EPA sets fuel efficiency hearing

David Shepardson | Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to move quickly to consider a request by California and 13 states to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016 — a measure that would require automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of light trucks and passenger cars.

The EPA has set a public hearing on the issue on March 5 and will take public comments through April 6.

The hearing comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s decision last month to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush Administration’s decision to deny California and the other states a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement new standards.

In a Friday notice about the public hearing, the EPA repudiated its prior denial saying it “significantly departed from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and from the agency’s history.”

California had been granted more than 50 waivers over the past 30 years and never received a complete denial. California’s waiver would require automakers to boost fuel economy to a fleetwide 35.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and 42.5 mpg by 2020.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency would conduct an “impartial review” of California’s request.`

“It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law,” Jackson said.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that if the states get EPA approval, they would immediately put their requirements into effect with no changes in the ramp up until 2016.

The standards — drafted in 2004 — were supposed to begin with the 2009 model year.

“Nothing I saw changed the views that I had before is that there’s a lot of great technology that we need to bring on,” Nichols said in an interview this week after touring the Washington Auto Show.

The EPA said the agency is specifically seeking comment on automaker lead time.

California has said its requirements would reduce auto sales by 4.7 percent by 2020 because complying with the new standards would increase the average cost of vehicles. “Our standards are not the problem. Our standards are part of the solution if we do it right,” Nichols said.

Sue Cischke, Ford Motor Co.’ group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety, said the automaker would face significant hurdles in complying.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a strong warning that global warming will have “substantial human health impacts” within the next few decades. The warning came in a report released only days after the same agency declined to regulate global warming-causing greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

“Today typifies the climate-change schizophrenia in the Bush administration,” said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “On one hand, government scientists are saying that global warming poses grave threats to our health and our welfare, and, on the other hand, [there] are White House political hacks following the oil industry’s bidding to do nothing.”

The EPA report warns that rising temperatures will cause air quality to worsen in Eastern cities, as well as more deaths among the elderly, the poor and inner-city dwellers during future heat waves.

“It’s going to be hotter; it’s going to be hotter sooner in the year than it was in the past,” said co-author Kristie Ebi. Young people now living near Washington “[are] going to look back and think back about how nice the summers used to be,” she said. “Within 20, 30 years, on average, the [public] should notice that it’s warmer.”

Global warming is also likely to lead to more frequent and powerful hurricanes, dwindling water supplies in the West, loss of coastal land to rising sea levels and storm surges, and the more rapid spread of food- and water-borne illnesses.

According to the EPA’s former deputy associate administrator, Jason K. Burnett, the president’s deputy chief of staff for policy originally approved an EPA decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as air pollutants, a move supported by several cabinet members and senior administration officials. Before the decision could be made official, however, the White House prohibited the EPA from taking action.

Global Warming Suit Settled

Wired PR News.com

An environmental lawsuit against the federal government in 2002 has been settled.  As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the suit alleged that two U.S. agencies financed projects oversees that would cause environmental and economic harm due to a change in the global climate.

As part of the settlement, the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. will reportedly provide financing for renewable energy projects to the tune of $500 million, and consider the amount of greenhouse gas emissions equated with further projects they assist with. Michelle Chan of Friends of the Earth, one of the organizations that brought forth the lawsuit, is quoted in the AP report as stating, “This settlement is a substantial victory for our climate… It will force federal agencies to move away from fossil fuel projects and account for the climate impacts of their lending.”

California: Clearing the air


Steve Hargreaves | CNNMoney.com

There was controversy earlier this week when President Obama decided to review California’s request to tighten emissions standards – a move that may force a crippled auto industry to build cars that get better gas mileage.

Confusion, about what exactly Obama and California were doing, was apparent on the day of the announcement.

In fact, it’s still unclear what the intentions of the administration are, and what effect California’s proposed rules would have on the auto industry, the environment and consumers.

Contrary to some reports, California would not set its own fuel-efficiency standards. It, and the 16 other states that would likely follow it, would set new air pollution standards that are stricter than the federal government’s, as they have done for the last several decades.

California needs a special waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to set higher standards. The state has applied for this waiver dozens of times before, and it’s always been granted.

But its most recent waiver request was denied by the Bush administration on grounds that new national fuel-economy standards made California’s new rules unnecessary. Obama has now directed the EPA to review that decision.

While the waivers were always granted in the past, this most recent request raises new issues. What’s different this time around is that California wants to regulate carbon dioxide, the main gas behind global warming, which is not a simple task.

Carbon dioxide cannot be simply captured from a car’s tailpipe like a lot of other pollutants. The only way carmakers would be able to meet these new standards is by selling vehicles that get better gas mileage in those states. Cars that burn less gas emit less carbon dioxide – effectively raising mileage standards.

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Massachusetts: Will the economy take the wind out of Patrick’s plan?


Erin Ailworth | The Boston Globe

Shortly after taking office in January 2007, Governor Deval Patrick made Massachusetts part of a landmark regional coalition to reduce greenhouse gases from area power plants. That April, he released a 13-page directive outlining some of his environmental policies. And in the nearly two years since, the state has produced a flood of green bills, mandates, orders, fledgling programs, and other goals.

As a result, some say Massachusetts has positioned itself as a leader in energy and environmental policy. But others question whether Patrick’s lofty goals can be reached, especially given how far the economy has fallen since they were proposed.

Indeed, the state’s timetable for its green initiatives appears ambitious. For example, within the next eight years, it wants to increase the state’s solar power capacity from 7.2 megawatts to 250 – almost 35 times current capacity. To reach its wind power goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2020 – up from today’s modest 6.62 megawatts – generating capacity must be multiplied more than 300 times. Other mandates, such as those related to energy efficiency and alternative fuels, are just as dramatic.

“Whether any of these goals are achievable within the time frame, in my view, is going to depend critically on three factors over which the state has no control,” said Robert Stavins, an environmental economist and director of Harvard University’s environmental economics program. “One is the pace and depth of the economic recession and recovery.” The other factors, Stavins said, are “the rate, nature, and timing of the federal government’s economic stimulus package,” which contains significant funding for green projects, and federal energy policies that could trump state and local plans.

Already, the faltering economy and related credit crunch have dampened the plans of some clean tech start-ups and young green businesses looking to grow in Massachusetts – though the sector has taken less of a hit than many others. Also, Cape Wind – an offshore wind turbine project that could account for as much as a fifth of the state’s wind-power goal – has been slow in winning approval.

Meanwhile, following the rollout of federal subsidies for renewable energy, the state recently halved its rebate for residential solar installations from $2 to $1 per watt installed.

Still, Ian Bowles, head of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, believes the optimism of 2007 won’t succumb to the widespread economic pessimism of 2009, at least when it comes to environmental and energy issues.

“We’re making very strong progress on all these goals,” Bowles said, calling them the “building blocks” that will allow the state to reach even loftier milestones, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, from 1990 levels, by 2050.

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Arizona: Brewer to review ‘clean car’ rules

HOWARD FISCHER | Capitol Media Services | Arizona Daily Sun

PHOENIX Gov. Jan Brewer may rescind Arizona’s new “clean car” regulations to cut greenhouse gases even before they take effect.

Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Monday that the new governor is “reviewing” the rules, pushed through last year by her predecessor. Senseman said Brewer specifically wants the input of state lawmakers about whether Arizona should have its own rules. Their views were ignored last year by Janet Napolitano who vetoed legislation to overturn the regulations.

The governor’s move comes as President Barack Obama said Monday he is weighing letting each state enact its own vehicle emission standards.

Most immediately, he wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weigh dropping its opposition to letting California establish its own tailpipe standards for carbon dioxide and other gases believed linked to global climate change.

If California gets its own standards, existing federal law already allows Arizona to follow suit. And the Arizona rules enacted last year will automatically kick in when that happens unless Brewer first gets the regulations repealed.

California was the first state in the country to adopted its own air quality rules for greenhouse gases, a move it took after the EPA refused to enact national regulations. Federal law allows other states to adopt either the national rules or those from California.

The state Department of Environmental Quality, under orders from Napolitano, crafted rules requiring vehicles sold in Arizona for beginning in 2011 for the 2012 model year meet those California standards. But those rules have been on hold since the EPA refused to grant California the necessary permission to adopt greenhouse gas rules.

California filed suit against the EPA in federal court and Arizona, along with other states, joined in.

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Florida moving toward tougher fuel standards

William Gibson  | Sun Sentinal

President Obama’s push today to cut greenhouse gases will likely clear the way for Florida and other states to set tougher standards for fuel emissions.

Governor Charlie Crist has asked the Florida Legislature to follow California’s example, which has become the model for more than a dozen states that want to curb air pollution.

California’s attempts had been blocked by the Bush administration. But Obama on Monday directed federal officials to review the matter with an eye toward letting the states decide.

The likely result will allow states to insist on higher standards, which would force automakers to build vehicles that spew less pollution and improve fuel efficiency.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimates that from 2013 to 2016 the new standards would reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks by about 23 million metric tons, or 6 percent.

DEP also estimates that by 2016, Florida’s gas consumption would be reduced by 2.7 billion gallons.

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