I was thinking today about automobile mileage standards, and like nine in ten Americans, I believe in increasing fuel standards.
Recently, Obama pushed for an increase in standards — large by American standards, but the 2016 goal will be 10 MPG behind Europe and Japan's 2008 standard:
On May 19, 2009 President Barack Obama proposed a new national fuel economy program which adopts uniform federal standards to regulate both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions while preserving the legal authorities of DOT, EPA and California. The program covers model year 2012 to model year 2016 and ultimately requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per US gallon (6.63 L/100 km; 42.6 mpg-imp) in 2016 (of 39 miles per gallon for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), a jump from the current average for all vehicles of 25 miles per gallon.
So, throwing my voice into the veritable shouting match, this is what I'd do to increase the standards in a realistic way:
- Increase the 2016 fleet-average goal to 40 MPG.
- Based on current CAFE standards, and the 2016 goal standard, fit 2010 — 2015 standards to intermediates (linear)
- Beginning in 2017, institute an annual increase of 2 MPG in standards, with this increase to be re-evaluated every ten years, or an automatic re-evaluation if more than 75% of vehicles fail to meet the standard for 5 consecutive years. This will prevent increases from exceeding technological ability.
- For every commercial vehicle that falls short of this goal, a state/federal tax of $1000/MPG (rounded up, so 0.1 MPG -> 1 MPG) is imposed on the vehicle up to a faliure of 25%. Further faliures are taxed $2000/MPG, rounded down (0.8 MPG -> 1).
This heavily penalizes vehicles that are "gas guzzlers". Thus, an 18 MPG car in 2016 fails by more than 25% of 40 MPG (30.00). The first 10 MPG is penalized $10,000, and the next 12 MPG is penalized $24,000, for a total of $34,000 in taxes. In 2016, it is completely unreasonable to have any car whatsoever at 18 MPG, but a rich person (the sort of person that buys a Hummer already) will pay for it in taxes.
- Cars that exceed this target gain a $500 tax credit at the dealer per 25% (compounded) they exceed it by.
So, for example, the 2010 model Prius gets 51 MPG best. This is better than 25%, so gains an immediate, at-the-dealer $500 rebate. The Chevy Volt, however, if it actually gets the 230 MPG rating, would get a [50, 62, 78, 98, 122, 153, 191, < 238] 7*$500 = $3,500 instant rebate at the dealer. These aren't back-breaking to the state or national government rebates, but they'll help a lot in keeping interest up in these hybrids.
- These standards are based on the highest EPA rating given to a specific car with a unified standard.
I think measures like this could go a long, long way toward encouraging efficiency in the auto market, and decreasing tailpipe emissions. While many of these will be moved to power and manufacturing plants, better capture and conversion systems, in addition to the overall efficiency at the end of the car and at the plant, will result in net lower energy usage and fewer emissions. As a byproduct? More energy security, too!
For those of you who haven't heard the "Long Tailpipe" argument against electric / hybrid cars, I thought I'd mirror a post that Kit put up on it:
It really bothers me when people opposed to electric cars use the "long tailpipe" argument, which calls attention to the fact that switching to electric vehicles won't solve the energy requirement problem, since our power plants (most of which run on fossil fuels) will have to generate the excess energy for cars as well. In effect, this just shifts the source of pollution from the streets to the power plants; the amount would be roughly the same.
There are two problems with this assessment. Number one, shifting the source is the whole point. If there were some miracle new power supply that did not run on fossil fuel, or if we could make nuclear engines for every car, then of course they would run on electric motors utilizing this new energy anyway. As it is, most of our energy DOES come from fossil fuels, so that if our main concern is carbon production and other atmospheric problems (waste heat, particulate matter, etc), why not have the problem occur in a centralized, easier to maintain environment? It boils down to: which is worse, a million cars spewing a ton of CO2 into the air from a million tailpipes all over the place, or one big smokestack spewing a million tons from one location? Clearly, it is easier to put expensive filters, catalytic converters, etc on one exhaust pipe than a million, it is easier to clean the air/water/soil near one source of pollution than a million, utility companies can afford to be safer/more environmentally conscious/cleaner than a poor single person with a car, and the government can better regulate them. In all, I'd rather have to clean a quart of shit in my toilet than a quart thinly spread all over my house.
The second problem is that the amount of emissions is actually lower with a localized source. There are many ancillary carbon expenditures to maintain a fossil-fueled fleet of cars, such as the cost of fuel transportation to hundreds of gas stations instead of one power plant, and the fact that the land occupied by gas stations could be used for parks or homes or whatever else. It is arguably safer, too. Consider a coastal power plant (as many are): if it's near a refinery, the fuel can just be immediately pumped into the plants storage tanks. Even if not, an oil tanker could distribute it from a refinery to a pumping station and achieve the same goal. No tanker trucks, gas cans/tanks, or rail tanks needed.
So, even if it isn't THE solution to the problem, it makes it more manageable, and I think it's worth it. Crank out those electric vehicles!
For some reason, I just find the the mental imagery with "quart of shit spread thinly over the house" grossly amusing.
There might be an argument to make about the energy / carbon / etc costs associated with making the batteries with hybrid and electric cars, but those fall through so long as the marginal returns on energy production / localized CO2 emissions / etc can do better than break even over the lifetime of the battery per car. I'd be interested to see the costs associated with producing the batteries and the marginal returns — I'm curious how short the timeframe is.