What We're Doing

Policy Solution

We helped broker a fuel-efficiency deal that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half and save drivers $90 billion a year at the pump.

Policy Solution

We're pushing for biofuels that are sustainably grown, protect sensitive landscapes, and lower carbon pollution.

Policy Solution

Electric cars require no gas and release no tailpipe emissions. That’s why we're working to get more of them on the road.

Policy Solution

As China’s electric vehicle market is growing rapidly, we're helping the country prepare its electric grid to power EVs with clean, renewable energy.

Related Priorities

What You Can Do

Your Guide to Going Electric

Considering making the switch? Here's everything you need to know about driving electric cars and hybrids.

How smog, soot, greenhouse gases, and other top air pollutants are affecting the planet—and your health

Experts & Resources

2025 Clean Car Standards Are Achievable, Study Shows
Luke Tonachel

Automakers have plenty of cost-effective technology options for meeting existing 2025 federal and California clean car and fuel economy standards according to a new government study.

The Draft Technical Assessment Report—published jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board—comes just as automakers are claiming that future standards need to be relaxed.

Weakening the standards would be a mistake. Weaker standards would deprive Americans of valuable savings at the pump, put the auto industry at financial risk and increase pollution.

Why the new report?

In 2012, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that set carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for cars, SUVs and light trucks made from 2017 to 2025.  It projected that the new fleet would roughly double fuel efficiency (and cut emissions in half) by 2025. Autoworkers and most automakers supported that goal, and stood with the President at the unveiling.

Part of that agreement was a “Mid-Term Evaluation,” including a technical assessment report.  The purpose is to measure progress towards meeting the standards for the second phase of the program, model years 2022 through 2025.

Key Finding on Cost and Effectiveness

The Technical Assessment Report confirms the findings from the 2012 rulemaking–that automakers can meet model year 2022 to 2025 standards primarily through continued advancements in known conventional gasoline powertrain technologies and at reasonable cost. The findings are consistent with last year’s study by the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that the 2025 standards can be met on time and at reasonable cost.

The agencies estimate that the incremental cost for the model year 2022 to 2025 standards will be $894 to $1,245, which, on average, would be $1,070. This is slightly lower than the 2012 rule’s estimate of $1,130. For the full program (model years 2017 to 2025), the study estimates the average incremental cost is about $1,604, which, again, is under the 2012 rule estimate of $1,939.

Taken as a whole, even with lower fuel prices, the 2025 standard is still a great deal for consumers, saving drivers $3,970, on average, over the life of a vehicle.  NRDC’s Roland Hwang has analyzed the costs and benefits of the program in his blog.

Key Finding on Technological Progress

Not surprisingly, the new study found a number of technologies that the 2012 analysis had not anticipated. For example, by 2025, we could see broad applications of 48 volt start-stop systems, 8+ speed and continuously variable transmissions and engines running on advanced, fuel-saving Atkinson and Miller combustion cycles. Manufacturers are also reducing weight more than originally projected, as demonstrated by the 300-pound diet on the latest Chevy Malibu.  

In addition, the most common choices are likely to be more efficient gasoline engines (either turbo-charged, downsized direct injection engines or high-compression ratio naturally-aspirated engines) mated with higher speed transmissions. Automakers are also likely to add idle reducing start-stop systems and remove excess weight by shifting to greater use of lightweight, high strength materials such as aluminum and advanced steels.

Standards Are Good for Business

Under the 2025 standards, even with low fuel prices, automakers can improve their profits. Standards also protect them from fuel price volatility. New Ceres analysis by independent auto market analysts Dan Luria and Alan Baum estimates that the Detroit 3 automakers—GM, Ford and the American operations of Fiat-Chrysler—will earn $2.6 billion more in profits if 2025 fuel prices are $1.80/gallon, compared to a base case of $2.95/gallon. This is because, under the low fuel price scenario, there is more demand for crossover utility vehicles and pickup trucks, which are more profitable for the Detroit 3. The higher profit margins more than offset the cost of the new technology. In fact, this is what we are seeing today. 

Clean Car and Fuel Economy Standards Work

Thanks to more stringent standards since 2011, new automobiles have reached record high levels. Reduced fuel consumption has cut carbon pollution from vehicles, avoiding approximately 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere already.

We’re making progress and we need to keep it up, not slip backward, as we did in the past.

When standards stagnate—as they did from the late 1980’s through 2005—fuel economy of new vehicles can drop, as the graph below shows.

Due to tightening standards, new vehicle fuel economy has recently been improving. Source: EPA, Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2015.

Recent low gas prices have prompted consumers to buy larger vehicles, which has muted increases in the fleet average fuel economy. But without these standards, we could have seen large decreases in the fleet’s fuel economy. Strong standards have forced trucks to have better fuel efficiency, which has offset the market shift dynamic.

Today’s standards are designed to work this way. Larger vehicles have more lenient standards, due to their larger size and weight, but all vehicles must gradually improve efficiency for the benefit of consumers and the environment.

Strong Standards Make America Strong

Keeping strong standards motivates the auto industry to keep innovating to give consumers the fuel efficiency they want. Strong standards also keep US automakers competitive against foreign companies that are known for better efficiency and are eager to grab more market share.

We all know gasoline prices are driven by the volatile world oil market, and can go up again any time. Weakening standards would let automakers slip back into a dependence on the gas-guzzling vehicles that sent GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy just 6 years ago.

This new three-agency analysis shows that there are cost-effective technologies that can keep making our cars cleaner and more efficient.

We need to achieve the current standards in 2025. Beyond that, we’ll have even more work to do address our climate challenge. 

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Costs Coming Down to Raise MPG, Joint Agency Study Shows
Roland Hwang

Automakers can meet 2025 carbon pollution and fuel economy standards with known technologies, on time, and at the same or lower cost than previously estimated, a new study confirms.  The Obama administration report finds a host of new innovations and faster than expected penetration of existing technologies is helping to lower the cost of compliance.  These technologies include Mazda SkyActiv and Atkinson cycle engines, 48-volt hybrid systems, 10-speed transmissions, and increased cylinder deactivation.

The report shows that continuing to strengthen standards is working to save consumers money at the pump, cut tailpipe pollution, and ensure a more competitive U.S. auto industry. 

For model years 2017 to 2025, the average of the agencies’ estimates--$1,600--is substantially lower than the previous, inflation-adjusted estimate of $1,940. We calculate that consumers will save almost $4,000 over the life of the vehicle, including the increased purchase prices.

The new study, called the Draft Technical Assessment Report, is a joint analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the California Air Resources Board.  The so-called “TAR” is part of the official Mid-Term Evaluation by the agencies to assess U.S. progress in meeting the 2025 carbon pollution and fuel economy standards. 

A 2012 final rule requires the agencies to evaluate the second half of the current standards, from model years 2022 to 2025. The new study also allows readers to compare the new findings to the 2012 final rule for the full program, from model years 2017 to 2025.

Key Findings for Second Half of the Program--Model Years 2022-25

The key finding for the second half of the program is that the incremental cost for the second half of the program is the same or even lower than agencies previous estimates. The new study estimates the incremental cost compared to a model year 2021 baseline is $894 to $1,245 (in 2013 dollars), or an average of $1,070. The estimate from the 2012 final rule was $1,070 in 2010 dollars, which when adjusted to 2013 dollars, is $1,130.

Key Results for Full Program--Model Years 2017-25

Based on our analysis of the TAR, the key findings for the full model year 2017 to 2025 program are:

  • Costs the same or lower. The increased cost to meet the 2025 standards compared to a model year 2016 baseline is also the same or lower as estimated in the 2012 final rule. The total increased cost from today’s levels (model year 2016) is $1,290 to $1,920 (in 2013 dollars), or an average of about $1,600. This is less then the inflation adjusted cost in the 2012 final rule of $1,940 ($1,836 in 2010 dollars used in the 2012 final rule).
  • Large fuel savings. Based on TAR results, we estimate that even with lower oil prices, the 2025 standards will save drivers $6,130 in reduced gasoline bills over the lifetime of the vehicle, more than offsetting the incremental cost increase. The inflation adjusted fuel savings from the 2012 final rule was $7,900 ($7,400 in 2010 dollars) that used the higher fuel prices previously forecast (all assuming 3% discount rate).
  • Large net savings. We estimate the net lifetime cost savings for the 2025 standards is $3,640 to $4,310, or about $3,970 using the average incremental cost, compared to the estimate of $5,340 (adjusted for inflation) in the 2012 final rule that used the higher fuel prices previously forecast.

Fuel Efficiency Driving Growth, Protecting Health

Current standards are working to strengthen our economy, save consumers money, and protect public health. The new joint agency report lays a solid technical foundation to continue strengthening carbon pollution and fuel economy standards, allowing the program benefits to grow even larger over time. The clean car program is a pillar of the U.S. plan to meet its international commitments to cut carbon pollution, and it’s a “must” for any administration committed to fighting global warming. With a wide—and growing—majority of Americans supporting efforts to curb climate change pollution, it's time automakers put their fuel efficiency programs into high gear.

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Strong Fuel Economy Standards Needed Even When Oil Prices Are Low

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National Research Council Study Shows 2025 Fuel Economy Standards on Course

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Automakers have plenty of cost-effective technology options for meeting existing 2025 federal and California clean car and fuel economy standards according to a new government study. The Draft Technical Assessment Report comes just as automakers are claiming that future standards need to be relaxed. Weakening the standards would be a mistake. Weaker standards would deprive Americans of valuable savings at the pump, put the auto industry at financial risk and increase pollution.

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My colleague's, Pete Altman, blog on draft Technical Assessment Report

New York Is Poised to REV Up Its Electric Vehicles Market
Miles Farmer Luke Tonachel

Through its much-discussed Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) effort to modernize our electric system for the 21st century—we’ve blogged about it here and here—the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) is well positioned to put the pedal to the metal on the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the Empire State. The PSC is already encouraging utilities to speed development of EV charging infrastructure, something that can reduce electricity bills for customers, improve utilities’ bottom lines, and help integrate renewable energy resources onto the grid, by charging up vehicles when these plants are producing plenty of electricity and injecting energy back onto the system from those vehicles when electricity is in shortest supply. (NRDC’s new report, Driving Out Pollution: How Utilities Can Accelerate the Market for Electric Vehicles, can tell you more about how that all works.)

New York is wisely participating in the Zero Emission Vehicle program under the federal Clean Air Act, which requires automakers to gradually increase the percent of electric-drive vehicles sold in New York and other participating states. And through the ChargeNY initiative, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), New York Power Authority, and Department of Environmental Conservation are working together to advance a goal of building 3,000 new EV charging stations. Still, there’s much more the PSC and the state’s utilities can do to accelerate EV adoption and unlock their full potential.

Doing so will create a host of public benefits. Here’s just a short list:

A more stable climate. Right now, EVs create at least 50 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline-powered cars. In New York, we found a gasoline car would have to get 125 miles a gallon to emit as little carbon pollution as an electric car.  As New York doubles the amount of renewable energy on the grid over the next 15 years through the State’s Clean Energy Standard, carbon reductions from EV use will continue to grow.

Better public health. Gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and trucks are responsible for 42 percent of the state’s smog-forming nitrogen oxides emissions.  Replacing these liquid fuels with electricity will cut this and other pollution that threatens public health.

Lower electric bills for consumers. Most electric car charging happens when those vehicles are parked at home for the night and when there is excess generation capacity in the electricity system. Charging EVs during hours when the grid is underutilized increases utility revenues without commensurate increases in costs, putting downward pressure on electricity rates that can lower bills for all electricity customers.

Growing revenues for utilities. At a time when utilities worry about the so-called utility death spiral—lower revenues due to decreased demand and grid defection—EVs can create a new and important revenue stream to support the grid operations on which we all depend.

Local economic benefits. Using more EVs will benefit the state’s economy as we stop sending more than $20 billion out-of-state and sometimes out-of-the-country each year to import transportation fuels.

To realize all of these benefits and ensure that EV adoption occurs as rapidly and effectively as possible, there’s much more the PSC and the state’s utilities must do:

To begin with, New York’s utilities must plan to fast-track the deployment of electric vehicles. As part of REV, these utilities are required to submit a joint plan for integrating distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles, onto the system. NRDC is working with the utilities on this process and is providing input on their plans for facilitating EV adoption. The utilities should seize this opportunity to coordinate their planning (by, for example, developing shared processes to forecast EV penetration so that the rest of the system can be designed to meet the needs of a growing EV fleet), and to develop a shared set of principles for advancing EV infrastructure and deployment programs. The utilities should focus on the areas where their actions will have the greatest impact. They should, for example, ensure EV charging infrastructure is deployed in the areas that are currently underserved, so as to reduce potential owners’ so-called range anxiety—the fear of running out of juice and having no place to fill up. The utilities plans should include targeted investments in disadvantaged and low-income communities that can suffer disproportionately from tailpipe pollution and who can benefit from the low cost of driving on electricity. Making EV charging infrastructure available in a wide variety of places like office parking lots, shopping malls, and public and private parking garages will allow owners to charge up even if they don’t live in detached houses with private driveways, and help EVs support the integration of renewable resources.

While including EV programs in the current overall planning process is an important start, planning alone isn’t enough. Utilities also need to develop specific programs for infrastructure build-out. Because there isn’t yet any requirement that utilities do so, the PSC should adopt one, and create a new proceeding focused specifically on implementing these EV programs to offer the public important chances to provide input. (This Sierra Club letter, to which we signed on, urges the PSC to do just that.) We’re also urging the utilities to develop a variety of different innovative programs so that we can test out what works best. Such programs should go beyond just infrastructure development. They should also include plans for customer education and engagement, and new designs for electricity rates that encourage customers to plug in during the times when doing so is most efficient (for example, at times aligned with renewable power generation).

Around the country, despite historically low gas prices, electric vehicles are on the verge of taking off in a big way. This spring nearly 400,000 people plunked down $1,000 each to reserve a $35,000 Tesla Model 3, even though that car isn’t expected to roll off the assembly line until late next year at the earliest. And that’s just one example. Up in Boston recently, NRDC and the air quality group NESCAUM brought together Northeastern utility executives and state environmental and energy officials (including those in New York) to discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in utility build-out of EV charging infrastructure.

Through the REV, New York State and its PSC have been driving important changes in the way New Yorkers will get our electricity in the coming years. With the right proceedings and policies in place, the PSC can ensure that one of those changes is how we drive.

Big Oil’s Claims About CA Climate Policies Were Wrong
Simon Mui

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), an oil industry lobbying group representing companies like Chevron, is breaking records with lobbying expenditures as it attempts to block efforts to extend California clean energy and climate programs beyond 2020, according to recent news reports. Now, WSPA and their members are trying to force government officials and lawmakers into a no-win Sophie’s choice: either hobble the state’s low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) or the oil industry will try to kill proposed legislation to establish a statewide limit on carbon pollution for 2030 (Pavley, SB32).

But is what Big Oil is claiming about the LCFS program, which requires the industry to cut carbon pollution from fuels, true? A bit of fact-checking shows their claims are far from the truth.

Unfortunately, some state Assembly Members, many of whom represent districts most burdened by air pollution, aligned themselves last year with WSPA by opposing extension of climate programs while also stripping petroleum reduction goals out of another major clean energy bill (De León, SB350). This was contrary to the interests of the constituents they were elected to serve.

Lawmakers were inundated with the oil lobby’s doomsday claims against the state’s LCFS as well as the state’s cap-and-trade program that sets an economy-wide limit on carbon pollution. The oil industry’s claims—that the state would run out of fuel supply, consumer costs would go up, and jobs would be lost—ran counter to studies and evidence showing the enormous benefits of these clean energy policies, including helping to make California home to the most clean energy jobs in the country. These policies also are also saving all Californians, including low-income households, on their energy and transportation fuel bills, while helping avoid hundreds of thousands of illnesses each year caused by air pollution. Businessweek, which uncovered documents showing WSPA had created 16 fake front groups to serve as messengers to lawmakers, called Big Oil’s strategy a “conspiracy to kill off California’s climate law,” designed “to confuse people about an important law.”

Three big myths perpetuated upon lawmakers

With the 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to forget the major calamities the oil industry claimed would happen if the state’s LCFS and cap-and-trade programs were allowed to continue. Here’s what the oil industry said and what actually happened.

Doomsday Myth #1: The LCFS will lead to a “Fuels Cliff” in 2015 where “bad things” would happen, including “price spikes, fuel shortages and more.” Tupper Hull, Western States Petroleum Association, 2013

Fact check: False. In a sadly ironic twist, an explosion on February 18, 2015 at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California was the only “bad thing” happening. The explosion led to four injured workers and 14 months of reduced fuel supply to the state as major units at the refinery remained offline. A government commissioned study by RAND, a major think tank, estimated the oil industry made $2.4 billion in additional windfall profits in the first several months alone as gasoline prices increased by an average of 40 cents per gallon due to reduced supplies to the state.

Image of ExxonMobil, Torrance refinery after 2015 explosion ABC News

Using the same RAND methodology, I extended the analysis and found the oil industry windfall profits exceeded $6 billion over the entire 14-month incidence, costing the average household nearly $500 in additional fuel payments. In the aftermath, the state’s Attorney General has now issued subpoenas to several oil refineries on how they set gasoline prices.

NRDC estimate of oil industry’s windfall profits due to single refinery outage, compared to investments in alternative fuels resulting from LCFS.

Fortunately, thanks to the LCFS program, a record amount of alternative, clean fuel supplies was made available to the state in 2015, helping to partly offset the shortage after the explosion.  Rather than causing fuel shortages, over the past five years the LCFS has helped displace the need for over 6.6 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel, equivalent to the amount of fuel energy consumed in Southern California for more than a year. The clean fuels industry has also helped the oil industry outperform and exceed the LCFS requirements by an average of 80 percent thus far. As economists reported in a NRDC-commissioned study in 2014, the LCFS is helping protect consumers as a result of increased diversification and competition in the marketplace by new alternative fuel suppliers.

Lawmakers now have a chance, by supporting extension under SB32 and continuing a strong LCFS program, to help ensure the oil industry starts putting some of that $6 billion in windfall profits to further increase low-carbon fuel supplies while also investing in cleaner technologies and safety at their refineries.

Doomsday Myth 2: “There is a ‘likely’ scenario where the cost of compliance requires refiners to recover in excess of $2.50 per gallon of fuel and refiners are forced to reduce supply to the California market …this could happen in the 2015-2016 timeframe if LCFS regulations are not modified.” WSPA’s Understanding the Impact of AB32 Factsheet

Based on the recent market data on the LCFS program, the petroleum refineries’ costs to comply with the LCFS was about 80 times lower than WSPA’s ‘likely’ scenario. That LCFS value (seen as the small green bar in the graph above) went directly to companies producing alternative, lower-carbon fuel products. Californians in turn were provided with a record amount of alternatives, including renewable diesel, biogas, lower-carbon ethanol and clean electricity.

Even accounting for the oil industry’s compliance costs, a study commissioned by Consumers Union—the research and policy arm of Consumer Reports—concluded that California’s clean transportation programs would result in up to $1,530 in fuel savings per household, $350 in avoided congestion costs per worker, and up to $4.8 billion in avoided societal harms by 2030. California’s clean transportation programs are proving to be highly cost-effective.  

Doomsday Myth 3: The LCFS will “produce a steep decline in demand for refined products, particularly gasoline, resulting in the loss of 20 to 30 percent of the state’s refining capacity by 2017...”  Western Petroleum Association Factsheet

Over the past several years, WSPA continued to report to legislators the LCFS would result in dramatic declines in the state’s refining capacity. But five years into the program, the state’s refining capacity remains virtually unchanged. In fact, as the economy recovered, gasoline and diesel demand has even increased slightly.

California’s operable refining capacity remains virtually unchanged Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Despite all this, WSPA continues its campaign against the LCFS by now arguing California doesn’t need the standard to hit climate targets.  Most technical experts, however,  have shown significant amounts of clean, low-carbon fuels are needed to meet current and future goals – precisely what the LCFS is helping deliver (here and here and here). Fighting climate change will require both a strong clean energy ‘offense’—embodied by the LCFS—as well as a strong pollution ‘defense’—like the statewide cap-and-trade provides.  

Lawmakers shouldn’t let themselves be distracted by another round of doomsday claims by WSPA. Instead, they should stay focused on the many benefits to their constituents from California’s climate policies and be part of the state’s climate leadership. California has shown, time after time, that it can move forward on both environmental and economic progress. It's time for the oil industry to conform to the needs of the state and Californians, and not the other way around.

California shows the economy can grow while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Figure source: ARB
Big Oil Keeps Slipping
Franz Matzner

This blog is the second in an occasional series on the momentum building against Big Oil. You can read the first here.

Last year marked a watershed in the move beyond oil. And 2016 has already shown the continued erosion of Big Oil’s myth that we are stuck with its pollution and roller coaster prices at the pump. Fundamental changes in energy markets have thrown the fragility and volatility of Big Oil’s business model into sharp relief. Advances in technology exceeded optimistic predictions and put clean energy at consumer’s doorsteps. The world has awoken to the urgent need to do everything possible to turn the tide of dangerous climate change, and public momentum against going to the ends of the earth to drill for more oil has erupted across the country and globe. Big Oil’s power is slipping. And with each iota of influence lost by the exploitive industry, the likelihood that we’ll meet our climate goals improves. It is time for our elected leaders to accept the writing on the wall and reject the oil industry’s continued attempts to deny climate change and hold on to what history will prove to be a failed model.

Changing Economics

A report by British think tank Chatham House put a fine point on this historical transition in cold, hard terms:

“The future of the major international oil companies (IOCs) – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total – is in doubt. The business model that sustained them during the 20th century is no longer fit for purpose. As a result, they are faced with the choice of managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.”

Another report by the financial specialists at Carbon Tracker shows that Big Oil’s bottom line would be best served by shifting the corporations’ growth strategies away from the high cost—in terms of both capital and carbon—marginal reserves like the Arctic and tar sands. Instead, the Economist reported, they would “produce higher returns if they carry out selective drilling of low-cost wells.”

June 3 oil train derailment near Mosier, OR Derek Hiser; Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue Twitter (@MCFR95)

Case in point, an investigation published recently by Oceana revealed that the oil majors may be beginning to see the light: Conoco Phillips, Statoil and others have relinquished their oil and gas leases in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, investments worth $2.5 billion. And last week, Royal Dutch Shell officially abandoned its effort to extend the terms of its Arctic leases after the Department of Interior declared it would not renew current existing leases.

More explicitly, Total recently ruled out future Arctic oil drilling entirely and “decided to reduce [its] exposure in Canada’s [tar] sands, which are particularly expensive to develop and operate,” basing the decision on the International Energy Agency’s 2°C scenario. It’s also made substantial purchases of solar power and energy storage firms and some believe it’s making moves to become a “green giant” in the near future.

“COP21 was definitely a watershed,” Total’s chief executive officer wrote. “195 countries managed to unite around an ambitious climate agreement. That sends a strong message.”

Similarly, Statoil recently secured a lease off the coast of Scotland to build the world’s largest floating wind farm and has set aside $200 million for further clean energy investments over four to seven years while Royal Dutch Shell allocated the same sum each year for “New Energies” acquisitions.

Transportation Decarbonization

At the same time, clean energy is advancing at record pace, punching a hole in Big Oil’s increasingly flimsy rhetoric that “we are stuck with oil forever.” Last year, EV sales grew 60 percent worldwide. Analysts predicted strong EV sales growth this year and so far they’re up 13 percent compared to the same time last year, according to InsideEVs.com. By 2040, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted, electric vehicles will account for 35 percent of new car sales globally and displace 13 million barrels a day of crude, causing the next oil crisis.

But in light of Tesla Motors’ April pre-sale of its forthcoming mid-range sedan, it’s possible that all of these forecasts will be shattered. In just seven days, the EV and battery company received more than 325,000 online reservations of its yet-to-be released Model 3 and more are still being made. To put that into comparison, only around 116,000 EVs were sold in all of 2015 and Honda’s best-selling car, the Accord, broke records in 2015 with 388,000 purchases. Tesla has broken open the consumer market for electric vehicles in a way that promises to further accelerate the accessibility of clean vehicles.

Tragedies We Can Avoid...

Oil poses a clear and present danger to our communities and our planet, evidenced further by yet another slate of recent oil spills. Last month, on June 23rd, a pipeline near Ventura, CA, opened up, leaking around 29,400 gallons of crude into an arroyo leading to the Pacific. As was the case with last year’s spill onto Santa Barbara’s beaches, this went undetected by the pipeline company and may not have been contained but for a local rancher who woke up to the smell of noxious fumes and contacted 911.

In May, it was discovered that a Shell facility leaked nearly 90,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a two-by-thirteen mile oil sheen on the water’s surface.

And early last month a train carrying crude oil derailed near a small town along the Columbia River in Oregon, forcing evacuations. Oil from the punctured train cars eventually found its way into the river. These ‘accidents’ remind us of the immediate destruction that is an unavoidable consequence of oil extraction and transportation. In response to the Oregon derailment, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told the Los Angeles Times, "It's clear with this crash -- as it has been for years -- that more must be done to protect our communities from trains carrying explosive hazardous fuels,” and the state pressed for an indefinite moratorium on the passage of “bomb trains” through its borders.

…But Not Without Strong Leadership

The trend towards a safer planet has only been reinforced by rapidly changing politics.

The Obama administration has continued to send strong messages via bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements that clean—not dirty energy—must power the future. Just last week at the “Three Amigos” summit, the President and Mexico and Canada’s leaders together took aim at generating half of their energy cleanly by 2025. At the recent U.S.-Nordic Leader Summit, President Obama committed to applying the precautionary principle when considering new oil and gas operations in the Arctic. And he made a similar pledge after meeting with the new Canadian Prime Minister in March, and shortly thereafter removed the U.S. Atlantic coast from its proposed 5-year offshore leasing plan.

In short: momentum is shifting, but Big Oil has yet to give up the ghost. Despite progress, it is clear that much of the industry continues to advocate hard to open vast new areas to oil production, regardless of harm to communities, the environment, and the climate. The decisions our elected leaders make will help determine whether this change in momentum against Big Oil results in a smooth transition to clean energy on a timeline that meets the urgency of climate change, or a disruptive upheaval that comes far too late for the global climate.

For example, President Obama faces one such pivotal decision as he finalizes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2017-2022. Once leases are sold it would take decades before any product comes to market. So the President’s offshore leasing plans represent a blueprint for the future.  A blueprint that suggests we will need the oil contained under the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to meet national demand in 2040 means we are planning on progress stalling, allowing our global climate to warm beyond 2°C.  That’s why President Obama should permanently withdraw the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from all future oil and gas leasing and prevent the expansion of leasing in the Gulf.

It is also imperative that our elected leaders continue to invest in clean energy solutions and oppose the expansion of tar sands and other unconventional fuels, development which continues to threaten our communities, waterways, and climate. We must tighten the rules to accelerate clean transportation systems, and ensure that the transportation of tar sands and other dirty oils does not put our communities or oceans at risk by increasing pipeline safety and oversight, placing a moratorium on crude oil unit trains, and instituting a moratorium on tankers and barges hauling tar sands crudes on our major rivers and off our coasts.

We do not have to face the reality being pushed by the oil industry. Oil—as a product and an industry—is losing its gravity. We’re moving beyond it and can accelerate that transition if our leaders keep sending the message that they believe in a clean energy future. It’s what the best market analysts are saying is a good investment, it’s what climate science says we must do, and it’s the global model of leadership President Obama has made his calling card.

Our society is poised for a clean energy revolution—our President should continue to use his last months in office to do all he can to make it a reality.

Driving the Electric Vehicle Market in Michigan
Ariana Gonzalez

A new report from NRDC, Driving Out Pollution: How Utilities Can Accelerate the Market for Electric Vehicles details how and why the electric industry can supercharge the national market for electric vehicles (EVs). Utilities, in particular, are well positioned to play a leading role in this national effort and to ensure the home of the American automotive industry is ready to drive on a cleaner, cheaper fuelelectricity. 

Before you dismiss the idea as something only the West Coast can do, look right here in the Midwest where Kansas City Power & Light’s Clean Charge Network and Michigan’s own Consumers Energy’s charging station proposal demonstrate an initial commitment to providing the infrastructure necessary to support widespread electric vehicle charging. 


Utilities are uniquely positioned to spur a rapid deployment of charging stations, increase public awareness of EVs’ economic and environmental benefits, and incentivize drivers to charge at times that will help bring more solar and wind onto the grid, enhancing electric vehicles’ clean air benefits. As utilities enter the world of EVs, they’re presented with an opportunity to better utilize the existing grid in ways that benefit both consumers and the environment. By design, utilities are equipped to use spare grid capacity to charge vehicles, leverage existing customer relationships, partner with independent EV charging companies, and create rates that maximize EV owners’ savings.

Some utilities and states are already taking concrete steps to increase electric vehicle use. California and Oregon adopted laws directing the electric industry to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector, and additional utilities in the West, Midwest, and South are pursuing EV infrastructure investments.


The century old automotive industry is undergoing a transition toward clean energy vehicles. Michigan is harnessing and improving battery technologies to keep the industry competitive and satisfy growing consumer demand for EVs. During two weeks in April, nearly 400,000 people put down $1,000 deposits for the forthcoming Tesla Model 3, a moderately priced EV with a range in excess of 200 miles. But GM will beat Tesla to the showroom with a similarly priced EV that also has a range in excess of 200 miles—the Chevrolet Bolt, which will go on sale later this year.

The Bolt EV will be built at GM’s Orion assembly facility, near Detroit. ©General Motors

Already, Michigan is leading the Midwest in advanced transportation jobs, which make up nearly 32% of clean energy jobs in the state. Put another way, Michigan’s clean transportation economy employs more people than the state’s entire fossil fuel sector with nearly 28,000 jobs. Those jobs are evenly split between electric and hybrid vehicles, which make up the lion’s share of these advanced transportation jobs. The potential for growth on top of this leadership is great. According to the Detroit Chamber, since 2009, Michigan has created 45,000 jobs specific to automotive manufacturing and 61 of the top 100 automotive suppliers to North America are headquartered in Michigan. All the ingredients rest here within state lines.

Decreasing Pollution and Electricity Prices, While Increasing Grid Reliability

Economic benefits are only one of the advantages coming from the proliferation of electric vehicles. With a dramatic increase in electric vehicles, fueled by clean energy such as solar and wind power, utilities can put us on the road to meeting our climate goals, reduce harmful pollution, and insulate drivers from roller-coaster gasoline prices while strengthening the grid. Below is a walk-through of how these benefits can come about:

Electric vehicles, the supporting infrastructure, and forward-thinking utilities will transform the way Michiganders think about cars. Soon, when you look at your  car, you’ll see so much more than just a vehicle that drives you to work or the game—you’ll see a powerhouse that protects your wallet, health, grid, and the economy.

Driving Out Pollution: How Utilities Can Accelerate the Market for Electric Vehicles

The transportation sector accounts for one-third of U.S. carbon pollution. But with the right policies, electric vehicles could transform the way America travels—while saving us money and protecting our health, environment, and economy. Currently, the electric vehicle market is primarily limited to consumers who live in single-family homes where it is relatively easy to plug in cars to charge.

If, however, charging infrastructure were expanded to multifamily buildings and places where people work and play, electric vehicles could take up a significantly larger share of the vehicle market—including low-income communities who are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and volatile gas prices. The electric industry is uniquely positioned to accelerate deployment of these charging stations, allowing more Americans to drive on a cleaner fuel at a fraction of the cost.

This is great news because, according a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, roughly 40 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States need to be electric vehicles by 2030.  Driving on electricity already emits on average half as much carbon pollution as the typical gasoline-powered vehicle. That advantage will only grow as renewable energy takes up a larger share of America’s electricity generation. Even better, we can use the large batteries in electric vehicles as a form of energy storage to accelerate the replacement of fossil fuel plants with wind and solar resources.


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