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Jan 102012

(As transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Roland Hwang advocates for cleaner, more efficient transportation. Below is his speech to the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit on Jan. 10, 2012.)

Roland Hwang NRDC

I am pleased to be here today on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council. A few years ago, I felt something like Daniel in the lion’s den addressing this audience. But the truth is there has been amazing progress in the last few years … a real coming together of the minds. No longer is there a huge gulf everywhere between environmentalists and the auto industry.

While it is true that some elements of the industry have been slow to warm up to outside perspectives … others have been very receptive. For my part, I have tried to be a better listener and to find common ground where possible. It seems to me there is just  too much at stake here for everyone involved … the auto industry … car consumers … and, in fact, Americans in general. We have to continue to find ways to work together … and I am committed to doing so.

Today, I am going to address one of those topics where more and more people are finding a way to agree – and not just reflexively oppose everything the other side has to say.

Imagine if our nation was offered a choice of how to spend half a trillion dollars of our wealth over the next two decades.

One option would be to send $350 billion overseas to the Middle East and other oil exporting countries, and the remainder on increasing oil industry revenues.

An alternative option would be to take that half a trillion dollars and invest $300 billion directly into the U.S. auto industry, put $200 billion back into consumers’ pockets, and create half a million new jobs while cutting emissions of dangerous carbon pollution.

Is this choice just a pipe dream? Is it too simplistic a way to look at things?


In fact, what I just outlined is the promise, broadly speaking, of the historic new clean car agreement between the Obama Administration, California and major carmakers. They joined together last summer in a grand bargain to deliver cars that get, on average, the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by the model year 2025, roughly double the average for cars on the road today.

GM's Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg on the highway, mileage that beats competitors.

The additional technology to meet this target will result in $300 billion in greater revenues for the U.S. auto industry and ensure it will be a global leader in advanced vehicle innovation.

Stopping $350 billion from being sent overseas will strengthen our economy, make us less vulnerable to oil price shocks, and create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

And curbing emissions of carbon pollution will help protect our economy against the costly impacts of global climate change, such as extreme weather events, like hurricanes, heat waves, and flooding.

Fortunately for the auto industry, it doesn’t have to wait til 2025 to see the benefits of stronger standards.

In a world of unpredictable fuel prices, it is the predictability of stronger fuel-efficiency standards that has allowed the auto industry to assert control over its own destiny.

Thanks to the 2009 agreement to raise standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016, the industry is much better prepared, more resilient and – indeed – thriving in the face of this past year’s record high gasoline expenditures. Sales, profits and fuel efficiency are all on the rise. And unlike with every past oil shock, GM and Ford actually have gained market share this time around.

54.5 mpg will spark even greater spark innovation that will ensure the rebirth of the U.S. auto industry.

But I want to be clear that … as you know … these innovations are not going to rely on some imaginary “black box” technology.

This is very much existing know-how … the science of what already exists … as opposed to “science fiction.”

Now … I know it’s unrealistic to assume that overnight every American is going to be driving home from work and plugging in their car to charge up … just like they do their cell phones.

Electric drivetrains are certainly the future of the car. But to meet 54.5 mpg, over 80 percent of the vehicles will be still be powered by conventional–albeit highly sophisticated–gasoline engines.

The good news is that’s where there is tremendous opportunity for some of the most consequential technology to come into play.

Adding a simple turbocharger, direct injection to engines and cutting cylinders can deliver the same power and dependable performance while burning less gas. Automatic and dual clutch, automated 8-speed transmissions shift faster and allow the engine to run at its sweet spot longer. High

Ford's popular F-150 truck now offers an EcoBoost engine that increases mileage.

strength, advanced materials ensure cars will be safe and efficient.

These innovations are already moving from limited applications in a handful of models … to widespread use on assembly lines in every auto factory.

Ford’s version of the downsized gasoline direct injection turbocharged engine, called the Ecoboost, now accounts for 4 of every 10 F-150s. After just being introduced last February, it recently passed the 100,000 sales mark.

So, what’s the catch?

Well, as usual, ideologues in the media and in Washington D.C., who are more interested in thwarting anything that even remotely seems “green” than doing what is best for our nation, have joined forces with auto dealers to try to preserve the status quo. Through costly investigations and wasteful legislation aimed at blocking the new standards from being implemented, they’re doing all they can to scuttle this historic accord, bury the benefits it would provide, and return us to political gridlock on clean cars.

As they have in years past, those who oppose needed progress have dusted off tired arguments aimed at convincing us all that somehow Americans don’t like the idea of saving money and driving better cars.

Fortunately, consumers are way ahead of the game.

They’re voting with their wallets and marching in droves to snap up a new generation of fuel-efficient cars as fast as Detroit and other automakers can make them.

Where once SUVs and V-8s ruled the road, now one out of every two vehicles sold is a small car, small crossover, or mid-size car. Thrifty 4-cylinders are now America’s most popular engine choice.

According to Truecar.com, when compared to the same month the previous year, average fuel efficiency of new vehicles has increased for the last 15 straight months.

New vehicle fuel efficiency is – by far – the single most important consideration to Americans buying a new car, with 45 percent of consumers calling it the number-one factor in their decision, according to a national survey Ford Motor Co. commissioned last fall.

54.5 mpg will be a boon for consumers by expanding the number of fuel efficient offerings. Already, thanks to the 2009 clean car agreement, nearly 4o models offered for sale today can essentially meet the proposed 2017 fleet average standard of 36.6 mpg. these models range from compact cars to pickup trucks, including the Buick Lacrosse, Ford Focus and Honda Odyssey.

Consumers expecting to pay more for a car that meets 54.5 mpg may be surprised. Over the life of the vehicle, they will save thousands of dollars. But perhaps more importantly, households balancing monthly bills will see immediate savings since their monthly fuel savings will outweigh their increased monthly auto payments.

So my message today is simple: Let’s work together.

The latest clean car agreement offers our country another choice … a choice between gridlock and progress. Imagine a time when automakers, regulators and environmentalist are all working together, in partnership, to build markets for clean cars, cut our dangerous dependence on oil, and re-invest in American manufacturing leadership.

The latest clean car agreement brought together unusual bedfellows in an unprecedented and diverse array of support… from automakers to environmentalists, Republicans to Democrats, consumer advocates to energy security advocates, business leaders to labor unions.

Let’s hope those who want to disrupt this program and return us to the dark days of political gridlock don’t succeed. The choice is ours …. and the stakes are very high for the U.S. auto industry:  American jobs and our nation’s future.

I look forward to working with you to keep things moving ahead in the right direction. Thank you!

[The EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are taking public comment this month on the proposed new 54.5 mpg standard. The agencies will hold three public hearings, each from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on Jan. 17 in Detroit at the Courtyard
Detroit Downtown, 333 East Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48226; on Jan. 19 at the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia Downtown, 1800 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103 and on  Jan. 24, at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf, 555 North Point Street, San Francisco, California 94133. Citizens may also comment online at the website for the NHTSA’s Draft Environmental Impact
Statement (Draft EIS)

Dec 302011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

(Image: NASA)

If you’re wondering what to worry about in the coming year, look no further than the eco-landscape.

Climate change, species extinctions, ocean acidification, forestry losses, soil erosion and air pollution. We humans, now 7 billion strong, are pushing the planet hard, creating a brew of intractable environmental issues that threaten our way of life, and ultimately our survival.

Grim? It doesn’t get much more so.

There were bright moments in 2011. A sampling:

  • Hundreds of Americans protested the Keystone tar sands pipeline, forcing a review and dialogue about the risks it poses, especially to water supplies. This may be the beginning of an important dialogue about how much environmental damage people are willing to countenance to maintain oil supplies, as well as how to protect dwindling drinking water aquifers.
  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $50 million to Sierra Club to fight coal pollution.
  • The Obama administration proposed strong new gas mileage standards, with the US auto industry fully on board.
  • The EPA managed to cough out long-awaited rules clamping down on mercury and toxic emissions from power plants.
  • Energy efficient light bulbs, of all things, survived an attack by Congressional representatives trying to score political points about government regulation. The 2007 law requiring retailers to sell more efficient bulbs remains on the books, even though the champions of the old-style Edison light bulb were able to strip funding for enforcing it.

Overseas, China continued to forge ahead with solar power and high speed rail, and Germany announced it would move off of nuclear power over the next decade after watching Japan struggle with the meltdown at Fukushima.

Across the globe, the Occupy movement (and before that the Arab Spring) reminded people to speak up for what they want, or perhaps more importantly, that regular folks want many of the same things: Fairness and a more equitable distribution of resources. These themes bode well for locavore, Slow Food, Slow Money, sustainability and wilderness conservation efforts – which are all about using resources more wisely for the benefit of all.

But while Occupy was the social phenomenon of the year, climate change made a spectacular bid for attention on the environmental front, unleashing wickedly hot temperatures in 2011. Virtually every corner of the US broiled at some point in the summer and reeled from extreme weather events, ranging from ultra-heavy snow storms in the Northeast to flooding in the Midwest and South.

Brutal wildfires seared the Southwest and the earth cracked in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, which suffered their worst droughts since record keeping began in 1895.

The NRDC cataloged the catastrophes on its Extreme Weather Map, noting that the 14 worst weather disasters cost the nation $53 billion – an implicit suggestion that spending money to mitigate or adapt to climate change would not be money wasted.

Climate Change — The biggest environmental story of 2011

Climate change delivered the second summer ever in the US and the year-end report is likely to confirm 2011 as the second hottest year overall (European nations are already declaring that 2011 the second hottest year on record), making this phenomenon the top environmental story of  2011 — and the most important ecological issue facing 2012.

Like a rogue nation with a nuclear weapon (a good 2011 topic for international affairs bloggers) global warming  imperils everything.

But oddly, despite massive scientific evidence, people continue to dismiss or sidestep this elephant in the room.

US presidential candidates deny it. Diplomats waver on it. The Durban climate talks stumble on picayune points.

And the Arctic continues its drip, drip, drip.

We can’t know for certain how climate change will play out. But that’s hardly an excuse for sitting on the bench. We have authoritative predictive models that give us an idea of best-case and worst-case scenarios. A strong strategy now could mean diverting disaster.

We recently learned that carbon emissions are rising faster than ever and yet so many leaders seem impervious to this news.

With notable exceptions. Those vehicle mileage standards have been in the works for years, representing a legion of people working to cut carbon emissions.

The latest standards, which the Obama Administration released a month ago, will require that the US fleet of cars and trucks get an average of 40 miles per gallon by model year 2021 and nearly 50 mpg by 2025.

These changes are expected to cut carbon emissions by 6 billion tons over that period – the equivalent to an entire year’s worth of US emissions from all sources — and cut oil consumption by an impressive 2.2 million barrels a day. (The US consumes about 19 million a day.)

The auto industry has become a strong ally in this effort, eager to revive its industry with new high mileage models that help strengthen US energy security. Win-win.

Builders, clean energy industries and cities are ready to join in the program, because they’ll make or save money with new smart designs and renewable power.

We need only to survey the 2011 weather map to know we need to do even more.

The historic drought in Texas alone cost at least $5 billion in lost livestock and crops. Organic cotton farmers gave up in despair midway through the season. Cattle ranchers who couldn’t afford to import hay from the rain-soaked Midwest, sold their stock early at auction.

Meanwhile, the US committed only to baby steps with green energy. Solar, wind and geothermal power, combined with energy efficient buildings, can dramatically reduce carbon pollution. But Congress, focused on the rising deficit, failed to renew incentives for renewable energy this year, continuing a pattern of stops and starts that has confounded the leaders of those industries.

What can one person do?

Each and every person in the US especially can take steps that have real impact: Use public transportation; walk, ride a bike or ride share.  Buy a high mileage car or switch to green power if it’s offered by your electric provider; and eat less meat, if that appeals to you, it uses a lot of energy and may help your heart.

Let your Congressional representatives know you care. Polls show that a high percentage of the public is worried about climate change, a message that has failed to get through to some in Congress –  like those who want to squash more efficient light bulbs.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jul 292011

From Green Right Now Reports

America’s cars and trucks will average about 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 under the second phase of the Obama Administration’s national vehicle program, which is backed by 13 automakers.

GM's Cruze 4 cyl. automatic gets 26/36 mpg.

Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo — which represent more than 90 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in the US, all back the plan, which was formally announced today.

“We’ve set an aggressive target and the companies are stepping up to the plate,” said President Obama, who called the plan the single most important step the nation has taken to reduce its oil dependence.

The EPA estimates that the new standards will save consumers vast sums at the pump, dramatically increase US energy security and slash greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles:

  • Consumers should save about $1.7 trillion at the pump in aggregate (from 2011 to Model Year 2025) and $8,000 per vehicle by 2025.
  • Foreign oil consumption would be cut in half by 2025; reduced by 2.2 million barrels a day, which is about 50 percent of the oil imports from OPEC every day.
  • The standards will cut more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year.

Ramping up vehicle efficiency also should generate new, well-paying jobs as automakers develop new technologies and manufacturing techniques to build and deploy a greener fleet, according to the EPA and the US Department of Transportation.

Ford Fiesta, 29/38 mpg.

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

The new standards will be staged in, with passenger car requirements set to become more about five percent more stringent each year and pick-ups and other light-duty trucks increasing an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and about five percent annually for the last four model years of the program.

In addition to the car makers, the agreement is backed by the United Autoworkers and the state of California, which has been pushing for emissions improvements.
The EPA and the National Transportation Safety Board plan to publish details and cost analyses of the proposal by September, after which the plan will be open for public comment.

Learn more about the proposed new standards at Driving Efficiency:  Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil.

In a news release, the EPA said that the agencies involved — the EPA and DOT — are considering “a number of incentive programs” to encourage the early adoption of “game changing” improvements such as:

  • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.
  • Incentives for advanced technology packages for large pickups, such as hybrids.
  • Credits for technologies able to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel economy improvements that go beyond the standards.