Higher Costs Needed to Rein in Vehicle Emissions, Speakers Say

By Published On: November 7, 2008

The once feared “T” word” was used repeatedly in a hearing on the future of transportation fuels that focused on strategies to control carbon emissions. During an October 31 hearing by the Assembly Transportation Committee, some speakers insisted hitting drivers in the pocket book, which includes increasing taxes, was one of the strategies needed to curb gasoline consumption and associated carbon emissions from vehicles. The higher the level of emissions from the transportation sector the greater the pressure on the electricity sector to curb its greenhouse gases. Some speakers supported including the transportation sector along with the electricity sector in a regional carbon cap-and-trade scheme to help ameliorate climate change. A group of western states and Canadian provinces are working to create a region-wide trading market. “A cap-and-trade is a carbon tax,” said Severin Borenstein, University of California Berkeley professor at the Haas Business School. “It will raise the price of all goods that use energy.” “Efficiency is the cheapest option for getting fuel reduction,” said Mike Smith, California Energy Commission deputy director for fuel and transportation. He said the new President is expected to allow California to implement its 2002 tailpipe emission’s reduction law, which the current Environmental Protection Agency administrator has held up. That law is predicted to help cut emissions. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. The state is working to promote the development of low carbon-emitting fuels. Under recent legislation, $120 million of funding through the Energy Commission will be available to promising lower polluting fuels. The AB 118 funding is primarily aimed at helping the state meets its climate protection mandate. “Making transportation more sustainable and reducing greenhouse gases is critical,” said Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources. He supports use of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles to cut the state transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. He noted, however, that using renewable power to create electricity supplies was a far more efficient use of wind and solar resources than turning around and using it to power vehicles. Speakers also discussed an expected growing role for alternative biofuels. However, which of these fuels ultimately will be found to be less polluting remains an unanswered question. Smith said that the value of converting agricultural, forest, and urban waste into fuels is being explored. There is an estimated 80 billion tons of biomass in the state but it is unknown how much is usable. In addition, much of it already is targeted for biomass- produced electricity. Editor’s Note: For a more detailed report, please see our sister publication, Energy Meets Climate Challenge, E=MC2. It can be found at www.energymeetsclimate.com

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