Hey folks, a happy June to you all. This is my big boy Gus’ birthday month (he’s a summer solstice baby), so it’s always a busy one in the Nathanson household. But May was also an eventful month here at UCS, with a return to the Rose Garden, an answer to one of the most asked questions by DCN members, and last but not least, an extension of our Green Travel Challenge until (energy) Independence Day!
Let’s get to it,
UCS National Field Organizer &
In this issue:
Revolution in the Rose Garden
You might remember our trip to the White House last year, as told by our Washington Representative Eli Hopson. Well, we actually just had a return engagement, and Clean Vehicles Program Director Michelle Robinson was there to tell you all about it.
What a difference a year makes! On May 21, President Obama announced plans to develop the next round of clean vehicle standards for passenger cars and trucks and the first-ever standards for heavy-duty trucks. Both standards will include stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas tailpipe pollution standards, which will be established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) through a collaborative process. It was a revolutionary moment—bringing together federal agencies, automakers, trucking companies, labor, state regulators, and organizations such as UCS.
This Rose Garden announcement took place almost a year to the day after the administration kicked off a regulatory process to raise fuel economy standards for the first time in more than 30 years. I am pleased and proud to say that UCS was there on both occasions. As you can see, my colleague Brendan Bell and I are pretty happy to be there! We were among a handful of public interest organizations invited in recognition of the work we have done to get us to a place of real progress on this issue.
Taking fuel economy improvements and tailpipe pollution reductions the next step, the new standards would apply to vehicles sold in model years 2017 and beyond. According to UCS analysis, raising the average fleetwide fuel economy of new vehicles to 55 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2030 would reduce oil consumption by 3.9 million barrels per day in that year, save consumers $158 billion—even after accounting for the cost of new technology—and cut heat-trapping emissions by 661 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent. That would represent real progress toward our critical need to reduce our dangerous and as we’ve seen in the Gulf, devastating reliance on oil.
As the president put it in his remarks: "We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy. We know that climate change poses a threat to our way of life—in fact we're already seeing some of the profound and costly impacts. And the disaster in the Gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies."
President Obama also announced a process to set the first-ever fuel economy and global warming tailpipe pollution standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The EPA and DOT will work together to draft the standards, which will cover vehicles such as delivery vans and freight trucks. A recent report by UCS and CALSTART found that increasing such vehicles' fuel economy could create as many as 124,000 jobs nationwide and save truckers and consumers $24 billion through reduced fuel costs in 2030. We heard from several agency, administration, and industry representatives that this new report would provide valuable data and background as the truck rulemaking moves forward.
Sitting there in the Rose Garden among many long-time opponents, potential new allies (in some cases the very same people!), and the decision makers who hold the keys to establishing strong, transformational standards over the next several years, I reflected on how far we’ve come, the hard work still before us, and how important our role of bringing rigorous analysis to the policy process will be in the months and years ahead.
- New Deal Between Toyota and Tesla: Toyota and Tesla have announced plans to collaborate on electric cars. In the arrangement, Toyota purchased $50 million of stock in Tesla Motors in exchange for Toyota’s currently closed New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) factory in California. The factory, which Toyota formerly shared with General Motors, is capable of producing 500,000 vehicles per year and will be used to build the Tesla Model S and other future Tesla vehicles. There are hopes that this partnership will help put electric vehicles on the road and in large quantities. While both company heads spoke highly of each other and their partnership, skepticism still remains on how long this partnership will last and just how successful it will be in getting electric vehicles on the road. More on this story at the Hybrid News Center.
- Nissan Leaf Already Sold Out: Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced that the 2011 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle is already “sold out,” six months before the actual release date of the vehicle. About 13,000 consumers have already pre-ordered the car, meeting demand of the Leaf’s first year of U.S. market production. However, Nissan expects that there will not be enough vehicles to satisfy demand in the first two years of sale. More on this story at the Hybrid News Center.
- UPS Expands Hybrid Fleet in Texas: UPS plans to deploy 200 next-generation hybrid delivery trucks in Texas this year, adding to its existing fleet of 50 hybrid vehicles. The new hybrid trucks will have a 35 percent increase in fuel economy over the traditional UPS trucks, and will achieve a significant decrease in global warming emissions. UPS’ fleet is the first to be introduced in Texas in response to the Senate Bill 1759, which provides grants from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan Fund to convert old diesel vehicles to alternative fuel vehicles. Texas Governor Rick Perry praised UPS for its initiative and also stressed the importance of providing incentives over mandates to spark the purchase of new technologies. Read more about this news in the Hybrid News Center, and more about the fuel economy potential for delivery trucks and other large vehicles in our new Delivering Jobs report.
What is the environmental impact of hybrid batteries?
We often get the question, “Do the batteries in hybrids offset their emissions and fuel savings benefits?” Indeed, it came up from several people in response to our Hybrid v. Diesel Tale of the Tape Hybrid Watchdog. I asked our Senior Analyst Jim Kliesch to give a little illumination on this “charged” issue.
Digging metals and other materials out of the ground and processing them into something useful causes some level of environmental impact, and hybrid and electric vehicle battery materials are no different. Mining and processing the lead, nickel, and lithium used in batteries can cause ground, water, and air pollution and can release carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases that cause global warming. That said, the climate benefits of a good hybrid more than make up for the emissions released in all the steps of making the vehicle. Newer battery technologies are also becoming less toxic and are being integrated into reuse and recycling programs. But the hybrid vehicle market is still young so we will continue to monitor the issue of battery impacts and provide updates as new information becomes available.
When it comes to carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, research to date indicates that the impact of hybrid (HEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) batteries, including production and disposal, is minor compared to the vehicle’s lifetime tailpipe emissions. As a result, efficient hybrids continue to be a smart environmental choice for those in the market for a new vehicle.
Argonne National Laboratory, one of the government’s top research facilities for advanced vehicle technologies, recently looked into this issue and found that manufacturing HEVs (including batteries) causes only slightly more heat trapping emissions than making a conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE). However, the lifetime global warming emissions that occur from driving are notably lower for an efficient HEV than a typical ICE vehicle, far outweighing the difference in manufacturing impacts. For more information, the full report can be downloaded here (pdf).
Advanced vehicle batteries are, in general, becoming less environmentally harmful. Lead-acid (PbA) batteries, ubiquitous in conventional vehicles (and still used to start up hybrids), were used in earlier generations of electric vehicles more than a decade ago. Lead is highly toxic and, thankfully PbA batteries are too large and heavy for HEV and battery electric vehicle applications.
Most hybrids on the road today use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which are less-toxic than lead, though not without environmental consequences. Fortunately, nickel is a valued commodity, and thus there is strong economic incentive for these batteries to be acquired for reuse and recycling after their vehicle use has expired. Doing so minimizes the amount of mining necessary for further battery production.
The energy density of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries make them a top choice for battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles, where the lightweight and more compact attributes of this battery chemistry are desired. Li-ion batteries are also beginning to appear on new HEVs as well, ushered in by the Mercedes S400. Widely used in commercial electronics devices, lithium is even less of an environmental threat than both lead and nickel.
A well-entrenched recycling program for PbA batteries exists, and most major car companies are following that lead for HEV and electric vehicle batteries, by either having or developing recycling programs. UCS will continue to monitor these efforts, to ensure that industry claims are consistent with their treatment in the real world.
New "Who's Got Hybrids?" Courtesy of the Green Travel Challenge!
Thanks to the Green Travel Challenge, our Who’s Got Hybrids community is growing strong! We’ve received an influx of testimonials for popular hybrids such as the new Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. We’re still on the look out for some more hybrids to add to the mix. If you know anyone who owns a hybrid, please tell them about the Green Travel Challenge. Both you and your friends will be eligible to win some great green travel prizes. Remember, the Green Travel Challenge has been extended to July 4th.
Carlyn Short of Gladewater, TX loves her new Honda Insight. She averages about 50 mpg—city and highway combined. She’s looking forward to a long relationship with her hybrid and loves getting such great gas mileage in the home of big oil!
Patricia George of Camp Verde, AZ is on her second Prius; having recently traded in her 2003 model for a 2010. She ran up the miles on her sweet green little 2003 Prius and averaged 46mpg. But now, over 50 mpg is the norm for her 2010 Prius. She loves that green feeling you get from driving it.
Janet Wainwright of Annandale, VA is showing off the cargo capacity of her Gen. 2 Prius. With the back seats down, she was able move her daughter to college. The load included a crate of sheet music, a bassoon, a music stand, a guitar, linens, clothing, favorite books—everything her daughter thought she might need for the year. She loves her Prius, and bought it to lower her impact on the world. Janet is happy her Prius handled the college move as well as Girl Scout camping trips.
So there you have it, folks. A slightly early Happy Summer to you all, and I’ll see you on the other side of Independence Day to announce the winners of our Green Travel Challenge. You can’t win if you don’t play…So get on it!