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Landmark Emissions Ruling on the Chopping Block

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U.S. Senators will have up to seven hours to debate on Thursday before voting on a resolution meant to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Led by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and supported by at least 40 legislators, the “resolution of disapproval” (a rarely used mechanism for overturning regulations) seeks to block the EPA’s finding last year that greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to public health welfare — a landmark ruling that paves the way for the agency to regulate emissions.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson decried Murkowski’s resolution in a blog post today as a Big Oil-backed move that would seriously handicap efforts to improve fuel economy, reduce oil consumption and cut greenhouse gas emissions. In the context of the ongoing catastrophe of BP’s oil gusher in the Gulf, Jackson writes on The Huffington Post today that “it is surprising to learn that on June 10, the Senate will vote on legislation that would take us back to the same old failed policies and increase America’s oil dependence by billions of barrels.”

Jackson describes Murkowski’s proposal as having “strong support from big oil companies and their lobbyists,” and warns that it would “gut the EPA’s authority in the clean cars program,” allowing polluters to pay “modest penalties to avoid full compliance” with fuel economy standards.

When it comes to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, Jackson defends the EPA’s decision to focus on the largest emission producers and exempt small businesses from regulation. “We know that the local coffee shop or the backyard grill is no place to look for meaningful CO2 reductions,” she writes.

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, notes in a blog post today that Murkowski’s resolution would effectively sacrifice 25 percent of the fuel savings expected to result from the joint fuel economy and emissions standards finalized by the EPA and  Transportation Department in April, after winning support from car manufacturers, environmental groups and California regulators.

Under the vehicle standards finalized in April, manufacturers must achieve an average of at most 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile for their fleet by the 2016 model year. If all of the emission reductions came from improvements in fuel economy (other options might include controlling air conditioner coolant leaks), that would mean a fleet average of 35.5 MPG — higher than the 34.1 MPG fleet average required under the DOT’s basic fuel economy standard for that year. Murkowski’s resolution would essentially wipe out the emissions piece, leaving only the more modest 34.1 MPG standard.

The resolution itself will have a tough time making it through the Senate, let alone the House, and let alone Obama’s veto — but it’s an indicator of the level of resistance to the climate and energy bill in the Senate. If passed, the resolution could potentially undermine not only the EPA’s authority, but also the already questionable prospects of a comprehensive climate bill making it through Congress this year. As Kevin Drum writes over on Mother Jones, “one thing working in favor of passage is the background threat that if Congress doesn’t act, the EPA will,” although most stakeholders, including the EPA, agree that it would be preferable (more effective and less costly) to have Congress develop “a program that’s custom built to do the job.”

For greentech ventures and their investors, all of these issues play into the prolonged quest for a solid picture of how demand for emission-reducing technologies is likely to shape up in the coming years, and how regulations will affect future costs. As David Blood of investment management group Generation Investment said early on at the climate talks in Copenhagen last year, limiting uncertainty for the business community could help to unleash innovation and a massive amount of capital. By some estimates, three-quarters of the trillions of dollars needed to remake the world’s energy infrastructure will come from the private sector.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Beige Alert

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3 Responses to “Landmark Emissions Ruling on the Chopping Block”

  1. H Smith

    Here is an idea …

    The 40 mpg(US) highway Cruze is scheduled to come to the US within 6 months for followed by a new Astra and Regal. All will be “Federalized”.

    Just suppose GM could offer the Cruze with 45/56 mpg(US) combined/highway and a very fuel frugal 60/70 mpg(US) combined/highway … could that help US sales and market share? And maybe solve some oil consumption and emissions issues???

    Is there a way it could be done?

    Try this …

    2010-1/2 Opel Astra 1.3CDTi 16v 95PS M5 Diesel at 98 g/km CO2; 208 mg/km HC+NOx; providing 63/76 mpg(US) combined/highway?

    The Atra is only 300 pound lighter than the Cruze.

    What if the 1.3CDTi 16v 95PS M5 Diesel drive train was substituted in the Cruze … maybe 60/70 mpg(US) combined/highway … a little less mpg due to the higher weight of the Cruze?


    here is a less fuel frugal option, the Insignia (possibly the new Regal) diesel power train:

    Insignia 4 Door Saloon, Model Year 2010 2.0CDTi (160PS) EcoFLEX 130 g/km CO2; 135 mg/km HC+NOx; providing 45/56 mpg(US) combined/highway

    The only ISSUE appears to be 135~208 mg/km HC+NOx !?

    Here is some additional info on these EU diesels.

    Couldn’t find the parameter Astra 1.3 Eco diesel in my sources … may be too new.

    So, here is the 52 mpg(US) combined 1.7 CDTi 110 ecoFLEX Life (AC) Astra 5dr estate with diesel option
    Max power (bhp/rpm) 109/3800
    Max torque (lb ft/rpm) 192/2000

    And here are some other values for the 45 mpg(US) combined Insignia (the future US Regal?) with diesel option
    Max power (bhp/rpm) 158/4000
    Max torque (lb ft/rpm) 258/1750

    Did you notice the significantly higher RPMs on the hp data. Do any US diesels run that high? I believe most domestic diesels redline between 2,500 and 3,000 RPM.

    Could these ideas help GM resolve some business problems… I don’t know … but it might help ….

    AND …. JUST MAYBE … the US consumer finally gets 45 to 60 mpg combined vehicle choices in what is said to be a “midsize” (or very close) vehicle while reducing petroleum demand (and associated emissions) by roughly 20 barrel/vehicle year … for the LIFE of the vehicle!!!

    And .. the only thing that needs to be solved is how to deal with 135~208 mg/km HC+NOx !? That does not sound like an additional $6k to $9k per vehicle problem!

    By the way, Ford is in the position to do the same thing with the Fiesta and Focus! Chrysler is a little more difficult, but with Fiat Power Train’s help they could be in the market by 2012.

    • 35 years of CAFE … and Setting UP for 10 MORE of the SAME *

    *** Time to Stop Pushing the CAFE Rope … and … LET’s START PULLING the ROPE TOGETHER ***

    55 mpg or better by 2011

    Just some things to think about ….