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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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State Climate Change Legislation

Uploaded: Sep 8, 2015
This week the state legislature is debating a bill that would set a goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 59% by 2030.

The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting article analyzing whether this was a hard goal to meet or easier than thought and what were the components of reaching this goal.
web link

Five approaches are cited.

1) Doubling federal mileage standards to 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025 -- on the books today apparently with auto company support

This would reduce gasoline use by 50% other things being equal.

2) Broader use of electric vehicles-a goal already in California law.

3) Cleaner fuels--laws already on the books.

4) Land use changes that reduce travel demand and travel length.

5) Increased use of public transit and biking.

The article quotes an Air Resources Board scientist on how hard it would be to reach this goal.

"Air Resources Board officials say that California could cut gasoline and diesel use in half -- from the current 17.4 billion gallons to about 8.7 billion gallons in the next 15 years -- almost entirely by relying on existing rules.

"This is not a cosmic shift. It is basically us continuing to do what we are already doing today," said Ryan McCarthy, a senior scientist at the board."

On the other hand the petroleum industry in running ads claiming this goal would require drastic changes in driving habits.

It seems like doubling gas mileage, making fuels cleaner and using more electric vehicles for business and personal use would not require any change in miles driven. Land use and non-car transportation alternatives would have the goal of reducing the need for and length of auto trips.

It should also be noted that reducing gasoline usage is not the same as reducing car travel or congestion. Some policies achieve both goals but some do not.

What do readers think? Are these goals hard to achieve or relatively easy?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Good opening and challenge. Here's my 2 cents.

"Doubling federal mileage standards to 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025"

Feasible with smaller, lighter vehicles, provided a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) outlawing massive SUVs is ratified. Else, vehicular arms race as usual.

"Broader use of electric vehicles"

EVs should be mandatory for short (less than 2 mile) errands, where conventional internal combustion vehicles are in their most polluting and least energy efficient mode. Need realistic public appreciation of EV pollution export to electric power generation locales: understand that EVs are NOT pollution-free.

"Cleaner fuels"

Including, get ready, nuclear electric energy. Until 2 years ago, I was an adamant opponent of nuclear power due to its radioactive waste. Now with global CO2 poisoning of the atmosphere upon us, I have realized that nuclear wastes are way, way, way more manageable than CO2 emissions. Also, modern very-high-temperature reactor designs are immune to the phenomena that caused the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

I am not a salon nuclear advocate -- I studied nuclear engineering at Stanford.

Solar and wind won't cut it until the sun gets much brighter (expected in 5-7 billion years) or the wind gets intolerably intense (not expected except occasionally in Boulder, Colorado and Laramie, Wyoming.)

"Land use changes that reduce travel demand and travel length."

Not gonna happen unless mucho billions are allocated to clearcut and rebuild our basic residential-commercial infrastructure. No way Jose until Republicans are extinct.

Posted by Jim Neal, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2015 at 10:55 am

Jim Neal is a registered user.

I found it very interesting that the environmentalists state that the Energy Companies are fear mongering:

"There's a lot of fear-mongering and paranoia going on right now," said Simon Mui, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in San Francisco. "The oil industry doesn't like the demand for their product being reduced. Some of the claims are really ludicrous."

And yet we are being told in essence that the world as we know it will end if we don't stop barbecuing, get rid of our cars, and take only public transportation.

How are low and medium income people supposed to be able to afford these brand new Hybrid vehicles? Will they be provided free of charge as a public service or will we become a society where only the wealthy and politically connected are permitted to drive?

Jim Neal
Old Mountain View

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Sep 9, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Alan is a registered user.

I drive an EV now, and my wife has a VW TDI diesel she fuels up with renewable diesel (Propel Fuels DieselHPR, available off Whipple, 2/3rd the net life cycle CO2 emissions of diesel). My car is very economical (with gov't subsidies), as is hers (without subsidies). Yes, we could already be there had people made other choices.

For the less wealthy, the cost of clean vehicles will drop, and the availability of used EVs way up by 2030. The economics will be fine.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:49 am

I don't see myself being able to reduce fuel consumption by 50% personally. We have reasonably fuel efficient cars, including one hybrid and one smaller car, but there are few appealing offerings in the 50 mpg range currently or in the near future. We live reasonably close to work (for now), but walking or biking is likely never going to be an option, much less turning a ~25 minute point-to-point commute into a ~2 hr odyssey on public transit. Any reduction that we could come up with will be more than offset by the expected population growth. I don't think passing a law that just codifies a target without specifying what is and is not on the table to get to the target is something I could support.

" Yes, we could already be there had people made other choices." That is where the "fear-mongering" strikes me as valid ... giving some government agency carte blanche to force those "other choices" sure scares me. Great if you can drive a subsidized toy EV around, but that is not viable for everyone and when you count the environment costs of mining/manufacturing the batteries, it may not be as clean a choice as some believe.

Posted by John Kelley, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Steve, thank you for another excellent blog and for raising this important and timely issue. Here's my perspective:

A. Overall, my answer is yes, it would be relatively easy to reduce gasoline consumption by 59% by 2030 (indeed, with the right combination of policies, I think we could go even further).

B. That said, I'm disappointed that the article did not explore other means of reaching that goal. I believe that the the most straightforward, transparent, politically fair, and economically efficient way to do that is to impose is a carbon tax, particularly one that increases gradually, is predictable, goes to relatively high and ecologically sound and meaningful levels, and is generally (say > 85%) revenue neutral.

C. As for the particular alternatives you did discuss:

"1) Doubling federal mileage standards to 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025 -- on the books today apparently with auto company support"

In general, I believe there's a fair amount of research showing that a carbon tax would be much more efficient than regulatory approaches, of which the new CAFE standard to which you refer is one. If our national and state elected officials are not willing to enact the type of carbon tax discussed above, then I believe there are still meaningful opportunities for county and even municipal elected officials to do so. I would strongly prefer that approach. Absent such action however, revising the CAFE standards will probably be sufficient, or almost sufficient, to meet the goal you describe (as you write, Steve, "other things being equal"), but it will probably come at a greater cost than necessary. (In that respect, I'm very sympathetic to the concerns expressed by Jim Neal above in asking, "How are low and medium income people supposed to be able to afford these brand new Hybrid vehicles?" With a carbon tax, even a local carbon tax, there would be opportunities to allow low- and medium-income people to lease or purchase new, more efficient vehicles with subsidies.)

"2) Broader use of electric vehicles-a goal already in California law."

While there are sustainability issues associated with EVs (as Dan notes), regarding their manufacture, the sources of electricity by which they are powered, and their disposal, among other things, as Curmudgeon notes above, they are particularly useful for short trips (and I believe other situations in which there is greater than average braking). Curmudgeon also raises an important issue in expressing concern about "pollution export to electric power generation locales...." That's a legitimate issue, but I see it more as a reason to improve the efficiency and reduce the CO2-eq production of electric power, as well as improving electric efficiency standards, generally. While not perfect, EVs are certainly a useful step in the right direction. I also agree with the point that Alan makes that "the cost of clean vehicles will drop...."

"3) Cleaner fuels--laws already on the books."

Again, I think Curmudgeon makes some important points about possible tradeoffs between "global CO2 poisoning" and the perils of nuclear power. I don't embrace the nuclear alternative, because of concerns about radioactive waste and for several other reasons as well (including nuclear proliferation dangers), but as a global community, we may end up having to confront very difficult choices in decades to come.

"4) Land use changes that reduce travel demand and travel length."

Here too, I think there are great opportunities. An important one for us to consider in Palo Alto would be to promote greater flexibility and freedom in constructing accessory dwelling units. While Dan's point, about the difficulty of "turning a ~25 minute point-to-point commute into a ~2 hr odyssey on public transit" may be difficult to address with current housing and transportation infrastructure, if we make wise investments in public goods and make appropriate land use changes that reduce office-housing imbalances, particularly in communities such as Palo Alto, by 2030, the cumulative impact of those changes may make a meaningful impact in reducing California gasoline consumption.

"5) Increased use of public transit and biking."

These approaches deserve far greater consideration. Biking will likely expand considerably in coming years, particularly if we make wise investments in protecting cyclists, promoting bike safety, expanding bike lanes, and creating grade separation wherever possible. Biking can provide important "last-mile" services for people using public transit, so there is a strong, positive synergy between those strategies. In addition, by increasing use of public transit and biking, we will be better able to address other public concerns, including: (a) reducing congestion; (b) improving parking availability (although we do need to expand local parking and storage facilities for bicycles considerably, particularly in the Downtown and California Ave. areas), (c) improving air quality, and (d) enhancing public health.

Posted by pogo, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Sep 13, 2015 at 5:57 am

pogo is a registered user.

"it would be relatively easy to reduce gasoline consumption by 59% by 2030..."

"I believe that the the most straightforward, transparent, politically fair, and economically efficient way to do that is to impose is a carbon tax..."

Yes, of course. California gasoline already costs consumers more than $1 a gallon than any other state. That may not bother those who can afford to live in million dollar homes and drive Teslas. But for those in our state who struggle to get by, spending $10 or $15 a week more than the rest of the country at our neighborhood gas station is a real burden. That $750 a year for gasoline is a real burden for those at the lower end of our economic scale.

So let's consider the poorest before we so cavalierly say just raise the taxes. While I hardly notice the difference, these costs are absolutely killing the poorest among us.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Sep 13, 2015 at 3:22 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Jim Neal and Pogo

There are a few things to remember re your points.

One is that it is possible to structure these programs to give relief to low income residents.

The cap and trade auction revenue is partially directed at funding subsidized housing and providing remediation to the effects of pollution on low income neighborhoods. In addition the permits given to utilities were to fund rate relief for low income ratepayers.

Two, if pollution levels are reduced, the main beneficiaries are low income neighborhoods that have the worst air quality.

Three, not every good program should be stopped just because the revenues to fund the program are partially collected from low income households. If this were true it would be really hard to raise revenues to improve school quality in low income areas.

Posted by cyclinger, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Nov 25, 2015 at 12:58 am

I've come around the share Curmudgeon's point of view and then some. We only need to cut back on miles driven, change our home habits and restructure our urban landscape if we don't insist on energy that doesn't emit carbon. If we do insist on plentiful, reliable, clean energy, the only way to rapidly achieve that is with more nuclear power.

The California legislature may be doing the best it can under the current circumstances but even their current goals don't guarantee that our planet won't fry. The bottom line is that we know that we should not be burning fossil fuels any longer if we want our future generations to enjoy an hospitable planet. If you've been following the news, you know the climate situation is really dire.

People who care about the climate and still don't support nuclear have to re-examine the basis of their objections and recognize that much of the bad PR is not premised on facts. (Read more about nuclear energy at It turns out that nuclear is the safest and most scalable energy we have available today (which still provides 65% of all our clean energy). If carbon emissions were appropriately priced and advantageous tax deductions not provided on oil and gas development projects, it would be the cheapest as well. We could use it to heat and cool our homes, to power our cars and even reduce the stockpiles of nuclear waste, as the "advanced" forms of nuclear reactors that use thorium will turn that old radioactive waste (that we can't give away now) into fuel worth hundreds of millions! (Read more about Advanced Nuclear at

If everyone decided to stop using gasoline-powered vehicles and started buying electric, you can be sure the production economies would quickly kick in and the price of electric vehicles would come way down very quickly.

By the way, I do drive a wonderful electric vehicle that cost less than $30K. I am very sympathetic to those for whom high gas costs are burdensome. I "fill up" my car in my garage for about $5 worth of electricity. Now, if we can just get PG&E to stop burning coal, natural gas and oil for base load and build out more nuclear capacity, that electricity could be near zero impact.

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