Editorial: California should stick with clean-fuel rule
San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2015
Though state lawmakers caved to the oil industry by spiking a plan to sharply reduce gasoline use, there’s another option for Sacramento in reducing climate change and promoting alternative sources to fill gas tanks. State regulators are close to extending a measure that cuts carbon levels in everyday driving fuel.
The low-carbon standard is among a batch of policies designed to cut carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse-gas culprit blamed for rising temperatures and whipsawing weather. Extending the mandate to cut levels in gas is an essential part of state strategies to curb climate change.
Reducing the carbon level in gas has other benefits. It spurs development of alternative biofuels to wean California off its petroleum diet. The skies will be clearer and public health improved. It nudges the state toward more low-emission vehicles by showcasing the innovation needed to change gas-burning habits.
It’s not without controversy. Oil producers and Midwest ethanol producers say the plan is too flawed and complicated to work, an argument that failed in court last year. But this week, a string of major businesses — eBay, KB Home and Dignity Health among them — is backing the fuel rule. “It’s a practical, gradual and manageable transition,” said Anne Kelly, director of the employer coalition known as Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.
Later this week the state Air Resources Board will consider extending the low-carbon standard, first promulgated in 2007. It’s almost certain to renew the policy, which aims to lower carbon levels by 10 percent by 2020.
The larger picture should be unmistakable. California is pushing ahead on major climate-change measures that Washington is too timid to undertake. The state is increasing renewable energy to light homes and businesses. Rules to encourage thriftier ways of heating and cooling will be strengthened. The worries about lost jobs and shuttered businesses aren’t proving true as the state’s economy gathers steam.
Changing the ingredients in gas-pump fuels should be part of this overall trend. Renewing the low-carbon standard will be good for California’s future.
Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years? Probably not
By Kate Galbraith, August 5, 2015
One sunny Saturday in Stockton, Mary Serrano climbed into the driver’s seat of a bright-red, all-electric Chevrolet Spark. A retiree who normally drives a 20-year-old Toyota Camry, she was curious about the new technology on display at the local fairground.
“I feel like I’m going to outer space,” she said giddily, as a company representative prepared to explain the controls.
But after the excitement of the test drive, reality set in. The Camry, which had to be fixed after failing a smog test, will keep its place at her Stockton home. An electric car seems out of reach, despite the availability of rebates.
“For the moment, I don’t have the money to buy it,” she said by phone, a few months after the fairground event. “Maybe later in life.”
Her situation suggests that for all the allure of emissions-free vehicles, getting Californians to adopt them will take time. That in turn creates challenges for slashing gasoline and diesel use, a goal state leaders are championing as part of their battle against climate change. A bill that has passed the state Senate and awaits a vote in the Assembly seeks to halve the amount of petroleum used in motor vehicles by 2030. It will be difficult to accomplish in such a short period.
“If we’re talking about transportation petroleum use, then the goal probably isn’t possible,” said John German, a Michigan-based senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation. A key problem, he said, is that people hold onto cars and trucks for a long time, an average of more than 11 years for American cars.
“I wouldn’t set forth on this pathway if I believed that the targets were unrealistic,” said Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, the bill’s powerful co-author, in a recent interview.
Other parts of the legislation call for electric utilities to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for buildings to become twice as energy efficient.
“We should be careful when we set round numbers like 50-50-50. Why 50?” said Eloy Garcia, who lobbies for the Western States Petroleum Association, in testimony before an Assembly committee in July. “I know they’re nice round numbers, but we should be careful about why we’ve picked those numbers.”
“The primary driver of this target was air quality,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the state agency overseeing air quality and climate change policy, wrote in an e-mail.
The ARB would oversee the programs, creating a point of controversy because industry groups perceive it as high-handed, even as environmentalists cheer it on. Petroleum lobbyists and other opponents want elected legislators to plan how the goals will be met and not the appointed air board officials.
Currently, trends are moving in the wrong direction. Gasoline and diesel sales are ticking up, the sign of a surging economy. The number of miles traveled by vehicles on California highways — a crucial metric for determining whether Californians are getting out of their cars and onto bikes, sidewalks or public transportation– is also rising.
But the technology exists to halve petroleum use, as German and others point out. If everyone suddenly began driving emissions-free electric cars, such as the one Serrano tried out, California would easily meet its target. Driven by government fuel-economy and emissions standards, even cars that run on petroleum will be made of lighter, more fuel-efficient materials in the future.
These coming changes will be dramatic, even if they do not end up being enough to halve petroleum use in 15 years. German’s organization, the International Council on Clean Transportation, estimates that recent federal fuel-economy standards could cause greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles nationwide to fall 28 percent by 2030 compared to 2015.
Jeffrey Greenblatt, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimates that by 2030, a number of transportation policies already in existence will enable the state to cut petroleum use by cars and trucks to about 70 percent of their 2014 level. Besides federal fuel-economy standards, these include support for public transit and a state goal of having 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles by 2025.
Another way the state is trying to cut petroleum is by encouraging the use of biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel, provided they are formulated to be as environmentally friendly as possible. (Renewable diesel is made from fats or vegetable oil and specially refined.) At a pump in Redwood City operated by Propel Fuels, several customers opted for 85 percent ethanol rather than the ordinary gasoline available nearby, although helping the environment was not their primary motive.
“It’s cheaper,” said Donald Rainer of Menlo Park, whose flex-fuel GMC Yukon takes both gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. His main complaint was about refueling stations: “They don’t have enough of them around.”
For potential buyers of electric cars, too, costs are key. Many plug-in vehicles remain expensive, though prices have been falling and the state subsidizes them in various ways. The cars are limited in how far they can go without recharging, but that problem is diminishing as battery technology improves. Some in the auto industry wonder whether key incentives, such as allowing zero-emissions vehicles into the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on major roads, will remain in place if electric cars flood the roadways.
As improved fuel-efficiency allows Californians to use less gasoline, then prices at the pump may fall, according to Darwin Hall, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, Long Beach, depending on whether refiners adjust their capacity.
However, in the near-term, some climate policies are causing the price of gasoline to rise. The state’s cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that fuel distributors, refineries and other large polluters can emit, has increased gasoline prices by roughly a dime a gallon this year, economists estimate.
Republican lawmakers fear that SB 350 will cause job losses and economic damage. “What are my constituents going to do if we cut petroleum by 50 percent but they are still using cars that require petroleum? Will they all be required to buy new cars?” asked Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, during a floor debate over the bill. Her colleague, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, described it as “coastal elitism at the worst.”
The bill is expected to have a more difficult time in the Assembly than in the Senate, where it passed the Senate with the support of all but two Democrats: Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside. The Assembly contains more moderate Democrats who have historically been friendly to the oil industry, which has launched a television ad dubbing the bill the “gas restriction act of 2015.”
The ads target a select group of lawmakers and are running on web sites in their respective districts, said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the industry group called California Drivers Alliance.
“It is a method of communicating to legislators about an issue we think is of concern to their constituents,” Miller said.
Sen. de León emphasized that fossil fuels were not going away. Nor, he said, would everyone need to immediately buy an electric car or hybrid. (In his official capacity, de León is chauffeured in a Chevrolet Suburban. For personal use, he leases a Chevrolet Impala and said he aspires to a hybrid.) Establishing targets, he said, is vital to encouraging California down the path toward clean energy, but the policy would not result in banning or rationing gasoline.
“If we don’t meet this goal,” de León said, “no one’s going to jail.”
Repost from Forbes [Editor: Significant quote: “And the returning empty trains are not quite empty. They have enough oil remaining in them to produce highly volatile vapors that make them even more prone to explosions than the full cars.” – RS]
Senators Try To Stop The Coming Oil Train Wreck
By James Conca, 4/06/2015 @ 7:45AM
Spearheaded by the Senators from Washington State, legislation just introduced in the United States Senate will finally address the rash of crude oil train wrecks and explosions that have skyrocketed over the last two years in parallel with the steep rise in the amount of crude oil transported by rail (Tri-City Herald).
Oil production is at an all-time high in America, great for our economy and energy independence, but bad for the people and places that lie along the shipping routes.
Just since February, there have been four fiery derailments of crude oil trains in North America (dot111) and many more simple spills.
More shale crude oil is being shipped by rail than ever before – every minute, shipments of more than two million gallons of crude are traveling distances of over a thousand miles in unit trains of more than a hundred tank cars (PHMSA.gov).
U.S. railroads delivered 7 million barrels of crude in 2008, 46 million in 2011, 163 million in 2012, and 262 million in 2013, almost as much as that anticipated by the Keystone XL Pipeline alone.
Amid a North American energy boom, our pipelines are at capacity and crude oil shipping on rail is dramatically increasing. The trains are getting bigger and towing more and more tanker cars. From 1975 to 2012, trains were short and spills were rare and small, with about half of those years having no spills above a few gallons (EarthJustice.org).
Then came 2013, in which more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than was spilled in the previous thirty-seven years. The North Dakota shale oil boom has averaged over a million barrels per day and two-thirds of that is being shipped by rail (North Dakota Pipeline Authority).
Crude is a nasty material, very destructive when it spills into the environment, and very toxic when it contacts humans or animals. It’s not even useful for energy, or anything else, until it’s chemically processed, or refined, into suitable products like naphtha, gasoline, heating oil, kerosene, asphaltics, mineral spirits, natural gas liquids, and a host of others.
But every crude oil has different properties, such as sulfur content (sweet to sour) or density (light to heavy), and requires a specific chemical processing facility to handle it (Permian Basin Oil&Gas). Different crudes produce different amounts and types of products, sometimes leading to a glut in one or more of them, like too much natural gas liquids that drops their price dramatically, or not enough heating oil that raises its price.
Thus, the push for more rail transport and pipelines to get it to the refineries along the Gulf Coast than can handle it.
Ensuring that these crude shipments are safe is the responsibility of the United States Department of Transportation, specifically the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Unfortunately, the shipments aren’t really that safe. We don’t have the correct train cars to carry this unusual freight. The United States now has 37,000 tank cars with thin-walls that puncture easily after which the vapors can cause massive explosions.
And the returning empty trains are not quite empty. They have enough oil remaining in them to produce highly volatile vapors that make them even more prone to explosions than the full cars.
A clear example of this danger came on July 6, 2013, when a train carrying 72 tank cars, and over 2,000,000 gallons of Bakken oil shale crude from the Williston Basin of North Dakota, derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Much of the town was destroyed and forty-seven people were killed.
This disaster brought the problem of rail transport of crude oil to the forefront of the news and of the State and Federal legislative bodies, and brought calls for safety reforms in the rail industry.
PHMSA undertook a series of unannounced inspections, testing, and analysis of the crude being transported (PHMSA.gov). While PHMSA found that Bakken crude is correctly classified chemically under transportation guidelines, the crude does have a higher gas content, higher vapor pressure, lower flash point and lower boiling point, so it has a higher degree of volatility than most other crudes in the United States. These properties cause increased ignitability and flammability.
PHMSA now requires extensive testing of crude for shipping, but the real problem remains – most of our tank cars are not safe to transport this stuff at all and should be taken out of service.
It’s no coincidence that the first two Senators listed are from Washington State. Trains hauling this type of flammable crude pass through our state every day, right through population centers totaling over a million people (Cantwell.Senate).And the number of oil trains will double next year.
This is strange for WA State because it’s the least carbon emitting state in the union and has already satisfied any and all carbon goals one could reasonably think up for any other state. And the state is poised to go even further. So increased oil and coal shipments across its length has the people of Washington State a bit concerned.
The rail standards set by the proposed legislation would require thermal protection, full-height head shields, shells more than half an inch thick, pressure relief valves and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.
The Senators’ legislation would also authorize $40 million for training programs and grants to communities to update emergency response and notification plans.
According to Cantwell, “Firefighters responding to derailments have said they could do little more than stand a half-mile back and let the fires burn” (Tri-City Herald).
Rail carriers would be required to develop comprehensive emergency response plans for large accidents involving fire or explosions, provide information on shipments to state and local officials along routes — including what is shipped and its level of volatility — and to work with federal and local officials on their response plans.
“We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our communities and give first responders the tools they need,” Cantwell said.
It’s certainly time for some decent regulations on this increasing risk.