On Friday July 29 the Obama administration announced an agreement with automakers to support further substantial increases in federal fuel economy standards for new motor vehicles. Thirteen automakers support the proposal gradually to increase the standards to 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025. The current fleet average standard is 27.3 mpg, rising to 35.5 mpg by 2016. Significantly, the plan has the support not only of U.S. automakers, but also of many foreign companies, although Volkswagen and Daimler AG declined to support the plan. The deal was sealed when the Obama administration agreed at the last minute to abandon a more ambitious 56.2 mpg target and to revisit the standards mid-way through their implementation to determine if they are too strict or too lenient in light of fuel prices, consumer behavior, and the state of technology. Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan, BMW, Jaguar, Kia, Mitsubishi and Volvo reportedly support the plan. Angela Greiling Keane, Automakers Agree to 54.5 MPG Fuel Economy Rule, Obama Says, Bloomberg Business Week, July 29, 2011. It is estimated that over the life of the program the stronger standards will save 12 billion barrels of oil, reduce CO2 emissions by 6 billion tons, and save consumers an average of $8,200 in fuel purchases over the life of vehicles purchased in 2025. Further details are available online at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/fuel_economy_report.pdf. This agreement represents a kind of global regulatory negotiation that should help defuse legal challenges to the increase in fuel economy standards.
Eighteen months ago this blog ((Jan. 23, 2009 blog post) reported on a new tactic for opposing the flurry of midnight anti-environmental actions by the outgoing Bush administration. On Dec. 19, 2008 Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah student protester, spontaneously entered a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of lease for oil drilling on federal lands near Bryce and Canyonlands National Parks. DeChristopher outbid oil companies for 22,500 acres of the leases. Although the auction was later declared illegal due to BLM’s failure to conduct necessary environmental reviews, DeChristopher was prosecuted and convicted for making false statements on the ground that he was not a legitimate bidder. Last week a Utah federal court sentenced DeChristopher to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Environmentalist Bill McKibben described the sentence as an “unconscionable” punishment for an act of conscience. “It's as if [Martin Luther] King, who was DeChristopher's age when he launched the Montgomery bus boycott, had been charged with defrauding the bus company.”
On July 27 the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission ordered a shutdown of some disposal facilities for hydraulic fracturing fluid in the state and a ban on construction of new facilities due to concerns that underground injection of these fluids had contributed to hundreds of small earthquakes that occurred in central Arkansas last year. After a six-month moratorium on new disposal facilities, the Arkansas Geologic Survey found a correlation between the earthquakes and the use of the disposal facilities. Concerns that fracking operations have contributedto earthquakes also are surfacing in Europe, causing delays in fracking operations in Blackpool, England. Guy Chazan, Fracking Pioneers Pierce Europe, Wall St. J., July 28, 2001. In an editorial comparing the fracking boom in Pennsylvania to New York’s more precautionary approach to regulating fracking, the Wall Street Journal denounced New York’s approach as a product of “obsessions of rich, big-city greens [that] explain why parts of upstate New York are the new Appalachia.” A Tale of Two Shale States, Wall St. J., July 26, 2011. On July 28 EPA proposed the first national rules to control emissions of air pollutants from fracking operations. Deborah Solomon & Tennille Tracy, EPA Unveils Air Quality Rules for Natural-Gas Fracking, Wall St. J., July 29, 2011.
Due to public concern about the tsunami-induced nuclear accident in Japan, only 16 of that country’s 54 nuclear power plants are currently in operation. This has dramatically reduced electric power production in Japan, forcing extraordinary conservation measures including setting air conditioners at 82 degrees and shifting auto production to weekends. Surprisingly, consumption of electricity has dropped so substantially that the country has power to spare. Peter Landers, Japan Snaps Back With Less Power, Wall St. J., July 29, 2011, at A1. Mikio Katayama, president of Sharp Electronics, Japan’s largest supplier of solar panels, believes that the post-accident investment climate is much more favorable for renewables. However, he notes that China’s current inventories of solar panels are said to be larger than the world’s entire demand for solar power this year. Juro Osawa, Sharp President Pushes Solar Power in Japan’s Nuclear Wake, Wall St. J., July 25, 2011, at B6.
This week I was interviewed by Greenwire about the fascinating litigation in the European Court of Justice by international airlines challenging the requirement that they participate in the EU’s emissions trading scheme for greenhouse gases (GHGs) beginning on January 1, 2012. The airlines are arguing that the EU has violated international law by attempting to regulate extraterritorial emissions (the regulations apply to emissions from all flights that depart from or arrive in the EU). They maintain that the appropriate vehicle for dealing with the growing problem of GHG emissions from aviation is the Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives last week added 39 anti-environmental riders to appropriations legislation for the U.S. EPA and Department of Interior. Leslie Kaufman, House Republicans Try to Curb Environmental Rules, N.Y. Times, July 28, 2011, at A16. But one Republican presidential candidate sought to distance himself from the House’s anti-environmental orgy. Speaking on July 28 to the 2nd Annual Theodore Roosevelt Dinner held by Republicans for Environmental Protection, former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman declared that “Conservation is conservative.” Huntsman, who has pointedly refused to join other Republican candidates in reversing their prior support for measures to combat climate change, argued that “science should be driving our discussion” on this issue. Outside the Washington hotel where Huntsman spoke, climate change deniers displayed a digital billboard labeling him “Utah’s Al Gore” while Democrats criticized Huntsman for backing away from his previous support for a regional cap-and-trade program.
On Friday July 29 I attended the Washington Nationals/New York Mets game at Nationals Park with my friend Dan Guttman who is briefly back in the U.S. from China to teach summer courses. The Nationals’ starting pitcher was Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan, who previously had pitched for the New York Yankees. He has been under contract to the Nationals for the last two years, but unable to pitch in the majors due to injuries. Prior to the game Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. Jason Yuan was on the field to be presented with a Wang jersey by Nationals manager Davey Johnson. Wang gave up four runs in the first inning before pitching well and the Nats lost 8-5, but bounced back to win the next two games agains the Mets. Wang will next pitch for the Nats on Wednesday.