Foxx sees long-term shift to cleaner fuels, new technology

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2016

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday that the agency has “bought into” reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The transportation sector represents almost 30 percent of overall carbon emissions in the United States, second only to the power sector, according to U.S. EPA. President Obama has made addressing global warming a cornerstone of his legacy and, as part of that, released the Clean Power Plan last year to curb emissions from power plants.

The transportation sector has a role to play, too, Foxx told a small group of reporters yesterday.

“To the extent that we can reduce the GHG impacts of transportation, we are really helping the president’s overall push on climate change, whether it’s electric vehicles, whether it’s broader transportation choices,” Foxx said. “We’re really bought into trying to clean up the transportation system from a climate perspective.”

Electric vehicle sales have lagged behind Obama’s goal of 1 million by 2015, instead reaching about 400,000 by the end of December. Sales dropped 6 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year as low gas prices drew consumers to traditional internal-combustion vehicles. Automakers continue to develop the new technology, however, rolling out at least a dozen new electric vehicle models this year.

Foxx dismissed concerns that low oil prices would derail clean vehicles.

“I think we’re on a long-term path to significant changes in the fuel inputs in the cars, and I don’t think that is going to go away,” Foxx said. “Of course, there’s a temporary reprieve for drivers, if you might call it that, but in the long arc of things, we are still going to see a shift there.”

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets fuel efficiency standards for new cars with EPA. Light-duty carmakers have met increasingly higher standards each year since Congress passed the most recent rules in 2007. They are working toward a projected fleetwide average fuel efficiency goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

By 2030, the rules will have prevented greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to the yearly emissions of around 140 typical coal-fired power plants, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The emergence of new automated car technologies has also raised interest in the potential emissions reduction benefits of anything from cars that talk to each other to driverless cars, though the data are unclear. Automated vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent or increase them by 200 percent, according to estimates from the Department of Energy.

Foxx called facilitating the deployment of automated cars an opportunity not just to enhance safety, but also to capture new technological innovations. Last month, he announced that the upcoming presidential budget proposal for fiscal 2017 would include $4 billion over 10 years to advance automated cars.

Late last year, the Transportation Department also launched the Smart Cities Challenge. The competition asks midsized cities to submit their visions for connected transportation systems, complete with fleet electrification, charging infrastructure, a clean power supply and more, by tomorrow. One winning city will receive up to $50 million by June to implement its plan.

“Now, an electric, connected, autonomous car would be really cool,” Foxx said with a grin.