Posts filed under ‘Greenhouse Gas Reduction’
The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently proposed installing global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices on motor vehicles to aid in taxing drivers for vehicle miles traveled (VMT). This proposal is part of a larger trend in how local governments fund transportation infrastructure and encourage people to change their driving habits.
As in most other states, California’s road repair and improvements have historically been funded from gasoline taxes at the federal and state level, which have then distributed the revenue to the local governments. Today, local governments are being asked to pay a larger share of the bill, even as the infrastructure ages and requires more repair.
In the Bay Area, the intent of the VMT is to generate revenues for road repairs and improvements.The basic premise seems sound: The more you use the roads, the more you should pay to build and maintain them. Policy-makers also expect that the financial incentive will encourage drivers to drive less and take public transportation, two environmentally supportive behaviors. This equitable approach has generally worked with fuel taxes (a convenient surrogate for miles traveled) and vehicle license fees. Initial public reaction to the VMT, however, has been very negative. Some attribute the reaction as a sign of bad policy while others speculate that the public is simply resistant to change and new taxation.
In Alameda County, lawmakers have proposed a ballot measure to make a one half cent sales tax permanent. Several counties across the country have similarly used the sales tax approach but historically these measures have a finite life and are brought back to voters every 10 to 20 years for reauthorization. The existing tax is used to fund transportation projects within the Bay Area county and greatly improved transportation and environmental conditions. The shift to a permanent tax represents a recognition that local governments will continue to carry a greater cost for their local transportation.
While tax increases and initiatives such as the VMT may be unpopular, hard times demand bold measures and local governments need to fund more of their own infrastructure. The evolution and debate on these public policy shifts will be interesting case studies for environmental professionals.
Will citizens accept the installation of GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so their mileage can be tracked and they can pay more taxes? Is this government intrusion to one’s right to privacy? How do you tax nonresidents when their enter MTC’s jurisdiction—toll booths? Should hybrids pay the same rate as SUVs? Does this interfere with interstate commerce? How will driving habits change as a result of this new tax and what are the unintended circumstances? How does government equitably distribution fiscal and environmental impacts and how do human react to more aggressive change?
Mark Posson is the former Director of Environment, Safety and Health at Lockheed Marin Space Systems Co. and a current instructor of environmental and sustainability management with the University of California Davis. He recently began offering consulting services to help organizations improve environment, safety and health performance.
Recently I had the opportunity to use a Nissan Leaf™ for several full days, a much more interesting exercise than a simple test drive. As someone working in the sustainability area, as a co-chair of the California Clean Cars campaign and as a likely car buyer in 2012 (my current vehicle has over 230,000 miles on it) I am very interested in the electric vehicle (EV) market.
Nissan’s Leaf™ is among the handful of low emission cars that are presently authorized to carry a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker, entitling a single occupant to use the carpool lanes during rush hours – a very nice side benefit to EV ownership that helped speed my commute this week.
My general impression of EV driving is very favorable. This particular model is roomy, it has all the bells and whistles (bluetooth, navigation, backup camera, etc.) and most importantly, it really drives well. Acceleration, handling and power are all indistinguishable from a gas powered vehicle.
The only issue I’ve had this week is the one that continues to slow down growth in the EV market, namely range anxiety and ease of recharging. I have been charging the vehicle at home and at work using conventional 120v outlets and while the process is simple and easy, it certainly takes a while, e.g. 11 hours to get a full charge last night.
When I left my home the range indicator read “100 miles”, but 35 miles of highway driving depleted that amount to 42. In other words, at 60+ miles per hour, a 35 mile trip used up 58 miles of driving range. Keep in mind, I tried to use the EV just like I use my current one, driving as fast as usual as opposed to crawling along in the slow lane just to conserve the charge. With the indicator staring at you the entire time, you also start thinking about all of the devices that consume electricity in the car, such as the lights, the radio, and the seat warmers and so on. Since I want a fully functional vehicle, the notion of driving around in a dark, cold vehicle is not a selling point.
My conclusions: I love just about everything in the EV experience other than the limitations on range. If the car had a 200-mile range, I would be placing an order tomorrow. Until batteries are improved, however, fast charging 240v stations are essential and the buyers for whom EVs work perfectly may be limited. By the way, Applied Materials is among the companies working to address some of the battery issues. It will also be exciting to see a whole slew of new EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in 2012.
Bruce Klafter is head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Applied Materials, Inc. and leads the effort to fulfill the company’s commitment to sustainability in the design and implementation of business strategies and worldwide operations.
This month in our ‘Emerging Leaders’ series, we introduce you to Kimberly Wallis, a master’s candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and a student member of NAEM. This summer she worked on energy issues as an intern with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
These days, a job in the hand is definitely worth more than two in the bush. No elected official is going to even consider a move that might cost their constituents jobs. So, convincing legislators in Ohio to invest in renewable energy, rather than in coal, one of their main industries, seems like a hard sell. Vague statements about ‘the green economy’ and ‘green collar jobs’ aren’t going to cut it with the legislators or with their constituents. “Maybe I would get better pay at a wind farm,” thinks the technician. “But I don’t know where these jobs would come from, or how many they would be. I’m better off just sticking at my old job.”
How many, where, and how much? Those are the questions the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) tried to answer regarding clean energy jobs in the Midwest states, including Ohio. It’s hard to convince people to give up the status quo for uncertainty, even if evidence shows that the change will be beneficial, so UCS put resources into erasing some of that uncertainty. As an intern there this summer, I helped paint a picture for Ohioans of what a different future might look like.
How would the change affect a household’s monthly energy bills? What would the net jobs increase be, not countrywide but in Ohio? In short, how would investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency impact the daily life of an Ohioan, and is it worth giving up the certainty of the status quo?
It’s not enough to tell people what not to do. It’s not even enough to tell them what to do instead. “Better the devil you know” – and uncertainty is always a devil. Painting a picture of what the future could look like gives people something to strive for, whether they are in your community or in your company. It’s the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement – and as the vision becomes more specific and tangible, it becomes more persuasive.
A call to “decrease waste!” or to “reduce GHG emissions!” isn’t going to convince anyone to give up the security of the status quo. What are you offering them instead, is the question.
When it comes to making the case for new EHS and sustainability programs, what tactics have you found to be most effective?
Kimberly Wallis is a graduate student in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where she focuses on energy issues and effective communication. She is particularly interested in how individuals and organizations change.
Energy efficiency programs and renewable energy projects are growing priorities for many companies. This week, we spoke with John Hoekstra, Director of Sustainability with Summit Energy Services to learn more about how companies are addressing these challenges.
GT: How important is energy efficiency to the sustainability programs of companies today?
JH: Energy efficiency is a key component of any sustainability program. Investors, clients and supply chain stakeholders are interested in not only the sustainability footprint of an organization, but how to reduce it. Energy is often the largest contributor to an emissions profile. The alignment of project cost and emissions impact is what many companies are seeking today.
GT: What are some best practices that organizations can use to find energy efficiency opportunities at their sites?
JH: A sustainability site assessment is an efficient method of identifying no- and low-cost reduction opportunities for energy, water and waste. The assessment will produce a roadmap of low investment activities that can save resource usage and money.
GT: In this economy, how are companies paying for sustainability projects?
JH: In addition to local and federal incentives, collaborative solutions also can assist with moving a project from paper to action. This can be in the form of the contract structure (performance-based) and leveraging market resources (incentives, demand response programs, etc).
GT: We hear a lot about state and federal budget issues. Are there still incentives available?
JH: In general, yes, although funding has certainly been affected by recent budget constraints faced by these entities. Many incentives at the federal level are slated to come to a close at the end of this year, but can always be extended by Congress. In particular, many should watch the Federal Investment Tax Credit (FITC) grant for renewables. This is a program in which the government provides a cash grant for up to 30 percent of a project’s cost. If this incentive is not extended, it will be difficult to make renewable projects work in the United States.
GT: Do you see companies adding water and waste into their efficiency/reduction plans?
JH: Yes. Investors, clients and supply chain stakeholders have identified water as a scarce resource that needs to be tackled. Organizations are now being asked to report their water footprint and reduction strategies externally through vehicles such as the Carbon Disclosure Project survey. Waste efficiency is driven by many supply chain sectors: consumer goods, automotive and related packaging providers. Our experience shows that, similar to energy, waste management can be a substantial cost that needs to be actively managed.
John Hoekstra will share more tips for optimizing energy efficiency programs though incentives during NAEM’s “Capitalizing on Energy Savings Incentive Programs” webinar on Aug. 9.