Climate Talks, Climate Action

Dec 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

16451794648_f54e94c55a_bThe COP21 talks in Paris put climate change front and center. They confirmed that climate change is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity of our generation. Coastal cities in the United States lie at risk from storm surges and sea rise. But they have it easy. Full nations in the Pacific will end up completely underwater as polar caps melt. Clearly climate change is about more than just polar bears.

In New England, we have already seen the destruction from more frequent and more severe storms. Power outages, road washouts and flooding take a serious toll on our prosperity. The quicker we come together to tackle the problem, the quicker we see results.

New England has made great strides in cleaning up our electricity supply. Through energy efficiency, we have flattened our load growth and avoided expensive and polluting new energy supplies. We are building and relying on more renewable power, and the region is poised to close the last of the coal plants in the next few years.

It is no secret that in rural areas, transportation is the biggest contributor of global warming pollution. As part of the COP21 efforts, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut joined eight other U.S. states, countries, and provinces to announce new efforts to put more zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs (battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles), on the road. You can read announcement here. The effort will strive to make all passenger vehicle sales in these places ZEVs by no later than 2050. Already, these partner jurisdictions account for about half of the global ZEV sales.

Putting a price on carbon pollution provides a valuable tool to spur innovation and tackle global warming. On the eve of the climate talks in Paris, President Obama stated that “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”

Efforts to price carbon pollution will be debated next year in the Vermont Legislature. On the eve of the climate talks, advocates delivered over 25,000 postcards and petition signatures supporting the effort to the Vermont state house. With such encouraging words from President Obama, Vermont advocates are clearly in good company.

The Vermont effort is guided by three core principles. It calls for an effective carbon pollution tax that will not only reduce emissions, but will also be equitable. Low-income people already pay more than their fair share for fuel and heating. And they bear more of the impacts from polluting fossil fuels and climate change. The Vermont carbon pollution tax will level the playing field and ensure they are part of the transition away from outdated and polluting energy. The carbon pollution tax will also create jobs and grow the economy. A portion of the tax will be re-invested to grow clean energy right here at home.

Building on the COP21 efforts, Vermont and New England can show that by working together to advance common sense solutions, cutting carbon, and investing in clean energy, we can solve even the toughest problems. In doing so we will leave a healthy and more prosperous New England for future generations.

News From COP21: New England States and International Partners Commit to Get More Zero-Emission Vehicles On The Road

Dec 5, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

Electric-Vehicle-IllustrationThursday, some exciting news came out of the Paris climate negotiations (also known as COP21).

No, it wasn’t the binding international treaty we’re all waiting for. But it was something that highlights New England’s a world leadership on climate policy. The news is this: thirteen jurisdictions – nations, U.S. states, and one Canadian province – calling themselves the “International Zero-Emission Vehicle Alliance” announced that they have jointly committed to ensure that all new car, SUV, and truck sales are zero-emission vehicles “as fast as possible, and no later than 2050.”

And yes, the tiny New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont are members of this Alliance, joining international heavy-hitters like Germany and the U.K. to take this necessary step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

CLF’s recent work highlights the urgency of replacing gas-powered vehicles with zero-emission ones, which, as you can probably guess by the name, emit no tailpipe pollution. ZEVs, as they’re called, currently include electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Last month, CLF released a report with partners Acadia Center and Sierra Club, Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, that spells out why transitioning to ZEVs is so important.

For example, the report explains that, as of right now, buying an electric car instead of, say, a gas-powered sedan can cut your car-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent. And, looking ahead to the future, if our electric grid were powered by 75% renewable energy, switching from a conventional to an electric vehicle could reduce your car-related emissions by 90% (since the electricity powering your car would be cleaner, too!). If the grid were 100% renewable energy, electric vehicles would be responsible for no greenhouse gas emissions at all.

Needless to say, if the cars on our roads gave off zero greenhouse gas emissions, that would be a major improvement over today. In Rhode Island, for example, the transportation sector represents both the largest and the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide. Bringing that sector’s emissions down to zero would be a true game-changer.

CLF is pushing all New England states to meet this ambitious goal. At a high level, Charging Up lays out a pathway for getting many, many more ZEVs on the road. And at a state and local level, CLF is doing the work necessary to actually bring about the changes we recommend in our report. Here in Rhode Island, I sit on the state’s ZEV Working Group and recently submitted formal comments – again with Acadia Center and Sierra Club – supporting the state’s draft ZEV Action Plan, precisely because it reflects the very policies we’ve been telling the state it must pursue.

Yesterday’s commitment from the International ZEV Alliance highlights how this work at the local level can affect international policy. True, 2050 may not be soon enough to get to the emissions reductions we need to avoid the worst consequences of climate change – one report estimates that ZEV sales will need to approach 100% by 2035 or so for this to happen.

But remember that, under Thursday’s agreement, 2050 is an ultimate deadline – and 2050 is not “as fast as possible.” If New England states and their partners in the Alliance can truly move to all-ZEV sales “as fast as possible,” then we just might be able to achieve the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary for a healthy climate and a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.

CLF President Brad Campbell is on the ground in Paris reporting from COP21. Follow his updates on Twitter and on the Huffington Post.

Charging Up: CLF and Partners Release Electric Vehicle Report for Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region

Oct 28, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

EV_Cover_ImageToday, with partners Sierra Club and Acadia Center, CLF released a groundbreaking new report, Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States. The report can be downloaded here. The new report outlines the policy pathway states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region should pursue to get more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and slash greenhouse gas emissions. The report also demonstrates that, while each year more drivers are choosing electric, a significant gap remains between state goals and the current trajectory of EV adoption rates. The recommended policies are intended to close that gap.

Throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, exciting policies and programs are underway that are increasing electric vehicle adoption. For instance, Massachusetts has a Zero Emission Vehicle Commission advancing electric vehicle adoption in the state, which led to the Commonwealth offering a consumer rebate of up to $2,500 for EV purchases or three-year leases. In Vermont, Drive Electric Vermont ran another innovative rebate program in 2014, offering a $500 rebate to consumers purchasing an EV, paired with a $200 bonus to the dealer that sold the EV – to creatively incentivize EV sales at car dealerships. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania also offer such EV purchase rebate or tax-credit programs

How does your state measure up? Check out the comprehensive chart below identifying which programs and policies each state in the region has in place to advance EVs.


Does your state have policies that advance electric vehicles? Click the graphic to find out.

While there are some examples of successful programs to advance EVs in the region, we still have a long way to go. As the infographic below shows, with about 30,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road across the region right now, we really need to pick up the pace to reach our current goal of several million zero-emission vehicles on the road here by 2025.


How can we go from 30,000 electric cars in our region to several million? Click to download the graphic.

Our new report focuses on high-impact opportunities to increase electric vehicle use in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Emphasizing the need for an all-hands-on-deck effort from government, utilities, automakers, and auto dealers, the report lays out a full range of priority actions and policies to accelerate EV adoption. Please read the report and share it widely. Most importantly, tell your policymakers that you’d like to see them do more to support EVs in your state.

Driving Climate Change

Nov 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


photo courtesy of Paul

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition  of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus.

The biggest contribution to climate change in Vermont comes from how we get ourselves around. As a rural state we rely on cars — and they burn a lot of gasoline, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions. To responsibly address climate change, we must take a hard look at our cars and our tailpipes and take a big bite out of our gasoline use.

Fortunately electric vehicle use is on the rise. According to Drive Electric Vermont, the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont quadrupled in the last year.  Currently more than 400 electric vehicles are registered across the state. In the last three months alone, Vermont saw a 50 percent increase in electric vehicles.

Vermonters are rapidly embracing this cleaner choice, and new initiatives will make it easier and less costly for more people to “drive electric.”

Vermont is one of eight states — four in New England and California, New York, Maryland and Oregon — that recently announced efforts to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the fueling infrastructure to support them. 

Electric vehicles can be either all electric or can be plug-in hybrids that rely on gasoline engines and can also plug into a socket for power. For most commutes, all-electric vehicles provide ample range between charges — about 80 miles — and can be plugged into an outlet either at home or work. Plug-in hybrids have the same travel range as gasoline-powered cars.

The cost of electric vehicles dropped over the past two years. Leasing an all-electric car costs about $200 per month and is quite comparable to the cost of many other car leases. The big savings is in pollution and fuel costs.

All-electric cars have one quarter the fuel cost of gasoline-powered cars. They run on the equivalent of about $1 per gallon gasoline.

Including all the costs over the lifetime of the car, electric vehicles cost less than a gasoline-powered car. Many makes and models of electric vehicles are currently available, including cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Tesla.

Operating electric cars reduces soot and greenhouse gases and gets us closer to meeting our climate goals and using our power sources more efficiently. Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars: They use more of the power available and produce less wasted heat.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one all-electric vehicle produces less than one-third of the emissions of a Subaru Outback. And riding a bicycle or walking near an electric car is like a breath of fresh air, since they don’t leave you breathing smoke and fumes.

To run clean electric cars, we must consider the source of electricity used to power them — and keep that electricity supply clean and renewable. Looking into the future,  all-electric cars will be useful in better managing our electric power grid as we work to achieve Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy use.

To encourage use of electric vehicles, Vermont already has low interest loans for public charging stations. And with its partner states Vermont will be developing additional incentives: improved building codes that will make it easier to construct new car charging stations, additional electric vehicles in public car fleets, financial incentives to promote cleaner cars, and lower electricity rates for electric vehicle  charging systems.

Vermont needs electric cars for many important reasons — to meet our climate goals, reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil and save families money. Electric vehicles provide a piece of the transformation that is urgently needed to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent devastation in the Philippines is another critical wakeup call that reminds us all why we need measures like these.

The efforts of Vermont and other states, represent an important piece of the transformation required to head us toward cleaner and lower-cost ways to get around.

When a Fact Check Goes Wrong and Misses the (Clean Energy) Point

Jan 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The rise of dedicated public fact checking services like PolitiFact, and the Washington Post Fact Checker has been a generally good thing. However, these services can go astray when they decide that a statement which would be improved with clarification is “false” – a practice that weakens the “false” label when it is applied to an outright falsehood.

This unfortunate phenomena was on display when the Rhode Island edition of PolitiFact critiqued a comment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about the interplay between the deployment of renewable energy resources like solar panels and ending U.S. dependence on imported fossil fuels, like the oil that is refined into gasoline.

In their critique, the Providence Journal staff writing and editing the item examine comments that Senator Whitehouse made in support of federal tax incentives for renewable energy:

“Let me just bring it home,” Whitehouse said, as he referred to his notes. “In Rhode Island, this [grant program] has facilitated solar panel installations on three new bank branches. The TD Bank has opened up in Barrington, in East Providence and in Johnston, Rhode Island. Those projects created jobs, they put people to work, they lowered the cost for these banks of their electrical energy, and they get us off foreign oil and away, step by step, from these foreign entanglements that we have to get into to defend our oil supply.”

The Politi-Fact RI folks decide to look narrowly at the question of whether electricity production from solar panels always and consistently directly reduces use of oil.  This is definitely part of the story and, as I emphasized when I spoke to their reporter when he was working on the “piece, it is a direct relationship that used to be more present back in the days (not too many years ago) when more of our electricity came from oil. But is still a real relationship, especially during the days in the summer when air conditioning drives up electric demand to its highest levels of the year.  As ISO New England (the operator of the regional electric grid) told Politi-Fact RI “oil is used more on days when demand for power is high” although the reporters dismiss this reality (despite the fact that these peak hours are when air pollution is at its worst and the fact that the entire system is designed to meet that moment of peak demand) as “isolated.”

Senator Whitehouse was making three points, only one of which is addressed by the simple “displacement” analysis of what generation is pushed out by deployment of new renewable sources:

  • Moving to cleaner electricity generation from renewable sources like wind and solar is an essential piece in an overall conversion of our economy and energy system (including energy used to move the wheels on our cars, trucks and buses round and round) away from dirty and imported fossil fuels. In places like East Providence RI where TD Bank (as highlighted by Senator Whitehouse) is installing solar panels on the roof of their branches in close proximity to a Chevrolet dealer selling the Chevy Volt you can seeing that future taking shape.
  • Senator Whitehouse’s larger point about ending “foreign entanglements” is of particular significance, moving beyond the question of oil, to people in and around Rhode Island because the largest power plant in what is known in the wholesale electricity world as “Greater Rhode Island” (a geographical label of particular pride and amusement to native Rhode Islanders) is the Brayton Point Power Plant. That facility, just over the border in Somerset Massachusetts, has burnt coal imported from Indonesia and Colombia in recent years.
  • And the direct displacement issue is real: while there is less oil used to generate electricity these days it is worth pondering the overlap between peak solar energy generation (do we really need a link to show that it makes more electricity when it is sunny?) and those peak hours of electricity demand during the summer when it is hottest and air conditioners across the region are roaring away.

All of this suggests that the specific comment by Senator Whitehouse that Politi-Fact Rhode Island evaluated are solidly grounded in facts and accurate observations.

Darrell Issa wants to steal your (future) car

Aug 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rep. Issa (R-CA) made a fortune building car alarms. For years he was best known as the recorded voice of the Viper alarm that warned people to “Step away from the car!” (Really, this is all true, it says so in Wikipedia).

But now he is  a powerful member of Congress and in that role he is threatening to undermine the deal struck among the White House, the auto manufacturers and his own State of California.

Let’s review for a moment – the agreement would reduce pollution, make cars more efficient and thereby reduce use of imported oil and pain felt by people paying at the gas pump and help move forward progress towards practical and affordable electric cars. The auto manufacturers supported and helped shape it and think it can be implemented at reasonable cost while maintaining a healthy auto industry that will meet the needs and wants of  drivers. So what is wrong with it?  Representative Issa says he is concerned about “transparency” and process here – legitimate concerns to be sure. But they are concerns that will inform the formal process that will follow as the federal agencies propose, present and seek comment on this package of rules in the formal rulemaking process.

Like an overly sensitive car alarm that makes threatening speeches at passers-by who mean no harm to the protected car, or that releases punishing waves of sound late at night when garbage trucks pass by, Rep. Issa is sounding a very false alarm and threatening to steal away the cleaner, cheaper-to-operate car of the future.

Neil Young, Environmental Visionary

Feb 9, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The summary at the top of this blog post sums it all up:

In 2009, Neil Young released Fork In The Road, an album which is dedicated to the Lincvolt project that transformed his classic Lincoln Continental into a hot zero emissions vehicle that gets 100 mpg. In this paean to the LincVolt project, Karen Barry also asks, if a 1959 vehicle can be green, what is stopping all current vehicles from achieving the same goal?

This is not the first time that Mr. Young has put himself out on the scene as an important environmental voice.  Back in the 1970’s on his classic album “On the Beach” he presented mankind as a vampire preying upon the earth in the song Vampire Blues.   A decade and a half later in his big hit “Rockin’ in the Free World” he sarcastically bragged about humanity having “Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer . . . fuel to burn and roads to drive”.