Politics, Oil, and the EPA
Just the other day Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan addressed the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association saying that higher prices should soften demand and boost the supply of fuel. He went on to say that over time higher oil prices could force the economy to be less energy-dependent and that the government should address the energy use because they are under the greatest strain they have seen in decades. If raising the price of fuel at the pumps will decrease demand, which would mean less usage, which would mean lower CO2 emissions why isn’t there a bill to raise the rate of fuel instead of making auto manufacturers change their technology? Can we say political suicide?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increases in emissions from fossil fuel combustion have been the dominant factor affecting U.S. emission trends. As the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel combustion has accounted for a nearly constant 80 percent of global warming potential (GWP) weighted emissions since 1990. Emissions from this source category grew by 17 percent (796.3 Tg CO2 Eq.) from 1990 to 2002 and were responsible for most of the increase in national emissions during this period. The fact that fossil fuel combustion is the highest growing source of carbon dioxide is the reason environmentalist is calling for the automobile manufacturers to reduce carbon dioxide from their automobiles, according to Jerry Martin, spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
In August 2003, the EPA denied a petition from the nonprofit International Center for Technology Assessment and other groups that wanted to implement new controls on auto emissions. EPA said it lacked authority from Congress to regulate greenhouse gases. In order for the EPA to implement any emissions control, it has to have authority handed down from the Senate. The Senate, during the Clinton era, did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, nor did they ratify the legal opinion that gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,(IPCC) stated that there is evidence that most of the global warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. The chart shows that their levels of atmospheric CO2 have increased by about a third over the last century and a half. The IPCC was set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program in 1988. Its role is to advise the governments of the world what they know and what they don’t know about the nature and causes of climate change. The most august body, The National Academy of Sciences, has said that CO2 rise is a real problem that needs to be addressed.
CO2 has been on the rise and there are reasons for this. The EPA states that the U.S. economy experienced moderate growth, recovering from weak conditions in 2001. Prices for fuels remained at or below 2001 levels; the cost of natural gas, motor gasoline, and electricity was all lower “triggering an increase in demand for fuel. In addition, the United States experienced one of the hottest summers on record, causing a significant increase in electricity use in the residential sector as the use of air-conditioners increased. Partially offsetting this increased consumption of fossil fuels, however, was increasing in the use of nuclear and renewable fuels. Nuclear facilities operated at the highest capacity on record in 2002. Furthermore, there was a considerable increase in the use of hydroelectric power in 2002 after a very low output the previous year.
AB 1493, originally AB 1058, now known as the Pavley Bill was actually authored by an environmental group, Bluewater Network. The bill stipulates that there will be a reduction in greenhouse gases which will begin with the model year 2010 vehicles and phase in through 2016.
CARB is contending that California is the fifth-largest economy in the world and the control and reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases are critical to slow the effects of global warming. Passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks are responsible for approximately forty percent of the total greenhouse gas pollution in the state.
In order for the bill to go into effect, CARB would have to seek a Section 209 of the Clean air act waiver from the EPA. CARB cannot ask for that waiver as there is a lawsuit from the Automotive Alliance contending that AB 1493 is not a waiver for a reduction in emissions regulations, but a fuel economy regulation of which has already been implemented by the EPA called Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). The states challenging the EPA are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, along with the U.S. territory of American Samoa and the cities of Baltimore, New York, and Washington and thirteen environmental and public health groups.
There is no way around this catch-22. In order for an engine to reduce it’s carbon dioxide emissions, it needs to reduce the amount of fuel it uses. Any advanced technology equipment, whether it be a hybrid or cylinder deactivation, will reduce CO2 because it reduces fuel consumption. California cannot solve climate change by itself. Pavleys office contends that they wouldn’t have to ask for the waiver if the current government would recognize CO2 as a greenhouse gas and take action to reduce auto emissions. Instead, the Department of Energy (DOE) and Air Chief Jeff Homestead are spending Billions on research and development to transform petro based vehicles energy vehicles that don’t emit CO2, such as hydrogen.
The Auto Alliance contends that they shouldn’t be relegated to 50 different laws by 50 different states. Canada has just implemented a plan to meet their Kyoto targets. On Wednesday Canada unveiled a C$10 billion seven-year plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Auto Alliance has said that they have voluntarily agreed to work with Canada on their reduction target because it is not a province by province decree, but a Country mandate. From 1990 to 2003, net US GHG emissions have increased by a total of 1,024.5 Tg or 20%. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the US would have been committing to a reduction of 7% from its 1990 levels.
There is a bill, currently being debated in the U.S. Senate;
- Senators Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) brought a revised version of their Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S.139) to a vote in the United States Senate. The measured failed by a vote of 43 to 55, but the vote demonstrated growing bipartisan support for genuine climate change policy. The revised version, S.139, would require the Administrator of the EPA to provide regulations to limit the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity, transportation, industrial, and commercial economic sectors (as defined by EPAs Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks). The affected sectors accounted for approximately 85% of the overall U.S. emissions in the year 2000. CO2 is listed as a greenhouse gas emission in this bill. In order for this bill to pass it would have to be ratified by the Senate and signed by the President or overrode by the President. California is hopeful that either will happen. According to CARBs Chairman Lloyd in a speech in September 2004, “California has never accepted “It can’t be done” as an answer. And California has proven over and over again that setting the right goals and giving industry the right tools, enough time and sufficient flexibility to meet those goals can produce extraordinary results. Fortunately, there is an impressive record by which we can gauge the industry response and the staff’s expectations. I am confident that the auto industry and the Air Resources Board could achieve tremendous things if we work together on the climate change issue. The stakes are high, as we’ve seen today, stakes for public health, for other aspects of Californias economy. And clearly the Board will not, as it never has, shirk its obligation to protect the health of Californias children.If our government really wanted to decrease the level of carbon dioxide they would raise the price of gas. They don’t raise it because it would be political suicide. Make no mistake, this is not better for the consumer, except that it decreases the use of gas which decreases carbon dioxide emissions.Since 1978 Americans have increased the mpg by 5mpg/vehicle, we travel over 2,000 miles more per year per car than we did in 1978 and there are 300,000,000 vehicles on the road. The more economical fuel-efficient cars have allowed us to live further from our work, commuting from the sprawl of suburbia into the cities. According to DOE, Americans were using 6.5 million barrels a day for transportation in 1978, today they use 9.08 million barrels a day for transportation.Barring that there should be a federal regulation that acknowledges CO2 as a greenhouse gas emission that would bring the automakers to the table and make them negotiate on a country-wide level.