Emission-free Cooper

Governor asks Biden to force big changes in auto market

For Earth Day 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper joined 11 other (mostly Democratic) governors, urging President Biden, among other things, to mandate all new cars and light trucks to be Zero Emission Vehicles by 2035 and force new large trucks to be ZEVs by 2045. 

The letter also suggests a repeat of the Obama administration’s disastrous “cash-for-clunkers” program to prod drivers of internal-combustion vehicles to swap them for ZEVs. You may recall that cash-for-clunkers rebates bribed drivers who planned to buy new cars anyway into buying them sooner. And because the program forced the “retired” vehicles to be destroyed, the plan removed thousands of perfectly good used cars from the highways, pricing low-income shoppers out of the car market entirely. Not great, Bob.

Even if we don’t revive cash for clunkers, backing a ZEV mandate is a gamble. It’s not exactly virtue signaling, because technology gains could reduce the significant costs such a move would have using 2021 technology.

But sadly, central planning of this variety is back in vogue.

From Business North Carolina:

Not long ago, governors telling U.S. auto companies how to run their businesses and what kind of vehicles consumers should buy would have been front-page news. But the popularity of shifting away from oil and gas — and the current mood of heavy government economic influence — is giving Cooper, Cuomo, Newsom, Whitmer and other governors who signed the letter confidence that such advice is needed.

California has already directed that all new cars sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035. It's also the state whose tax and regulatory policies so frustrated Elon Musk of ZEV market leader Tesla that he moved his headquarters to Texas.

A ZEV mandate wouldn’t outlaw internal-combustion engines … at first. California’s ZEV rules include a major loophole, aka consumer benefit.  From the Union of Concerned Scientists (yes, I know …)

Plug-in hybrid cars and trucks — which use gas- or diesel-fueled engines alongside rechargeable electric motors — count as “zero emission.” As the driving range between charges of electric vehicles increases, the need to use the internal combustion engine to, say, handle parts of a long road trip would diminish.

But there’s a cost to going “emission free.” A 2018 report from the Manhattan Institute noted that — unless the means of generating electricity get much cleaner over time — replacing regular internal-combustion engines with ZEVs would make air pollution worse, not better. 

How? Electric vehicles must get their power somewhere. As study author Jonathan Lasser, an economist and longtime utility official says, generating enough electricity from the expected power sources to fuel ZEVs would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions but increase other, often more dangerous, air pollutants. Overall, a ZEV mandate would cost more, both in money and in immediate health risks.

Some caveats: Lasser’s comprehensive report relied on research and projections available at the time. It’s what he could do. By 2035, energy production, storage, and use could be much different. Breakthroughs in environmentally friendly electric storage (batteries); fuel cell technology; small-scale nuclear energy production; or efficient power transmission using, say, microwaves rather than wire and poles could make the switch to ZEVs a no-brainer. 

A lot of smart people are working on those technologies. They could make the goal of universal ZEVs possible at a minimal cost. For now, though, maintain that gas guzzler. Fifteen years from now, you still may need it.

Academy Awards ceremony, same as it ever was

I’ve extended my streak of not seeing any of the films nominated for major awards to 16 years (last one: Jamie Foxx in “Ray”) AND not watching any of the ceremonies alive to … longer than that. I’m way behind on my Christopher Nolan and Coen Brothers viewing.

State of the State Statement*

Cooper’s giving his address to the General Assembly tonight. House Speaker Tim Moore will give the Republican response. Expect them to be scintillating. Not. 

*A one-liner from “Green Acres” that stuck with me.