt, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
We will include time for audience Q&A.
For more information and to register, please visit this link. Hope you can join us!
Brazil has distinct energy and greenhouse gas reduction challenges compared to other countries around the world. But its energy leadership has one thing in common with many other countries: a desire to boost energy storage. I’m at a conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil focused on this technology, hosted by the Instituto de Energia & Ambiente (IEE) at the University of Sao Paulo (USP).
Why are Brazil’s energy and climate challenges distinct? Unlike other countries, its energy and transportation sectors are already relatively clean, at least from a carbon perspective. Two-thirds of their electricity comes from hydropower, and about 60% of their transportation fuel comes from sugar-based ethanol.
But the country’s energy leadership knows that hydropower is dwindling, as more frequent droughts and farming reduce the water supply. And they must reduce transportation emissions to meet their nationally determined climate commitments under the 2015 U.N. Paris accord. They hope to meet burgeoning demand for power through more wind and solar deployment. But this deployment will require more energy storage, too, to integrate these variable renewable sources without needing more fossil fuel-powered generation.
Today, on the second day of this two-day conference, I’ll be speaking at 12:30pm PT (4:30pm local time) about the California energy storage experience and how the state’s laws have helped create a market for the technology. You can livestream the pane discussion here. I’ll blog more about the conference and Sao Paul upon my return.