Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Reduction
Boosting Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure — Free Luncheon & Report Release At UCLA Law, Thursday, June 29th

Few clean technologies are as central for meeting climate change goals as electric vehicles. Yet in places like California, which leads the U.S. with approximately 300,000 EVs on the road, the needed charging infrastructure is lagging.

Analysts estimate that the state will need as many as 220,000 publicly accessible EV charging ports by 2020 to meet demand, well beyond the roughly 12,000 available in the state today.  So how will California meet this challenge?

Join the UCLA and UC Berkeley Schools of Law for a free lunchtime forum on policy options to boost California’s EV charging infrastructure on Thursday, June 29th at UCLA Law. The two law schools will release a major joint report at the event as part of the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, entitled “Plugging Away: How To Boost Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.”

WHEN: Thursday, June 29th, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. (registration and lunch begin promptly at 11:30am).

WHERE: Room 1447, UCLA School of Law, 385 Charles E Young Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095

Keynote Address:
The Honorable Janea Scott, Commissioner, California Energy Commission

Panel presentations:

  • Tyson Eckerle, Office of Governor Jerry Brown, Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)
  • Terry O’Day, EVgo
  • Laura Renger, Southern California Edison

RSVP by Friday, June 23rd. Space is limited, and MCLE credit is available.

Funding for the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative is generously provided by Bank of America.

How Republicans Could Change Their Mind On Climate Change: The Case Of “Red State” Renewables

Republicans tend to be skeptical of climate science and actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions out of concern for the negative economic impacts and the potential for more government regulation.

But the reality is that fighting climate change represents a generational business opportunity for the United States.  As I wrote recently, the required action will necessitate huge investments in everything from the electricity grid to the automobile sector.

Renewable energy in particular may be the “gateway drug” to get Republicans to support these investments.  Take wind energy, as the New York Times reports:

The five states that get the largest percentage of their power from wind turbines — Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — all voted for Mr. Trump. So did Texas, which produces the most wind power in absolute terms. In fact, 69 percent of the wind power produced in the country comes from states that Mr. Trump carried in November.

So it’s not surprising that representatives and senators from these states have been some of the strongest supporters of federal tax credits for renewables in congress.

Overall, the electricity sector is one area where states have a lot of sovereignty to push for low-carbon technologies.  Blue states in turn can encourage red-state action, which will help change the politics on clean technology in these states, as the clean tech industries mobilize and lobby their representatives.

A good example is the effort to integrate California’s grid with western states, as the New York Times story describes:

California and other Western states are discussing linking their electricity markets more closely, which would allow more renewable energy generated in the red states to flow to California consumers — and move California money into the pockets of red-state landowners.

Republican-led Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, could be a prime beneficiary, with a proposed wind farm that would be one of the biggest in the world. The governors of Wyoming and California are discussing a deal, though both are nervous about giving up some control of their electricity markets.

That plan is held up by politics in California and a fear among these other states of having their grids controlled by California interests.  But for climate advocates, it could be not only a long-term energy strategy, but a political one as well.

Responding To Criticism Of UC Berkeley’s 2030 Housing Report

Jennifer Hernandez of the law firm Holland & Knight and John Gamboa of the Greenlining Institute criticized our recent UC Berkeley report on 2030 housing scenarios for California that could help meet the state’s long-term greenhouse gas goals.

Their piece in the Fox & Hounds website makes the hard-to-argue-with point that California policy makers should design climate policies — and particularly cap-and-trade — with an eye toward the costs on average Californians.

From my perspective, the state is already moving in that direction, with detailed assessments of the impacts of these programs on everything from gas prices to electricity rates.  The state is also mitigating the impact for residents, with “climate credits” on our electricity bills, a guaranteed set-aside of cap-and-trade auction revenue for disadvantaged communities, and greater electric vehicle rebates for low-income residents, among other efforts.

But sure, more could be done, and it’s smart to examine these policies critically.  Certainly from a pure political perspective, California’s climate efforts won’t retain support if they cause price and other shocks to residents.

So I’m all with Hernandez and Gamboa on the general point, although I think they fail to acknowledge how much care and analysis the state has already put into the programs involved.

But then the article singles out “Right Type, Right Place” report for criticism for being obtuse on the impacts of climate-friendly housing on everyday Californians:

In one recent report, for example, some of the most respected housing policy thinkers in the state make the case that if California could only build more high-density housing in a narrow subset of urban areas along the coast—where transit is already in place—greenhouse gas emissions from cars could be reduced by nearly two million metric tons per year, household utility bills trimmed by $5 a month, and monthly transportation costs lowered by $58. All while requiring people to spend only $38 more per month on rent—and less than $14,000 more for an average home.

Where do we sign up, right? What the study, like so many others, fails to account for is the social cost—and the economic unlikelihood—of this “infill-only” scenario actually coming to pass. The authors’ housing cost data doesn’t factor in the cost, for example, of relocating hundreds of thousands of people already living in existing lower-cost, lower-density homes in these areas. The study doesn’t account for the fast-growing fees many coastal jurisdictions are imposing to slow this very type of housing (as much as $100,000 per unit in some places). Nor does it account for the stark differences in the cost of land, which is between three and 10 times higher in coastal areas than inland California (and which is the biggest reason so many workers slog through three-hour commutes each day).

Most importantly, the study seems to accept the fact that this “preferred,” coastal-focused housing scenario will produce an average monthly rent of $2,702. Even without factoring in massive displacement, rising local exactions, and land costs that are likely to push development elsewhere, this number alone should give everyone pause. To pay that much rent, an “average” household would need to earn $97,200 a year! The median income in California today is only $62,000.

First, let’s look at the claim that our study limited development in the infill scenario to just a “narrow subset of urban areas along the coast.” One look at the map below of “purple” infill areas should dispel that characterization:

Sure, some of the purple areas are near the coast, but so is the vast majority of California’s population.  This map shows that there’s actually a lot of land that could meet the preferred criteria all around the state.

Second, while it’s true our report methodology didn’t include a way to measure “social costs,” our policy recommendations addressed concerns around gentrification and displacement from infill development.  And we offered ways to mitigate those impacts.

Third, the policy recommendations in the report also addressed the need to remove local barriers to housing in prime infill areas, such as the escalating fees on urban development that Hernandez and Gamboa mentioned.

Finally, Hernandez and Gamboa’s effort to compare the average rent in our infill scenario to median household income seems less important than comparing that rent amount to what Californians are actually paying today, when you combine average current household and transportation costs.  That would be a more interesting comparison.

I should also note that if California actually succeeded in building enough housing to meet population growth, as our scenario assumed but as is not happening in reality, my personal view is that the extra housing supply would stabilize prices and rents in these infill areas (although we didn’t model that effect in our report).

As a general response to this criticism, our report did not do a financial feasibility analysis of the scenarios, so I think critiques related to that lack of information are valid. But we were up front about missing that level of analysis and recommend that future research build on this work.  After all, this is the first comprehensive, academic effort to look at 2030 housing scenarios and how they can fit with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.  This report is an important starting point for this discussion, and we hope others build on it.

But it’s not accurate to suggest we didn’t think about these “social” and other economic costs.  And this criticism also misses the added benefit of more infill housing for low-income residents which we also didn’t quantify: access to high-paying jobs in cheaper overall housing.  Right now, with lower-cost housing out in sprawl areas, these residents not only face long commutes at high cost to access good jobs, they’re contributing to environmental degradation for everyone.

Solving that problem would be an environmental and economic win-win for all of California’s residents.  And in any back-and-forth over details, we should not lose sight of that larger, more important point.

 

Budget Fight 2017 & Its Environmental Consequences For Transit And Clean Energy

With so much noise coming out of Washington DC these days, from phony bill signing ceremonies to endless provocative tweets and misinformation, it’s easy to lose sight of the real, consequential policy battles going on at the moment.

On the environment, the big battle in Congress will take place over the budget late this summer.  A temporary stopgap measure helped preserve funding for key environmental initiatives, such as clean energy research and transit projects like Caltrain electrification.  But that bill just kicked the can down the road to September, when the government must act to avoid a shutdown.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would zero out basically all environmental programs, including all new transit projects. I’m following the fate of clean energy research at the uber-successful ARPA-E in particular, at the Department of Energy:

September is now the new showdown date for the future of federally-funded breakthrough energy research in the United States. And if Trump has his say, the September fight could be waged in a higher-stakes, post-filibuster, 51-votes-to-pass-a-bill Senate. (Regardless, apparently, of any consequences for Republicans when Democrats next control the White House and/or Congress.)

On transit, the administration wants to end all federal support for urban transit projects, essentially ending a half-century of federal involvement in this area. As Transportation for America writes:

The administration reiterates their belief that transit is just a minor, local concern.

“Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” they write, making it clear that they see no benefit in providing grants to cities of all sizes to build new bus rapid transit or rail lines, or expand existing, well-used lines so they can carry more passengers.

The administration even uses the example of local cities approving their own funding measures for transit as a reason to discontinue federal support, when those local measures were actually sold as ways to leverage federal dollars in this longstanding partnership.

The good news is that many of these programs and initiatives have bipartisan support.  We saw that in action with the stopgap measure passed this spring.  But that support will be put to the test as we witness an assault on federal dollars for the environment and public health like we’ve never seen before.

Climate Investments As A Rural Jobs Strategy

Trump’s announcement yesterday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement (although technically not for another three years or so) was a big victory for his die-hard political supporters. A significant percentage of Republican voters simply discount climate science and hate the idea of global cooperation to address it.

Why do they feel that way? There’s been a fair amount of research on the question, but the bottom line is that they must feel like climate policies and programs will have no benefit for them — and may instead drive up their costs and undermine their employment opportunities.

At the same time, the U.S. economy has experienced an uneven recovery since the last recession, which has essentially only benefited the urban, knowledge-based parts of the country while almost completely leaving behind the rest with stagnant or declining wages. And that’s where these Trump voters made their stand and determined the election last year.

The irony though is that climate policies and related investments have a huge potential to benefit these rural areas and compensate for the tectonic economic changes that have left them behind. Just take California’s San Joaquin Valley, a poor and economically challenged part of the state. Our recent Berkeley Law report with Next 10 and UC Berkeley’s Labor Center showed that California’s three major climate programs — cap-and-trade, renewable energy, and energy efficiency — boosted the San Joaquin Valley’s economy by more than $13 billion and created thousands of new jobs to date.

Or take high speed rail, which is a long-term effort to move people around the state on low-carbon electricity rather than petroleum-guzzling cars and airplanes.  The Sacramento Bee editorial writers argued in support of the project precisely for its economic benefit to the San Joaquin Valley:

The $20 billion Central Valley to Silicon Valley leg won’t carry commuters until 2025, give or take. But once it does, the forgotten part of California that coastal residents fly over or zip past en route to Yosemite will become connected to the rest of the state and gain their share of California’s bounty. That’s not a boondoggle. That’s fair.

Nationally, a “deep decarbonization” strategy for the entire U.S., with its attendant investments in the electricity grid and vehicle electrification, could generate up to 2 million jobs by 2050, according to ICF International.  Many of those jobs would happen in the economically challenged parts of the country that supported Trump and his decision yesterday.

So the solution to building more political support for climate change policies therefore rests within the solutions to combat climate change in the first place.  But given recent events, that message is simply not coming across to the parts of the country that need to hear it.

U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Agreement Would Be Symbolic But Not (Yet) Substantive

If it’s true, as reported, that Trump will withdraw the United States from the international climate change accord negotiated in Paris in 2015, it will be a symbolic abdication of U.S. leadership on clean technology and climate.  And if the U.S. does not get a more climate-friendly president in January 2021 (or sooner), or somehow get a change of heart from this current one, it could have serious environmental consequences for the planet.

It’s important to note that the agreement itself was essentially symbolic, although it provides an important structure for global cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions reduction and can be strengthened over time.  The agreement isn’t binding, and the U.S. contributions to the global emissions reduction effort are predicated on domestic policies like the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is now trying to roll back anyway.

As my UCLA Law colleague Ann Carlson notes, staying in the agreement would mean masking the administration’s full-scale attack on domestic climate change programs.  So in some ways, the agreement itself is a distraction from the administration’s policies on everything from expanded oil-and-gas exploration on public lands, rollback of vehicle fuel economy standards, and efforts to undermine renewable energy and public transit, among others.

In terms of actual emissions reductions though, the Paris agreement — and the policies supporting it like the aforementioned Clean Power Plan — weren’t really meant to start immediate changes to our energy system.  The real action for most of these efforts begins in the 2020s.  So the good news is that substantively, there’s still some time to make progress on climate, even with a four-year (or less) pause in federal climate action.

But the bad news of course is that we lose these years of taking action, with no guarantee that the U.S. will change course politically anytime soon.  And time is already running out to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

But one other silver lining to the administration’s anti-climate actions: it has motivated states like California and cities across the country to do more to reduce emissions, while also emboldening the European Union and China to step in and become economic leaders in the effort to transition to low-carbon technologies.  While that’s a political loss for the U.S. as a whole, it points to the potential for much more decentralized, global action on climate.

Why Japan Is Pushing Hydrogen Fuel Cells Over Battery Electric Vehicles

The more I learn about hydrogen fuel cells as a potential alternative (or competitor) to battery electric vehicles, the more confused I become.

Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle

Hydrogen as a fuel source (as opposed to electricity) is much more energy intensive to produce and much less efficient as a result, given the energy input to make the hydrogen that will power the vehicle.  It also requires building an entirely new fueling infrastructure to reach drivers, whereas electricity is ubiquitous (although does require a lot of new charging stations).

Hydrogen also isn’t cheap (per paywalled Greenwire):

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles could offer advantages over the electric cars on the road now, including higher travel distances between refuelings. Filling up the tank is basically the same as filling a car with gasoline, and in California, most hydrogen pumps are at existing gas stations. While the hydrogen fuel is significantly more expensive — filling a tank costs about $75 — Toyota and Honda give their customers credit for $15,000 worth of fuel over three years of ownership.

So why the big push for hydrogen in places like California, when battery electric vehicles have taken hold with billions of investment from companies around the world?

The answer appears to be Japan, and the automakers in that country, specifically Toyota and Honda.  States like California have had to include hydrogen incentives in packages with battery electric vehicles in order to get the political buy-in from these Japanese automakers.

So with all the hurdles associated with hydrogen fuel cells, why is Japan so invested in the technology?  Per ClimateWire (also pay-walled):

A big part of the answer is that the shift toward hydrogen plays to Japan’s strengths as a technology developer and exporter, and the country makes an ideal laboratory to test the hydrogen economy.

The country spends more than $100 billion on foreign oil every year, and fuel prices tend to be high, so hydrogen fuel doesn’t have to be as cheap as it does in other countries to compete. More than 93 percent of Japan’s population is concentrated in urban areas, so fewer fueling stations are needed to sustain a hydrogen fleet than among populations that are more spread out.

For drivers, a fuel cell fill-up takes only a few minutes, compared with hours of charging for a battery-electric vehicle.

Another factor is that much of the supply chain for the hydrogen economy is domestic, and Japanese companies like Toyota have a track record of bringing fuel-efficient cars to the masses.

In particular, Toyota has built the Prius, a mass-market hybrid gasoline-electric car that has dominated the segment for more than 20 years. It took 10 years to sell the first million units, then two years to sell the second million.

With patience and know-how, Toyota hopes to replicate some of that success in fuel cells in Japan and in other parts of the world where energy prices, environmental concerns and driving styles align to make fuel-cell-powered cars a preferable option.

I suppose it’s fine to have another “clean” vehicle technology in the mix, in case breakthroughs help it leapfrog battery electric vehicles. But I would prefer that policy makers don’t share too much of the limited available incentive dollars with this technology and instead focus on the more optimal solution.

Some Environmental Wins: Methane, Clean Tech Research & Transit

The environmental policy news from Washington DC recently has not been great, to say the least.  So it’s worth stopping to appreciate some recent wins.

First, in a surprising and close vote today, the U.S. Senate failed to overturn Obama administration regulations on methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands.  Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gas pollutants, and this rule was critical to limiting those emissions.

Using the once-obscure Congressional Review Act, Congress could have not only wiped out the rule but also precluded the Bureau of Land Management from regulating in this area again.  The oil and gas industry lost in the senate by one vote, with Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona the deciding votes (all Democrats voted against it).

Second, in the recent budget deal to keep the federal government funded through September, congressional negotiators saved the most important clean tech research agency, ARPA-E in the Department of Energy.  As Utility Dive reported, ARPA-E actually received a $15 million boost instead of being eliminated, as the Trump administration had proposed.

Finally, the Caltrain electrification funding, which Congressional Republicans had held up because the electrification would one day get high speed rail to San Francisco, came through in the same budget deal with a partial amount of $100 million out of the original $647 million.  It’s no guarantee that the rest of the dollars will be approved, but it’s a good sign.

So while the news can be gloomy on the environment, and there are a lot of battles still to come, it’s good to see common sense rule-making and investments still moving forward right now.

Climate “Skeptic” Bret Stephens Cherrypicks Bad Climate Policies In The New York Times

Bret Stephens, the New York Times’ new columnist, got the climate change world into an outrage with his first column last week, which compared climate science to Hillary Clinton’s pre-election polling and argued for restraint from climate advocates.

In his follow up column today, he took a more measured tone, noting that he believes the Earth is warming but that we’re not being careful on the solutions:

“The British government provided financial incentives to encourage a shift to diesel engines because laboratory tests suggested that would cut harmful emissions and combat climate change. Yet, it turned out that diesel cars emit on average five times as much emissions in real-world driving conditions as in the tests, according to a British Department for Transport study.”

In other words, to say we want to take out insurance for climate change is perfectly sensible. But whether we know we’re buying the right insurance, at the right price, is less clear, and it behooves us to look closely at the fine print before we sign on.

As someone who works day in and day out on climate mitigation policies, I can tell you that Stephens is cherry-picking from a handful of bad examples.

Take his reference to the ethanol subsidies, which resulted from the federal renewable fuel standard, established during the second Bush administration. Yes, the standard did spur more Midwestern corn production to be used for biofuel.

But the policy was never really a climate mitigation measure. It was primarily meant to boost domestic fuel sources, with greenhouse gas reduction as an added selling point but no strict carbon screen on the fuels. If there was a strong carbon screen on the kind of fuel that could qualify, very little of that high-carbon Midwestern corn-based ethanol would have qualified (hence the opposition to the standard even from some environmentalists).

For a better climate policy model on biofuels, just look to California. The state’s low carbon fuel standard (which encourages biofuel production like the renewable fuel standard but with a strong low-carbon requirement) disfavors land-intensive corn for true low-carbon biofuel, like in-state used cooking oil (surprisingly a growing percentage of the state’s biofuel).

Stephens’ reference to the British diesel problem is also unfortunate. Most climate policy experts will tell you that the best way to reduce emissions from transportation is through battery electric vehicles, as long as the electricity doesn’t come exclusively from coal-fired power plants (in which case hybrid vehicles yield better carbon reductions). Other fuels that can work include low-carbon biofuels and possibly hydrogen, depending on the energy source used to produce it. Diesel isn’t on the list, at least in places like California, unless it’s biodiesel.

On that subject, biodiesel does emit conventional pollutants, an issue we’re grappling with in California, as evidenced by the POET lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board’s low carbon fuel standard. Biodiesel is great at reducing carbon emissions but also emits nitrogen oxide (NOx) — a subject we covered in Berkeley/UCLA Law’s 2015 Planting Fuels report.

Resolving this conflict among pollutants will take a policy balancing act, but it ultimately shouldn’t obscure the huge economic and environmental benefits from switching transportation fuels from petroleum to electricity and low-carbon biofuels. Stephens simply ignores this tried-and-true approach, which is resulting in swift advancements in electric vehicle adoption in places like California, Europe, and even China.

To be sure, care is needed when it comes to developing climate policies, and I’d agree with Stephens on that front. But the main concern is around managing the economic impacts of transitioning the grid and transportation fuels to cleaner sources. We have to go slow to avoid price shocks and bring the costs of these new technologies down.

California is doing just that, with a measured, careful plan to bring down the emissions curve steeply over the coming decades. Our economy is now less carbon intensive than it was in the 1990s and has been growing rapidly, too — which is at least an indication that climate policies aren’t getting in the way, if not actually serving as a boost.

There’s no reason that the country as a whole can’t follow suit, except that we have national writers like Stephens who cherrypick their way into sounding like reasonable skeptics — when they’re really just misleading people.

Trump May Be Inconsistent But His Administration Is Not — At Least On The Environment

Will this place still be “Carrizo Plain National Monument” after Trump’s administration has its way? Photo by Steve Hymon

In these first 100 days, our new president has backtracked on many promises, completely reversed course in others, and demonstrated an alarming disregard for the truth.

It’s enough to make some political observers think that he’s basically a malleable mishmash of blathering, with his only core desire to self-promote and perhaps increase his riches from from his various business dealings.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently:

What on earth is the point of trying to understand him when there is nothing to understand? Calling him a liar is true enough, but liars have some cognitive grip on reality, and he doesn’t. Liars remember what they have said before. His brain is a neural Etch A Sketch. He doesn’t speak, we realize; he emits random noises. He refuses to take responsibility for anything. He can accuse his predecessor and Obama’s national security adviser of crimes, and provide no evidence for either. He has no strategy beyond the next 24 hours, no guiding philosophy, no politics, no consistency at all — just whatever makes him feel good about himself this second. He therefore believes whatever bizarre nonfact he can instantly cook up in his addled head, or whatever the last person who spoke to him said. He makes Chauncey Gardiner look like Abraham Lincoln. Occam’s razor points us to the obvious: He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Which is reassuring and still terrifying all at once.

That may be true when it comes to Trump personally and as a politician.  But it does not apply when it comes to his appointees in the administration on the environment.  Because across-the-board, the administration seems motivated by one thing when it comes to the environment, and that’s boosting the oil, gas, and coal industries at the expense of everything else.

There are too many examples to cite, but it’s worth going through some of them:

  1. Attempting to roll back key regulations like the Clean Power Plan and the fuel economy standards
  2. Gutting the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy clean tech research, and public transit, among others
  3. Overturning environmental regulations with Congress through use of the once-obscure Congressional Review Act
  4. Reviewing, with the likely intent of undoing, prior national monument designations, including the Carrizo Plain here in California that I recently profiled.

So while Trump may be incoherent and bereft of some core principles, he has empowered an administration full of individuals dead set on boosting oil, gas, and coal exploitation, at the expense of the environment and public health.

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