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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Obama Bets Big on Biofuels

 

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”

Most effective climate engineering solutions revealed

 

Catherine Brahic | New Scientist

Many scenarios have been proposed to help us engineer our way out of potential climate disaster, and now a new study could point us towards the ones that are most effective.

Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia, UK, has put together the first comparative assessment of climate-altering proposals such pumping sulphur into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic emissions, or fertilising the oceans with iron.

“There is a worrying feeling that we’re not going to get our act together fast enough,” says Lenton, referring to international efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have reached a “social tipping point” and are starting to wonder which techniques might complement emissions cuts, he says.

Lenton says he is not necessarily advocating engineering the climate, but, faced with a growing trend among his peers, he and colleague Naomi Vaughan decided to provide a comparison of the options that are on the table.

First, Lenton says the exercise shows there is no “silver bullet” – no single method that will safely reverse climate change on its own.

Scrubbers and mirrors

Climate engineering schemes would work by either removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or reflecting solar energy back out into space – both with the intention of lowering global temperatures.

Proposals for removing CO2 from the atmosphere include planting vast forests, chemically absorbing the gas, or turning agricultural waste into charcoal and burying it.

Reflecting solar energy back into space does not decrease the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but lessens their warming effect by reducing the amount of solar energy that gets trapped near Earth’s surface. Possible schemes have included space mirrors in orbit around the planet, clouds of sulphur particles in the atmosphere, or ground-based reflectors.

The researchers calculated how effective each scheme is at reducing the amount of solar energy trapped in our climatic system – a measure known as “radiative forcing”.

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EU calls for global carbon market

BBC

The European Commission has called for a global carbon trading market as part of a plan to tackle climate change.

The EU is already committed to expanding its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), but now it is urging other industrialised countries to join in.

The commission says that by 2015 it wants to link the ETS to other carbon trading systems. The goal is to include emerging economies by 2020.

A UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December is to strive for a deal.

The commission proposals presented on Wednesday are designed as the EU’s contribution to the UN debate, with the aim of getting a new global pact on measures to tackle climate change.

EU 20/20/20 TARGETS
20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 1990 levels
20% increase in use of renewable energy by 2020
20% cut in energy consumption through improved energy efficiency by 2020

The pact would be a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was not ratified by the US, the world’s biggest polluter.

The commission, which draws up EU legislation, wants poorer developing countries to put in place plans to cut greenhouse gases.

It says that to cut emissions, more investment will be needed globally – rising to as much as 175bn euros (£162bn) annually by 2020.

More than half of that investment will be needed in developing countries, the commission says.

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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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California: GOP pushing to weaken emissions standards

Michael Gardner | The San Diego Union-Tribune

While praising President Barack Obama’s moves to allow California to impose tighter controls on tailpipe emissions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now finds himself under pressure from fellow Republicans demanding that he weaken the state’s broader greenhouse-gas laws as part of any deal to solve the budget crisis.

The possibility of compromising the state’s landmark standards to curb global warming has environmentalists fuming. They also worry that Democrats will be forced to trade environmental safeguards for GOP concessions on raising revenue.

“This is fiscal blackmail,” said Bill Magavern, state director of the Sierra Club. “They know they could never achieve these weakenings of environmental protections through the normal process.”

Republicans, however, say providing industry relief from potentially new costs to limit emissions will stimulate growth, provide jobs and help refill empty state coffers.

Schwarzenegger yesterday declined to commit to defending the state’s emission laws, suggesting that publicly drawing lines outside secret budget talks could be counterproductive.

“I don’t want to get into any of the details of our budget discussions, because it could blow up everything,” he said.

A key lawyer in state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has circulated a memo warning that legislation drafted by Republicans as part of budget talks could “radically weaken” the state’s ability to enforce emission reductions and “violate the Clean Air Act.”

“These proposals would neither help the state’s fiscal crisis, nor provide any stimulative effect on the economy,” wrote Marc Le Forestier, supervising deputy attorney general who tracks legislation for Brown, a Democrat.

The memo surfaced just as Schwarzenegger and other environmental leaders were celebrating Obama’s directive to reopen California’s application for permission to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Bush administration refused to grant the waiver in December 2007.

“California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership . . . But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way,” Obama said.

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Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards

By JOHN M. BRODER and PETER BAKER | NY Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Mr. Obama will use the announcement to bolster the impression of a sharp break from the Bush era on all fronts, following his decisions last week to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; tighten limits on interrogation tactics by Central Intelligence Agency officers; order plans to withdraw combat forces from Iraq; and reverse President George W. Bush’s financing restrictions on groups that promote or provide abortion overseas, administration officials said.

Beyond acting on the California emissions law, officials said, Mr. Obama will direct the Transportation Department to quickly finalize interim nationwide regulations requiring the automobile industry to increase fuel efficiency standards to comply with a 2007 law, rules that the Bush administration decided at the last minute not to issue.

To avoid losing another year, Mr. Obama will order temporary regulations to be completed by March so automakers have enough time to retool for vehicles sold in 2011. Final standards for later years will be determined by a separate process that under Mr. Obama’s order must take into consideration legal, scientific and technological factors.

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