Big Picture: EPA’s new ruling on power plant emissions will be battleground, Eight states offer sweet incentives and perks to draw in car shoppers to zero emission vehicles

Coal powered plantsThe first phase of a national policy that’s as big as the 54.5 mpg by 2025 rule and the Keystone XL pipeline debate was announced yesterday: the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that carbon emissions be reduced 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 at US electric power plants. That means more than 600 existing coal-fired plants will see some big changes transitioning over to renewable sources like solar and wind; natural gas is cleaner than coal and has been replacing a lot of coal in recent years – and may likely see an increase if added to the rules. The EPA will finalize the carbon pollution rules a year from now, and it will also cover particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide reductions. Transportation is said to produce somewhere around 25% (and up to 30% depending on the data source) of greenhouse gas emissions in the US; coal-fired plants are thought to produce one third of greenhouse gas emissions in the US – taking away the benefits of electric vehicles and energy efficient buildings. If adopted, the EPA regulations can be implemented through a state-federal partnership; states can work alone or they can develop multi-state plans. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Fund love the plan, and groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers hate it; some electric utility companies have deep concerns over whether systems are in place to transition over to renewables. There will be a classic debate on whether the environmental or economic aspects are more important, though some experts say that these two disciplines can be combined if done the right way when adapting to the new EPA energy policy.

And in other clean transportation news…….

  • The eight-state zero emission vehicle (ZEV) coalition wants to offer incentives and more perks to get car shoppers to buy more battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, said in a report that they’ll be offering more vehicle purchase incentives (like rebates and tax credits) and other enticements like carpool lane stickers and preferential parking.
  • The Green Parking Council (GPC), an affiliate of the International Parking Institute (IPI), launched the Green Garage Certification program yesterday. It will be similar to the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification, and recognizes and inspires high standards in sustainable parking facility design, technology, operations, and management.
  • More green car awards were announced:  The 2013 Tesla Model S won top scores in the AAA Automotive Club of Southern California’s 2014 Green Car Guide. Following the Model S were the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, the 2014 Audi A7 TDI, the 2013 Lexus GS Hybrid, and the 2013 Nissan Leaf on the top five. Half of the top 10 were clean diesel models. Hyundai and Kia took the crown away from Honda (which had been No. 1 since 1998) in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS’s) annual rating of the greenest cars and manufacturing process. Smaller, turbo-charged engines and adding hybrid versions of their most popular models – the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima – are going in the right direction, according to the UCS. The United State’s eight bestselling automakers are all improving their environmental performance thanks to new technologies and stronger standards for fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions, the UCS said.
  • SolarCity is trying out a discount program to get more consumers to adopt solar panels on their houses – the company now has an alliance with Groupon to get consumers interested in making the purchase in 84 US markets. Under the limited-time offer, customers can earn a $400 discount on their SolarCity contract; that would come out to about three-to-four months of free electricity on top of a no-cost rooftop solar installation.
  • Google Inc. will be working with Roush Enterprises Inc. near Detroit to assemble Google’s self-driving prototype vehicles. Roush is expected to retrofit a yet-to-be-identified existing model at its Allen Park, Mich., prototyping facility near Detroit to help Google take another major step on the road to driverless cars. Roush is also known for high-performance racing gear and propane autogas vehicle conversions.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk is staying busy – he said that his SpaceX company will be making a reusable Space Taxi capsule within two years that can transport astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon V2 spaceship can carry as many as seven people and as much as four tons of cargo, Musk said at the SpaceX factory and headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
  • Can the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid really get the mileage on its window sticker? Depends on who you ask. Consumer Reports says that it was just averaging 40 mpg in the EPA Combined Cycle – seven gallons below what’s on the window sticker. The Green Car Reports team found the opposite – its 47 mpg rating (50 mpg city and 45 mpg highway) is realistic – and it’s the main reason these editors named it the Green Car Reports’ 2014 Best Car to Buy.

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