Strong Government Regulations Key to Kicking Oil Habit, Reducing Vehicle Emissions

What will it take to greatly reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles? Efficiency, alternative fuels, and strong governmental policies reports the National Research Council. And it will be highly unlikely.

The bar was set very high by Congress in 2010. They wanted to know what it would take to reduce oil and emissions by 80% by 2050. "Is it feasible?", they asked the National Research Council.

Short answer: While unlikely, with strong governmental intervention, "improving technologies driven by strong and effective policies could make deep reductions possible", according to the NRC's press release for the report, "Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels", released March 18.  [Gateway NRC webpage provides for a variety of means to access 378-page report, including the table of contents to go directly to chapters].

Brian Bienkowski of The Daily Climate put in more directly:

Efforts to drastically slash automobile emissions and fuel use within 40 years don't stand a chance without subsidies, technology improvements and more stringent government standards, according to a report by a panel of experts released Monday.

Even hitting an intermediate target – cutting fuel use in half by 2030 – would be "very difficult," the council reported.

The report was written by a 19-member committee of academics and those in industry, staff and consultants (see page V).

A silver bullet - or silver buckshot?

There is no "silver bullet," said Douglas M. Chapin, an engineer and principal at a Virginia-based consulting company, MPR Associates, who chaired the committee.  With technologies uncertain, the panel felt the best approach would be to promote a portfolio of vehicle and fuel research and development.

"Dr. Chapin is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and serves as chairman of the National Research Council’s Board on Energy and Environmental Systems", according to his webpage on MPR.

What we really need is silver buckshot: A suite of policy and technology options that will cut oil use, said Michelle Robinson, Union of Concerned Scientists, about the report.  (She did not participate in preparing the report).

Land use policies and fuel taxes are analyzed in chapter 6: "Policies for Reducing GHG Emissions from and Petroleum Use by Light-Duty Vehicles." 

The release of the report is timely as is coincides with the president's announcement of a $2 billion plan "to replace hydrocarbons as the primary fuel for the nation’s cars, trucks and buses."

Full Story: Major fuel, emissions savings unlikely in autos - report



Irvin Dawid's picture

David Roberts (Grist), Brad Plumer (WaPo Wonk Blog) cover report

David Roberts of Grist writes, "If you don’t want to read all 395 pages, Brad Plumer has an excellent write-up. The take-home message is that no one technology or policy — efficiency, feebates, plug-in electrics, fuel cell vehicles, natural gas vehicles, what have you — can get us to those goals. To make the numbers add up, you have to do them all together....."

Plumer notes the scant inclusion in the massive report of "Public transit and changes in urban planning: Oddly, there’s not much here. The (National Academy of Sciences) report only makes one passing mention of things like telecommuting, public transportation, better traffic management, and compact land use. Which seems surprisingly brief. Surely one way to curtail gasoline use and cut greenhouse-gas emissions would be to make it easier for people to drive less."

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