Why EPA’s U-Turn on Auto Efficiency Rules Gives China the Upper Hand
By Greg Dotson
The Trump administration is poised to ease pollution and efficiency rules for new passenger cars and trucks, giving automakers a reprieve from more stringent Obama-era standards. But in the process, it could yield global leadership in the auto sector to the Chinese.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a plan to relax existing tailpipe standards that apply through 2025, scrapping the previous target of an average of 36 miles per gallon. Pruitt is also expected to deny the state of California its historic ability to adopt tailpipe standards that are more ambitious than the federal government's.
One might think of this as another case of industry versus environmentalists. After all, the automakers are calling for eased regulatory burdens and "harmonized" standards across the states and the federal government. Environmentalists decry the move as undermining our nation's efforts to cut carbon pollution.
But the EPA's expected proposal defies the simple narrative that businesses and environmentalists are butting heads. Over the last half century, tailpipe emissions rules have helped the nation develop a vibrant, globally competitive automotive sector. As a former senior energy congressional staffer and now a law professor, I have learned that well-designed environmental standards can spur innovation and give our domestic companies a "first-mover advantage."
As a policy professional, I met countless times over two decades with car makers, their suppliers, technologists, environmental advocates and entrepreneurs. In my view, reversing course on the EPA's tailpipe standards threatens to yield this competitive advantage to other nations.
Parts Suppliers Versus Car Makers
Some segments of the auto industry understand the importance of emissions standards. A recent survey done on behalf of a clean transportation industry group found that 95 percent of auto parts suppliers agreed that more ambitious standards encourage innovation and investment in the U.S.
These companies overwhelmingly want the EPA standards maintained or even strengthened and are letting policymakers know that any relaxation will cost U.S. manufacturing jobs. Suppliers of pollution control technologies have told the EPA that weakening the standards could strand current investments and jeopardize new investments in domestic manufacturing of clean car technologies.
China's more aggressive push for plug-in vehicles has attracted investment from automakers in batteries and other emerging auto technologies.Philip McMaster / CC BY-NC
These parts suppliers employ hundreds of thousands of workers and their market is expected to grow to $23 billion by the end of the decade. In their own words, the industry group Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association said its members continue "to grow and add more jobs in response to environmental regulations." In 2017 alone, these manufacturers invested more than $3 billion in developing technologies that reduce emissions from mobile sources.
Developed and Made in America
The landmark Clean Air Act, passed in 1970 and strengthened in 1990, has two key policy features that have spurred innovation and economic activity in the auto manufacturing sector.
First, the act says that EPA standards for cars and trucks take effect after the period "necessary to permit the development and application of the requisite technology, giving appropriate consideration to the cost of compliance within such period." This even-handed approach ensures that the auto manufacturers have the time they need to develop pollution control technology, and that the EPA can set standards stringent enough to require the development and deployment of new technology.
This "technology-forcing" approach has brought innovation to an industry that hasn't always embraced it—from the industry's well-known resistance to catalytic converters decades ago to today's reluctance to adopt available technology to improve the efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines.
Second, Congress has preserved the ability of California to set its own tailpipe standards—an authority the state has exercised since before the EPA was created in 1970. Other states may opt-in. In the case of California's greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks, 13 states have decided to do so, creating a combined market pull of approximately 30 percent of the nation's annual new passenger car and truck sales.
The world can then follow. This "California effect" occurs as jurisdictions within and outside of the U.S. trade up to more stringent emissions standards to achieve their benefits and simplify compliance.
Under this virtuous cycle, the U.S. leads with tougher standards that drive research, technology development, commercialization and manufacturing. That technology is then sold to the world.
California vs. China
China, however, is leap-frogging the U.S. policy.
In 2010, the Chinese government designated "new energy vehicles"—essentially those that plug in to electrical outlets—as a "strategic emerging industry." Officials have done this not only to reduce urban smog but also as a tool for industrial development. It helps Chinese industry capture domestic market share while establishing Chinese automakers as global leaders in the technology; it also develops their domestic battery-making sector.
California also requires automakers to supply a growing number of plug-in vehicles. But that program, which has seemed ambitious domestically and has shared goals and approaches with China, simply is not at the same scale as China's.
This has created an opportunity that China seeks to capitalize on in the coming decades. China's recently adopted goals for plug-in vehicles overtake California's program by requiring an aggressive deployment of plug-in vehicles beginning in 2019 with a target of 7 million new plug-in cars sold per year by 2025. The Chinese government is even openly discussing the appropriate date to discontinue sales of internal combustion engine vehicles within China.
By comparison, automakers will be able to comply with California's zero emission vehicle requirement if just 8 percent of new cars sold in 2025 are electric. If 2 million new cars continue to be sold in California in 2025, that would amount to just 160,000 electric vehicle sales annually.
China's policies are being reflected in corporate decisions. Even as Daimler teams with a Chinese partner to invest $2 billion in a manufacturing plant in China, Chinese automaker Geely has accumulated nearly 10 percent of Daimler's stock reportedly in a bid to secure its electric and autonomous vehicle technology. Ford has committed to a $765 million investment to jointly build electric vehicles with a Chinese partner.
Given the essential need to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector, I see the policy rationale for fuel efficiency and pollution reduction mandates in the years to come as ironclad.
From an economic point of view, clean car technology represents a tremendous opportunity for the nation willing to step up and lead as the world transitions in the decades to come. While it may still be an open question as to which country will benefit the most from this transition, the forthcoming EPA decisions could tilt the playing board away from U.S. companies.
World's First Mass-Market 3D-Printed Electric Car Costs Less Than $10K https://t.co/dW9nvZ3LwP @PopSci… https://t.co/s1imiYtYQJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521483757.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›
Washington state residents are taking climate matters into their own hands. Beginning this month, 90 members of the public join the country's first climate assembly to develop pollution solutions, Crosscut reported.
For the first time ever, a vegan restaurant in France has been awarded a coveted Michelin star.
- Vegan Food Goes Mainstream at U.S. Colleges - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Fast Food Chains That Serve Local, Organic, Vegan Food ... ›
- 15 of the Best Vegan Restaurants in America - EcoWatch ›
Ice cream samples in the Chinese municipality of Tianjin have tested positive for traces of the new coronavirus.
- Coronavirus Found on Frozen Food Imported to China. Should You ... ›
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- Young Children May Have Higher Coronavirus Levels, Raising ... ›