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Governors Petition EPA for Tighter Regulations

Monday, December 09, 2013

Today governors of eight Northeastern states plan to petition the Environmental Protection Agency to force tighter air pollution regulations on nine Rust Belt and Appalachian states. The petition comes the day before the Supreme Court is to hear arguments to determine the fate of a related E.P.A. regulation known as the “good neighbor” rule. Joining The Takeaway to explain is Coral Davenport, reporter for our partner The New York Times.

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Transportation Nation

Striking Vintage EPA Photos Show Troubling Proximity of People and Pollution in 1970s

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Chemical plants on shore are considered prime source of pollution." (Marc St. Gil, Lake Charles, Louisiana, June 1972. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

These photos are beautiful. They're also sad, and hopeful, and quaint.

In the 1970s the EPA commissioned photographers to roam the country and document daily life in places like coal mines, riverbanks, cities, and even an early clean tech conference in a motel parking lot. The images were meant to be a baseline to measure change in the years to come, but there was no funding to go back to the original places.

The Documerica project photos are up on Flickr now (hat tip to FastCoExist for posting some of these gems). It's an overwhelming album of nostalgia for everyday life, but also, devastatingly depressing to see how dirty and toxic so many inhabited places could be in the 1970s ... and how little has changed in some places today.

What makes the project so powerful though, is how beautiful the photography is, even of the mundane moments, or tragic scenarios like kids playing in a river next to a power plant.

Strum through the albums yourself and share your favorites with us on our Facebook page and we'll add more pics to this post later on.

In the albums, there are also early editions of clean technology, like Frank Lodge's photos from the first First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems held at what seems to be a motel parking lot.

Exhibit at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development Held at the Marriott Motor Inn, Ann Arbor, Mich. Vehicles and Hardware Were Assembled at the EPA Ann Arbor Laboratory. Part of the Exhibit Was Held in the Motel Parking Lot the Ebs "Sundancer", an Experimental Electric Car, Gets Its Batteries Charged From an Outlet in the Parking Lot 10/1973 (Frank Lodge. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

"Children play in yard of Ruston home, while Tacoma smelter stack showers area with arsenic and lead residue." (Gene Daniels. Ruston, Washington, August 1972. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

David Falconer documented the fuel shortage in the west during the 1970s, as well as water pollution in the area at the time.  (David Falconer, National Arcives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

Miner Wayne Gipson, 39, with His Daughter Tabitha, 3. He Has Just Gotten Home From His Job as a Conveyor Belt Operator in a Non-Union Mine. as Soon as He Arrives He Takes a Shower and Changes Into Clothes to Do Livestock Chores with His Two Sons. Gipson Was Born and Raised in Palmer, Tennessee, But Now Lives with His Family near Gruetli, near Chattanooga. He Moved North to Work and Married There, But Returned Because He and His Wife Think It Is a Better Place to Live 12/1974 (Jack Corn. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 Follow Alex Goldmark on Twitter @alexgoldmark

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Transportation Nation

City of Alexandria Joins Homeowner Battle Against Location of I-95 Ramp

Friday, March 01, 2013

Outside the Overlook community in Alexandria (photo by Martin Di Caro)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) For the first time since they began fighting the construction of a highway ramp near their homes, a coalition of eight homeowners’ groups in Fairfax County and Alexandria are getting some official help in their battle with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Alexandria city leaders are pledging to lobby state transportation officials to reconsider the placement next to the homeowners’ properties of the planned northern terminus of the future I-95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

Before winning the public support of Alexandria city hall, the group Concerned Residents of Landmark had been rebuffed by public officials in their bid to convince VDOT to stop construction.

One of the group’s leaders, Mary Hasty, whose home in Alexandria’s Overlook community will stand just 75 feet from the completed exit ramp, says time is running out.

“We’re racing against the clock, yes. And my understanding is that VDOT has accelerated the building project of the ramp because they want it to be done so the opposition will stop,” Hasty said.

VDOT will begin pile driving at the site next week, a significant step in the building process, but Hasty remains steadfast.

“Even if they’ve driven the piles, when the public health issue comes to light, they can stop,” she said.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg says the city has a responsibility to represent its constituents.

“Science is convincing, and they had an outside firm that’s very prestigious do this research and it is very convincing,” Silberberg said. “We are certainly going to make the case from an environmental and health perspective.”

Concerned Residents of Landmark spent more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis of the project. Their study found backed up traffic on the exit ramp will spew a cloud of pollution in excess of federal safety standards, the group said.

“My biggest concern with VDOT is that they failed to fulfill their requirements under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Hasty, who said VDOT did not perform localized studies of pollution impacts on her community.

VDOT officials dispute the homeowners’ accusations.

“Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011 which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s Northern Virginia megaprojects director.  “Their study used a different modeling technique and so we are trying to see why there is a big difference in the outcome of the two models.”

The Shrader study says 80,000 people in Fairfax County and Alexandria will be affected by pollution from vehicles exiting I-95, especially from particulate matter equivalent to what was spewed by the coal-fired GenOn electric plant that was closed down last year after a long battle with Alexandria.

“This is a health issue.  It’s incumbent on our elected officials to carry this message to Richmond,” said Herb Treger, the vice president of the board of directors of Watergate at Landmark, a community of 4,000 residents that joined Hasty’s coalition. “It’s a government project. Government projects can always be stopped. I worked for the government for 40 years.  I know they can be halted until the proper studies are done,” he added.

In order to determine if the project’s environmental impacts met federal safety standards, VDOT studied the location with the most traffic volume in the project corridor, the Springfield interchange, Lynch said.  That “worst case scenario” conformed to federal standards clearing the way for construction throughout the corridor, Lynch said.

“For the localized ‘hotspot’ analysis there are guidelines from the EPA to choose different locations for your project and typically you choose the worst place,” Lynch said. “It’s a qualitative analysis.  If you do it at the worst case scenario then you assume that it is fine everywhere else.”

VDOT has no plans to stop construction.

“We have no intention of going away,” Treger said.

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

As Virginia Debates Transportation Funding Plan, EVs Put Gas Tax Under Microscope

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Chevy Volt at the 2012 NY International Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds)

As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.

On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.  In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.

The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles.  The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.

The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.

The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.

Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.

“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”

In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.

A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.

But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.

“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”

The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.

The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.

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Transportation Nation

DC Commuters Want Less Traffic, More Transit -- And No Congestion Pricing

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(photo by NCreedplayer via flickr)

Commuters are skeptical that congestion pricing will reduce traffic in the metropolitan Washington area and raise revenues to fund transportation projects. Instead, they favor alternatives to driving -- commuter rail, express bus service, or bicycling/walking.

report released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed the attitudes of 300 area residents who participated in five forums: two in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in the District of Columbia. The participants were asked to consider three scenarios: 1) placing tolls on all major roadways, including interstate highways; 2) charging a per-mile fee measured by GPS systems installed in cars; and 3) creating priced zones similar to a system in London that would charge motorists to enter a designated area.

These attitudes are being probed at a delicate time for transportation funding in the region: Virginia's governor is proposing the elimination of the state gasoline tax -- while Maryland is looking at increasing theirs. Meanwhile, the area's largest transit project, the Silver Line, has yet to be fully funded.

But the funding scenarios posed to study participants received tepid support.

“This study shows people are cautiously open to concepts of congestion pricing, but they really need to see if it’s going to work, and they have doubts about that,” said John Swanson, a TPB planner.

“They really want to make sure that there are clear benefits, that [congestion pricing] is going to fund new transportation alternatives… particularly transit and high quality bus [service],” he added.

Scenario one – charging tolls on all major roadways – was supported by 60 percent of study participants, who engaged in extended exchanges of ideas and opinions. Scenario two – using GPS to track miles traveled – was opposed by 86 percent, even though drivers’ actual routes would not be tracked, only the number of miles.

“I don’t want to discount privacy concerns,” Swanson said. “I don’t think, however, the concerns were simply the classic ‘big brother’ concerns. There was a lot of code language for broader anxieties.  It was a complicated proposal that was hard to understand.  It seemed to be hard to implement.  A lot of people said it looked like it would be expensive to implement and, frankly, they are right.”

The study participants spoke of congestion in personal terms -- family time robbed, the stress of dealing with incessant traffic. Most commuters said driving is not a choice.

“The availability of other options besides driving—such as transit, walking and biking—increased [the] receptiveness to pricing. Participants also spoke favorably of proposals that would maintain non-tolled lanes or routes for those who cannot or do not want to pay,” the report said.

Transit advocates say the report shows shaping land use strategies to improve access to transit and create walkable, densely built environments is the best way to mitigate the region’s traffic jams.

“Newcomers to the region are very frequently choosing the city or a place near transit rather than a place where they have no option but to drive,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“What’s most interesting about this report is that it was an effort to seek public support for congestion pricing, but what it documented was the much stronger support for transit and improvements in how we plan land use in order to give people more choices to get around,” Schwartz added.

The study’s authors – the TPB partnered with the Brookings Institution – found most participants were unaware the federal gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) hasn’t been raised since 1993.  However, they also favored raising the gas tax as an easier, fairer alternative to implementing a congestion pricing program.

Support for increasing the gas tax increased over the course of the sessions --  from 21 percent when the study convened to 57 percent upon its completion.

The gas tax “is a hidden fee,” said Swanson. “We learned that people actually like that. There is a general sense of the invisibility of the gas tax being a problem and potentially a benefit, something that’s strangely attractive to people.”

Eighty-five percent of study participants identified transportation funding shortfalls as a critical problem, yet expressed doubts the government would make the right choices if additional revenues were made available through congestion pricing.

TPB board member Chris Zimmerman, who's also a member of the Arlington (VA) County Board, took exception to the wording of the study’s questions using the word “government” because he felt it provoked a negative response.

“If you are trying to interpret what people say, you have to be careful of what question you ask them,” Zimmerman said. “I think people get that there is a lack of funding.  They also get the fact there are a number of other problems.  There aren’t alternatives. For many in this region, they drive not because that’s what they are dying to do, but because they have no choice.”

Zimmerman, who background is in economics, said it should be no surprise people are lukewarm about congestion pricing proposals, given the lack of alternative modes of transportation in some places.  He is also unsure congestion pricing will work.

“The way roads are run is there is basically no pricing of them at all. Even if you are paying a gas tax it’s not related to your use of any particular road.  An economist looks at that and says of course you are going to get inefficiency and congestion,” Zimmerman said.

“You are not talking about going from the current situation to instantly pricing everything perfectly.  You are talking about implementing costs on particular segments of roads and that gets a lot more complicated because there are secondary effects," Zimmerman said. "We price one thing and many people shift to some other place.  Well, where is that some other place?”

“In practice, implementing that is very difficult.”

The Washington region saw two major highways shift to congestion pricing in 2012. Maryland's Inter-County Connector charges variably priced tolls; the 495 Express Lanes charge dynamically priced tolls and offer free rides to HOV-3 vehicles.

In the case of the Express Lanes, the state of Virginia will not receive toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with its private sector partner, Transurban, and it remains to be seen if the new toll lanes will ultimately reduce congestion in the heavily traveled corridor. The ICC also has its critics, who say the recently constructed highway was a waste of money.

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Transportation Nation

Local Restaurants Hope for Rebirth at LAX

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bradley International Terminal at LAX under construction. (Shereen Marisol Meraji/KPCC)

(Corey Moore - Los Angeles, KPCC) If you’ve flown American Airlines out of LAX's Terminal 4, then you may have wolfed down a meal at Chili’s. Staffers says the airport Chili’s – with its cheesesteak sandwiches, combo Fajitas and baby back ribs – is the most popular of its U.S. franchises.

But in a few months, Chili’s won’t be in Terminal 4. Neither will Burger King. And eventually, the old Starbucks will go away.

Chili’s will soon be replaced by Campanile. It's one of 15 local eateries that will be opening in the Bradley Terminal and Terminal 4. It will be a rebirth of sorts for the historic Los Angeles restaurant known for its prime rib and sautéed halibut. Last October, Campanile closed the doors at its home of more than 20 years, on La Brea Avenue near Hancock Park.

RELATED: Campanile regulars reminisce as restaurant prepares for move

Renowned chef Mark Peel owns the business. He says he started planning to relocate to LAX more than two years ago. Peel says first the epicenter for food moved away from his location on La Brea, and then hard times hit.

“Business softened up during the recession," he says. "There are certain standards we maintain, and we can’t maintain them if we’re not making money, so it became essential that we try something else.”

Peel looks forward to a turnaround at LAX, even though his new place will be only a quarter the size of his old one.

“Campanile is projected to do $8 million a year (at LAX). I want to beat that," Peel says. His goal is to make $10 million a year.

Kimberly Ritter-Martinez is an economist with the LA Economic Development Corporation. She believes that more travelers are looking for higher quality food at the airport – and local options.

“Los Angeles did a very good job of developing the L.A. brand," she says. "So bringing in local businesses, [these] are very attractive offerings.”

Airport authorities say that’s why they sought out iconic Southland businesses such as Campanile, Real Food Daily, La Provence and Cole’s. They’re among the six opening in Terminal 4. Nine more are coming to the Bradley Terminal.

Officials say all of the incoming restaurants are working to keep their prices at the same level as if they were operating outside of the airport.

Peel says that some of the staff from the restaurants that are closing will end up working at Campanile and other new establishments.

“They’ve rotated people off jobs, kept them on the payroll, partnered with Trade Tech downtown," he says. Those workers have entered a 9-week cooking school taught by L.A. Trade Tech instructors to put them in line for jobs at the new restaurants.

In the meantime, Peel is preparing for Campanile’s grand opening at LAX, sizing up his space, researching ingredients, and working up a list of suppliers.

He’s focused on reaching that annual $10 million dollar goal.

“Think about it as $30,000 a day – this is seven days a week and its going to be open 16 hours a day if not a little bit more," he says. "Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s absolutely doable.”

Construction begins this month. The plan is to have the new Campanile and the other new restaurants at LAX up and running by May.

Follow Corey Moore on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Northern Virginia Planning Big 'Outer Beltway' Road Expansion (Part 1)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Approximate rendering by the Piedmont Environmental Council, a group that opposes the plan.

This is the first of a two-part series on plans to expand Northern Virginia’s road network and freight capacity of Dulles International Airport. (Part 2)

In a massive undertaking that would transform the face of Northern Virginia, state transportation planners are unveiling plans to create a “north-south corridor of statewide significance.” Some are calling it a potential beginning of an "outer Beltway," others say it's essential infrastructure for the region's economy. Critics call it a big waste of money, unnecessary and poorly planned.

The proposal would add a path between I-95 in Prince William County to Route 7 in Loudoun County, arcing west of Dulles International Airport and connecting to I-66, Rt. 50, and the Dulles Greenway.

Neither the exact route of a new highway, the cost, nor the number of lanes has been decided, but the agency’s objective is coming into focus: to dramatically expand Northern Virginia's road capacity to benefit commerce, namely the growth of Dulles Airport into the east coast's largest freight hub.

“I'm concerned that they are going to build a road at six lanes going 60 miles an hour much like the Beltway or Highway 28. They are going to need to do four lanes and they will have to slow it down,” said South Riding, Virginia resident Todd Sipe, who pointed out his home on a map of one of the proposed corridor routes at the first of two public open houses on Tuesday night.   “I believe nothing is settled yet.  They are collecting public comment now.”

Officials at the Virginia Department of Transportation greeted residents inside a high school cafeteria in Loudoun County filled with maps, charts, and bullet points about a regional master plan that is still in its conceptual stages.

 Residents attending the event were skeptical of the need for a major north-south highway west of the airport, running along the western edge of Manassas Battlefield State Park.

“It seems to be more aimed at industry and transporting freight to Dulles Airport,” said Sterling resident Bill Roman. “In terms of our needs here in the county, people commute east-west mostly, not north-south. There are no north-south issues.”

“I think the state could spend its money in much more effective ways. The way this is shown right now, it ends on Rt. 7. That isn’t the place where you can end a road like this,” said Emily Southgate of Middleburg, referring to mounting pressure to extend a corridor north of Rt. 7 in the form of a new Potomac River crossing, an idea supported by Virginia state officials but not by their counterparts in Maryland.

One lawmaker who conceptually supports the creation of the corridor is convinced additional highway capacity would help commuters. Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) says concerns about a sprawl-inducing new highway could be addressed by limiting access, building fewer exits and entrances.

“When you talk about limiting access you have two main benefits,” he said. “It makes it easier to privatize the road to get it paid for, which is what I think VDOT is primarily interested in. The other benefit is that you can limit development in areas that are undeveloped."

In Letourneau’s view, new housing development is coming to Loudoun County, so the board of supervisors has to responsibly accommodate it.

VDOT officials say a limited-access highway that improves access to Dulles Airport and incorporates HOV lanes and bus lanes would serve the most people.

“We are going to work the best transportation system that we can and meet the needs of the public. There has to be political consensus to do that,” said Garrett Moore, VDOT’s Northern Virginia District Administrator.  “We can limit access. One of the things we'd like to do is get predictable and fast transport, additional capacity and carpools to include express and bus rapid transit.”

Some environmental groups are adamantly opposed to building a north-south highway west of Dulles Airport, especially if it would absorb any property on the periphery of the Manassas battlefield.

“In the context of our limited resources in Virginia, this is one of the worst expenditures we could make,” said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.  “The fact that it might be a public-private partnership doesn't change that analysis.”

Building through a public-private partnership would likely mean new tolls on the highway. To Miller, VDOT’s plans amount to an “outer beltway” that would lead to new development in 100,000 acres of farm land and rural subdivisions.

“There’s a big choice this region is going to make over the next ten years,” Miller added. “Are we going to take advantage of the investment in the Silver Line, or are we going to allow development to occur in this large 100,000 acre range from I-66 to Rt. 7 west of the airport. We don’t think it is inevitable. The McDonnell administration is encouraging sprawl by encouraging this highway.”

The second part of this series deals with Dulles as a freight hub. 

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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Transportation Nation

Confusion at the Gas Pump: Which Grade is Best?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Octane ratings at a California gas station, 2007 (photo by f31fud via flickr)

(Isabel Angell -- San Francisco, KALW) Gas prices in California are always a big problem. And this year, the average price per gallon is set to hit four dollars – the highest average ever. It seems like there’s nothing the average driver can do to lower their fuel costs – except, maybe, change what grade of gasoline they buy. Most people, though, have no idea what that means for their car.

A choice at the pump

At a gas station in El Cerrito, people pull up in their cars to fill up their tanks. At some point, each of them presses a button: regular, mid-grade, or premium. The higher the grade, the higher the octane content. And the higher the octane content, the higher the price. At this gas station, regular gasoline costs $3.82 per gallon and premium costs $4.05 – twenty-two cents more expensive. I’m curious, so I start asking people what kind of gas they’re buying, and why.

Kate Foley buys gets regular because it’s the cheapest, she tells me with a laugh.

Susie Marcus went for the regular unleaded, “I guess because it’s the least expensive and I have not seen any proof that buying the better gas makes you go farther or better mileage.”

Ariana Jones sprung for the premium. She tells me it’s the only kind her car will take.

So, how are they making these decisions? If it’s just based on price, there’s no reason to use premium, unless the more expensive gas is actually better.

For answers, I turned to Daniel Kammen, a professor at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. He told me octane is a measure of energy content. So the different grades of gas have different energy contents. I asked him what that means for my car.

“You get more zip in the car when you use a fuel with a higher energy content,” says Kammen.

But before you start imagining your humble Honda Civic transforming into a fiery red Mustang, a word of warning from Kammen: “There's very little difference in everyday behavior. So if you're doing urban driving, you’re not going to notice much difference because you're not going at the speeds when it matters. And on the highway you have to have a really high performance car to really see that difference.”

And by high performance car, he doesn’t mean a lowly BMW.

“You most likely see it when you start driving Lamborghinis and Ferraris,” says Kammen.

The latest numbers from the California Energy Commission say that 18 percent of gas sold in California in 2010 was premium. But 18 percent of Californians probably don’t own a Lamborghini.

So why do people buy premium when they don’t have to? I asked Sudhot Bhat, who teaches marketing strategy at San Francisco State. He says that most consumers are not experts in the things that they buy.

“Even for things like toothpaste, they are not very good judges of quality,” Bhat says. “So what I sometimes think is that a lot of consumers use price as a gauge of quality. If they do not know much about a product, they tend to think that the product with the higher price is higher quality.”

Bhat says because most people don’t know what’s going on in their gas tank, some consumers might spring for the premium gas just because it’s more expensive. But he has a solution for people who want to get the most bang for their buck: look it up on the internet.

“I think if consumers had more time and they did some research, they would know what really is good quality. You don't have to take the manufacturer's word for it, you can actually go on see what other people are saying,” says Bhat.

One of the big reasons people say they like to buy premium is to prevent engine knocking, when the fuel doesn’t explode the right way in the engine, and that makes a knocking sound. It means you’re not getting the full power of the gas – and if it keeps happening, it can actually hurt your car. But, for the last fifteen years or so, engines have been built with sensors to prevent this exact thing from happening.

So what should you be buying? I took Sudhot Bhat’s advice and turned to the Internet. What I found matched what Berkeley’s Dan Kammen told me: if your car’s manual says it runs on regular, there’s no reason to splurge on a higher grade. And many high-performance cars will run on regular – you just might not get the maximum power possible. Turbo-charged really do require the high-octane premium, so check with your mechanic before making the switch.

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Transportation Nation

Homeowners Group Notches Up Fight Against Billion Dollar Highway Expansion

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A state project with federal money is meeting with local opposition, in a sign that construction and infrastructure expansion often sparks not-in-my-backyard resistance. A homeowners group in a Washington, D.C. suburb says studies performed by traffic and environmental analysts it hired show the construction of a highway ramp near their homes will ruin their quality of life.

Members of Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395 in Alexandria, Va., pleaded with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night to support their request that the Virginia Department of Transportation suspend construction of the ramp, which is the planned northern terminus of the future 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

“VDOT has usurped its responsibility. It has provided only a regional analysis of the impact of pollutants and traffic congestion. They haven't evaluated the public health risk to the residents,” Sue Okubo, an Overlook resident, told the board.

“This ramp, if it goes through as proposed, will bring major congestion as well as major amounts of pollution,” said Mary Hasty, Okubo’s neighbor.

The county supervisor who represents their neighborhood, Penelope Gross, rebuffed their plea, telling them to contact VDOT because it is a state project on state property, although staff of Board Chairman Sharon Bulova briefly met privately with Okubo to listen to her concerns.

The Overlook group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our experts say that they will be standing for extended periods of time. That’s going to cause a concentration of pollutants that well exceeds EPA standards for safety for humans,” Hasty said. “One of the pollutants exceeds EPA standards by four-thousand percent.”

Concerned Residents of Overlook hired the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to manage their independent analyses. Shrader has litigated cases involving plaintiffs who claimed they were harmed by toxic chemicals and dangerous products.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has denied that it failed to adequately study the environmental impacts on the 95 Express Lanes project.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects, in a prior interview.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

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Transportation Nation

Prediction: D.C. Area Highway and Transit Crowding Will Get Worse

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Washington DC - I-395 from D NW (photo by thisisbossi via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.

The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.

“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.

“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.

If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.

The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.

“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”

The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.

As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.

Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.

“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.

Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.

“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said.  “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”

Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.

“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.

Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.

Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Homeowners Fight 95 Express Lanes Ramp

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A homeowners’ group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.

Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395, wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.  The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

“The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house,” said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for ten years. Hasty says she's learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.

“You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I’d have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden,” she said.

The group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City, Arlington County to our backyard and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities,” Hasty said.

Hasty’s friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, said the ramp will ruin property values, too.

“Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market,” Okubo said.

“Maybe there won’t be an impact.  I don’t believe that.  That’s why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard.” Hasty added.

Construction of the ramp is already underway.  Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects. Lynch refuted the homeowners’ claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

Lynch said VDOT responded to residents’ concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.

“We have been very transparent in providing all of the information that they requested,” Lynch said.  “We’ve met with the community multiple times both in 2011 and 2012 during project development.”

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California Greenhouse Gas Law Faces Challenge

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

(photo by Kevin Dooley via flickr)

(KALW - San Francisco) The future of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law is being called into question.

Implementation of the law was delayed earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno, who ruled that the regulations violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides of the debate last week.

At issue is the “Low Carbon Standard”—regulations that require fuel producers to meet California’s emissions standards, or pay a penalty in the state’s cap and trade system. Fuel, farm and trucking industry lawyers argue that the law violates the federal commerce clause because the law reaches across state borders, effectively favoring California-based producers over out-of-state competitors, whose fuel may not meet the state’s strict emission requirements.

The California Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for implementing the regulations, says the law is intended to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990s levels by the year 2020. Lawyers representing the state and environmental groups argue that the California law is the only way to reach these goals.

Sean Donahue, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney who presented oral arguments to the appeals court, said that at its core, the law is about regulating greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the entire life cycle of the fuel. “It’s not based on where the fuel is from, but is based on the effect on the climate,” Donahue said.

Peter Keisler, a fuel industry attorney, told the court, “Even if there is no discrimination, you still have a regulatory scheme whose purpose is to penalize imports, to penalize out-of-state conduct in an effort to control in-state emissions.”

The three-judge panel asked tough questions during the appeal, including a focus on language in the law that seemed to point to favoring California employment and tax revenues.

"Isn’t this unambiguous evidence that the board was motivated by protectionism?” asked 9th Circuit Court Judge Mary Murguia.

The panel now moves on to consider the oral and written arguments in the case before issuing a written opinion, a process that could take many months.

 

 

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Chevy Testing App to Help Volt Owners Visualize -- and Brag About -- Fuel Savings

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chevy Volt getting juiced up. (Photo via GM)

Early adopters are a risk-friendly group of people. They put in a little extra effort to make new technology work for them, often before all the kinks are ironed out.

They also like to brag.

Chevy wants to harness all of these character traits with a new smartphone app. “Volt owners do like a lot of information,” said Paul Pebbles of GM's OnStar division. “These early adopters, they are very into the data.”

They also want to say: "I spent $1.50 to fill up my car yesterday," possibly with a smug eco-friendly smile aimed at an SUV-owning co-worker. Soon they will be able to.

GM's OnStar is testing out a new mobile app called EcoHub that lets Volt owners track exactly how much -- or how little -- it costs to recharge their cars. OnStar's built-in features already lets Volt owners track how many miles they drive using gas vs. electric power, kilowatt-hours consumed,and other stats. What Chevy wants to do is turn data into dollars. The company estimates it costs about $1.50 a day to power a Volt.

“I think people have a good sense how much a car costs to fill up a car with gas, but when it comes to electric there’s been a lot less visibility of the cost side of the vehicle,” Pebbles said.

A Volt costs about $39,000 -- more than twice the price of other cars. Chevy argues that the savings come over time.

EcoHub is being tested in a single neighborhood to start out, the Pecan Street Demonstration Project subdivision in Austin, Texas. It's a newly built community designed to test out smart energy grid capabilities, constructed with some funding from the Department of Energy.

The houses have more control -- and more data readily available -- over energy , consumptionand some of them are solar powered as well. So EcoHub can adapt to that data, changing when the Volt pulls in power to charge based on when there might be excess solar energy, or time it to when demand is lower.

It will then also be able to compare a Volt's energy use to other household use. "If you look at the energy consumption of a Volt it is a quarter of the average consumption of an average house," Pebbles said. "That’s less than an A/C."

And he wants people to start telling their neighbors that.

Watch a video of Paul Pebbles explaining how EcoHub works.

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority Board Gets an Earful from Public Over 9/11 Memorial, Community Relations

Thursday, September 20, 2012

One World Trade Center (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The day after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released a consultant's report lauding the agency's newfound zeal for transparency and accountability, the public showed up at the agency's monthly Board of Commissioners meeting with a very different assessment.

It was a full house.

A contingent of 9/11 family members used the public comment period to urge the Commissioners to reject a Memorandum of Understanding entered into last week between the bi-state agency and the National September 11th Memorial and  Museum. The deal, reached a day before the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks, cleared the way for work to resume. Construction at the site had halted last year after a funding squabble.

Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son on September 11th, took the Port Authority to task for not sufficiently involving the 9/11 families in the process. "Do not approve this MOU until we can have full public disclosure involving the 9/11 families as well as the community."

Richard Hughes of the Twin Towers Alliance told the panel it was being expedient with their deal with the Memorial and Museum that calls for passing ownership of the former site of the Twin Towers to the non-profit in exchange for adjacent land where the Deutsche Bank building once stood.

"You have eight acres of prime important downtown real estate -- a site that is sacred to all of us  -- and you are giving it away or swapping it, but it is really giving it away, without public debate, behind closed doors," Hughes said.

Under the agency's public comment period protocol, Commissioners don't respond directly to the public. But speaking to reporters afterwards, officials defended the deal as breaking a lengthy impasse and insuring the project stays on budget while guaranteeing the site remains a memorial.

Of particular concern to family members at the hearing were the plans to place several thousand of the unidentified remains from the attack in the museum. Boosters of that plan say it will permit work to continue on identifying the remains. The 9/11 families want the surviving families to be polled.

The full board approved the MOU over their objections -- but after the vote, Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye reminded reporters the agency had lost 84 employees in the attack. He said he understood the families' concerns about the remains. "Given the grievous loss those family members experienced that is an issue that resonates with me," Foye said.

But it isn't only how the Port has handled Ground Zero that had members of the public fuming.

Casandra Dock came with residents of of the city of Newark. She chastised the Commissioners for not holding public meetings of the board west of the Hudson in New Jersey.

"I come before this board today -- since this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey  -- to ask this board to have some of these board meetings over in Newark, New Jersey," Dock said.

In the board's brief public meeting it did move on some items without controversy. John F. Kennedy International Airport will host a animal handling facility that the Port Authority says will be the most comprehensive facility of its kind in the nation. The board also approved the deal with ARK Development LLC to convert a vacant building at JFK into what Foye says will be a state-of-the-art facility that will handle everything from household pets to horses.

"And this facility will provide animal daycare and kenneling services, more efficient animal transport services--a full service veterinary hospital. The facility is expected to serve approximately 70,000 wild and domestic animals a year,"Foye said.

The deal will net the agency more than $100 million dollars in rent over the next 20 years.

The Port also funded a study looking at the feasibility of taking over Atlantic City International Airport. It will also take a look at running its existing PATH train from where it currently ends -- in Newark Penn Station --  out to Newark Liberty Airport.

The latest board actions come as the agency grapples with how to fund some $44 billion dollars in upgrades it says the region's transportation infrastructure will need by 2020.

 

The World Trade Center construction on 3/8/12 (photo by Kate Hinds)
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This is What Air Pollution Sounds Like

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Oil pump near Taft, California (photo by Anna Conti via flickr)

Researchers in California have translated air pollution into futuristic soundscapes.

The website Atlantic Cities reports that scientists at University of California-Berkeley collected air samples from different locations across the state, then assigned tones to the different chemicals they found.

The authors write: "You can actually hear the difference between the toxic air of a truck tunnel (clogged with diesel hydrocarbons and carcinogenic particulate matter) and the fragrant air of the High Sierras."

Give it a listen.


According to the researchers, Bakersfield -- a town situated in California's Central Valley -- sounds a lot like Oakland's Caldecott Tunnel.  This is "the result of fresh hydrocarbons from a main trucking highway and oil and gas fields surrounding the sampling site."

Despite decades of progress, Southern Californians are among those at highest risk of death due to air pollution. The American Lung Association gives failing grades to more than half of California's counties.

Read more over at Atlantic Cities.

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Transportation Nation

Detroit Insiders Dish on Feasibility of New Fuel Efficiency Standards (AUDIO)

Friday, August 31, 2012

(WNYC's Money Talking) As Republicans gathered for their national convention in Tampa this week, President Barack Obama stole some of their thunder by announcing that automakers will have to nearly double the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks by 2025.

The new standards mean vehicles will have to get 54.5 miles per gallon, a steep increase from the 29 miles per gallon now required and even the goal of 35 miles per gallon for 2019.

"The car or light truck you'll be driving in 2025 will not be your grandfather's Oldsmobile," wrote U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on his blog "Fast Lane."

The Obama administration said the regulations will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, cut down on pollution, and save drivers thousands at the pump. The White House called them "monumental" and "historic."

But the Romney campaign was quick to label the move “extreme,” saying it limits consumer choice and relies on unproven technologies.

This week on WNYC's Money Talking, two veteran Detroit watchers examine what the fuel efficiency announcement means for the auto industry and whether we'll really see vehicles getting 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

Paul Ingrassia is deputy editor-in-chief of Reuters News and author of the book Engines of Change, which tells the story of how 15 car models shaped American business and culture.

Micheline Maynard has written about the auto industry for a number of publications and wrote the book The End of Detroit: How the Big Three Lost Their Grip on the American Car Market.

They weigh in on how President Obama is making his mark on how we drive, what we pay at the pump, and how much oil we need.

This post originally appeared on WNYC's Money Talking, find more stories like this at their website. 

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White House Finalizes "Historic" 54.5 MPG Fuel Standard in Strategically Timed Political Move

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cars and light trucks will have to deliver an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 according to new fuel economy standards finalized by the Obama administration today.

The White House issued the requirements for automakers' fleets at a heated political moment: Republicans are gathering for their national convention along the oil-rig-speckled Gulf Coast, (full coverage here) and just days ago Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued his energy plan that NPR said, "doubles down on fossil fuels" in stark contrast to President Obama.

More pointedly though, this requirement to nearly double the existing fuel economy of small autos comes as a hurricane bears down on New Orleans. Gas prices spiked $1-a-gallon after Katrina struck seven years ago.  So it's no coincidence that President Obama's statements today touted future cost savings at the pump and energy independence from higher average fuel efficiency.

“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama in the statement posted below. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption."

Here's the full press release from the White House, and below that an additional statement from the Department of Transportation.

 

 

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 28, 2012

 

Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards

Consumer Savings Comparable to Lowering Price of Gasoline by $1 Per Gallon by 2025

WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.  When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption.  By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today.  It’ll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”

The historic standards issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the success of the Administration’s standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg, are already saving families money at the pump.

Achieving the new fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovation and investment in advanced technologies that increase our economic competitiveness and support high-quality domestic jobs in the auto industry. The final standards were developed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards.  By aligning Federal and state requirements and providing manufacturers with long-term regulatory certainty and compliance flexibility, the standards encourage investments in clean, innovative technologies that will benefit families, promote U.S. leadership in the automotive sector, and curb pollution.

“Simply put, this groundbreaking program will result in vehicles that use less gas, travel farther, and provide more efficiency for consumers than ever before—all while protecting the air we breathe and giving automakers the regulatory certainty to build the cars of the future here in America,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Today, automakers are seeing their more fuel-efficient vehicles climb in sales, while families already saving money under the Administration’s first fuel economy efforts will save even more in the future, making this announcement a victory for everyone.”

“The fuel efficiency standards the administration finalized today are another example of how we protect the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Innovation and economic growth are already reinvigorating the auto industry and the thousands of businesses that supply automakers as they create and produce the efficient vehicles of tomorrow. Clean, efficient vehicles are also cutting pollution and saving drivers money at the pump."

The Administration’s combined efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. Together, they will save American families more than $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of the vehicle. For families purchasing a model Year 2025 vehicle, the net savings will be comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon. Additionally, these programs will dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil and reducing oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day.

The standards also represent historic progress to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change.  Combined, the Administration’s standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, reducing emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.

President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.

In achieving these new standards, EPA and NHTSA expect automakers’ to use a range of efficient and advanced technologies to transform the vehicle fleet.  The standards issued today provide for a mid-term evaluation to allow the agencies to review their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments.

Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. In addition, a wide range of technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:

  • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles;
  • Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups;
  • Incentives for natural gas vehicles;
  • Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.

###

And from the DOT:

This is a monumental day for the American people, the U.S. auto industry and the Obama Administration’s efforts to make our cars more efficient. Today, DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency are finalizing national standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for passenger cars and light trucks built in the years 2017 through 2025.

Thanks to their work, the car or light truck you'll be driving in 2025 will not be your grandfather's Oldsmobile. The Administration’s combined fuel economy efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. By 2025, the average car will achieve a fuel economy performance equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today.

You can read more about these historic fuel efficiency standards on my Fast Lane blog.

 

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Transportation Nation

Investigators Call Chevron Fire a "Near Disaster"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California burst into flames earlier this month.  Reportedly, workers discovered that an old pipe, potentially in operation since the 1970s, was leaking. After about two hours, they removed the insulation unit while the pipe was still processing crude, causing the explosion. Five workers were treated for minor injuries, but the Chemical Safety Board has called the accident a “near disaster” for refinery personnel. A "shelter in place" warning was issued for the community because of potential toxins in the air. And more than 11,000 residents went to the emergency room complaining of health problems.

Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing. But, inspectors need access to the site of the explosion, which is still considered too dangerous.  Robert Rogers, the Richmond reporter for the Bay Area News Group, has been following the story. He spoke with KALW’s Holly Kernan about the fallout of the fire.

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Transportation Nation

As Cuomo Wins Support for Bridge With No Dedicated Transit Lanes, Funding Request Barrels Forward

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo took to the podium at a marina in Piermont, NY, to talk about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge (in background). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY – WNYC) It's going to take at $5.4 billion to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the project a big push Monday by sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, asking for a $2 billion loan. Cuomo inked the request in front of a small crowd at a marina in the riverside town of Piermont, NY, that he might flourish his pen with the old, and beleaguered, Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.

But the new funding plans include no guarantee that the new bridge will have any form of public transportation, aside from a bus lane.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a metaphor for dysfunction," Cuomo said before the signing. He claimed the first plans to replace the bridge were developed before the turn of the millennium, as the bridge neared 50 years old.  "Think of all the hours in traffic people have been sitting on the bridge because that hasn't gotten done, how many wasted dollars patching that bridge," he said. "Think of all the pollution."

It took Cuomo many months to get to the moment. Key members of the The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose approval was needed before the loan could be requested, balked at a plan for the bridge that included no provision for a mass transit operation beyond a bus: options such as rail, light rail or a Bus Rapid Transit system linking to transportation hubs on either side of the Hudson. Cuomo won the votes of those officials by agreeing to form a task force to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.

There is also the question about where the state will get the rest of the money to pay for the massive construction project.  A Cuomo aide  recently raised the possibility of raising the bridge's $5 toll to $14 when the new bridge opens.  But after an outcry, the governor mounted a pro-bridge public relations plan, and then distanced himself from his own staffer's remarks.  Cuomo is known for running a tightly controlled administration, where subordinates generally don't speak out of turn.

In the Piermont speech, Cuomo merely promised to "keep tolls affordable."

And what if, the press asked Cuomo, the federal government doesn't come through with the loan? "I'm an optimist," he said. "They're going to say, 'yes.'" When asked if tolls would be raised even higher if the loan didn't come through, Cuomo repeated, "They're going to say, 'yes.'" Then repeated it a few more times.

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