cleaner transportation and alternative fuels

Gasoline and diesel transportation fuels represent a major share of America’s most pernicious air pollution, water-borne toxins, and climate emissions. While we presently have better technological choices for cleaner electricity production than for transportation fuels, there is still significant progress available from more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrid technologies, and alternate fuels. There is also much future promise in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle technologies. CEERT has been working to clean up CO2 from cars and trucks, promote smarter transportation and development planning, and help develop an alternate fuel-distribution infrastructure as near-term means to reduce the impacts of fossil-fueled transportation.

Recent Developments:

Advanced Clean Cars Program

In preparation for the March 24 Riverside meeting of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to decide whether to affirm the trajectory of the Advanced Clean Cars (ACC) program, CEERT worked closely with Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF’s) Vickie Patton and EDF’s expert consultants, former CARB Deputy Executive Officer for Motor Vehicles Tom Cackette and recently retired U.S. EPA senior executive Chet France. Tom and Chet had prepared a detailed economic and technology assessment of the future of battery-powered and fuel-cell vehicles, compared to hybrids and conventional gasoline vehicles. Their analysis showed that the price gap between electric or fuel-cell vehicles and conventional or hybrid vehicles is narrowing, and with continued regulatory direction from CARB and other national governments, electric-drive vehicles may cost the same or less than conventional vehicles by 2030.

Working with EDF and the Clean Cars Coalition, V. John White and John Shears helped coordinate NGOs’ presentations and strategy prior to the CARB meeting, in close consultation with CARB senior staff and CARB Chair Mary Nichols. John Shears testified about the critical importance of the ACC program to California’s ability to fight global warming and its stubborn air quality challenges.

V. John White testified as the final witness before CARB, which then proceeded to unanimously affirm the current 2020 – 2025 vehicle emission standards, and to pass a resolution to initiate the regulatory process that could lead to the adoption of new vehicle emission standards for 2025 – 2030, thereby delivering significant clean-air and public-health benefits for Californians and cost-savings for consumers. Should CARB proceed to adopt new standards, a new waiver of Section 209 by U.S. EPA would be needed, but that might not come before EPA for a decision until 2021.

CARB staff’s mid-term ACC review evaluated the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) regulation, the 1 mg/mile particulate matter standard, and the light-duty vehicle GHG standards for 2022 and later model years. Their evaluation found that the GHG emission standards currently in place for model years 2022 – 2025 are readily feasible at or below the costs estimated in 2012—when the standards were adopted with support from many automakers—and also confirmed that the technology-forcing ZEV standards and the most health-protective particulate matter standards in the world are feasible and appropriate. This was affirmed by an independent analysis from the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Electrifying Transportation

CEERT continues to monitor the CPUC’s Alternative-Fueled Vehicles rulemaking (R13-11-007), as several CEERT affiliates are active parties in this proceeding. The IOUs’ SB 350 transportation electrification planning process was launched from this overarching proceeding on electric vehicles.

Pursuant to SB 350 provisions, on January 20 the IOUs submitted their transportation electrification (TE) plans as applications: SDG&E (A.17-01-020), SCE (A.17-01-021), and PG&E (A.17-01-022). (Smaller utilities must file their TE applications by June 30). The IOUs’ plans require almost $1 billion in investment (SDG&E $244 million; SCE $574 million; and PG&E $253 million), with roughly $779 million being proposed to support on-road heavy-duty infrastructure and $230 million for residential infrastructure.

Parties submitted their initial written comments (or protests) on March 6 and their reply comments on March 13. At a March 16 pre-hearing conference, the CPUC met with parties to discuss identified gaps in the applications, the scope and priority of items to be reviewed, whether some or all of the priority review projects could be approved quickly, and whether the applications should be consolidated into a single proceeding. The CPUC will issue a Scoping Memo on whether the applications will be categorized as rate-setting, and whether evidentiary hearings will be necessary for the utilities’ proposed priority-review and standard-review projects. (Priority-review projects are one-year projects that cost less than $4 million.)

Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)

CARB continues to hold public workshops to update aspects of the LCFS and evaluate program enhancements in order to deliver a revised regulatory package to the Board in late 2017 or early 2018. Many of the workshops are reviewing specific fuel categories (e.g., natural gas and biomethane; electricity and hydrogen; ethanol; biomass-based diesel; alternative jet fuel; and gasoline, diesel and crude oil) and updating the life-cycle assessment model that is at the program’s core and the model that estimates GHG emissions from oil and gas production. The program is reviewing changes to the pathway carbon intensity application and evaluation process, improvements to reporting and credit generation processes, and the addition of mandatory third-party verification.

POET Lawsuit

On April 10 the California Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of POET, LLC, an ethanol producer, holding that CARB had failed to comply with CEQA’s requirement that it analyze the degree to which nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would be affected by the use of biodiesel fuels. The Court ruled that CARB had used an improper baseline against which changes in NOx emissions could be evaluated, and must therefore set aside its 2015 approval of the parts of the final CEQA Environmental Analysis on NOx emissions from biodiesel and conduct a year-by-year analysis to determine whether the LCFS rules are likely to cause an increase in NOx emissions.

This entails CARB identifying a baseline for NOx emissions as they existed in 2010 at the time the original LCFS regulations took effect. CARB must also show whether any increase in NOx emissions is likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and must provide mitigation measures where appropriate. While the Court of Appeal might have suspended the entire LCFS regulation until CARB addressed the NOx issue, instead it froze the carbon-intensity targets for diesel and biodiesel fuel provisions at 2017 levels until CARB conducts the baseline analysis.

Canada Clean Fuel Standard

The Government of Canada is proceeding with efforts to develop a Clean Fuel Standard, which CEERT and other stakeholders encouraged last fall. As part of its consultative process, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issued a Discussion Paper on February 24 that reviews different approaches for existing renewable and low-carbon fuel standards elsewhere. The discussion paper seeks to inform the regulatory framework for a Clean Fuel Standard, and asks respondents to reply by April 25 to 39 questions on topics such as scope, timing, and stringency. ECCC is also receiving input through roundtables, workshops and webinars. More technical consultations will occur in 2017 and early 2018, with a draft of the proposed regulation scheduled to be issued in mid-2018 and a final regulation by 2019.

Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program

The 2017 – 2018 Investment Plan Update for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program Lead Commissioner Report was released on March 28 and approved by the Commission at its April 12 business meeting. The Investment Plan Update recommended nearly $17 million in funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, almost $20 million for hydrogen fueling stations, and up to $17.5 million for projects involving near-zero- and zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks.