Why Flint? Why Dieselgate? Why Was the EPA Prevented From Acting?
by Robert E. Kozak* (Advanced Biofuels USA) Of all the grandstanding by politicians over the Flint, Michigan, drinking water disaster perhaps the most hypocritical has been that of Democrats such as Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heaping all the blame on Michigan Republicans while not saying one word about the deficiencies of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama Administration.
Congress has equally been unusually quiet about EPA’s lack of action on VW diesel emissions even though on a technical level EPA knew about the problem.
In both cases independent investigative and enforcement actions by EPA in support of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts would have prevented these crises.
In our bailiwick of low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) renewable fuels, EPA’s removal of calculations (“F” and “R” factors) that properly account for renewable fuel GHG emissions reductions in the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards has placed an artificial cap on potential E10 plus markets.
In addition, the EPA of the Obama Administration has tilted the field in favor of electric cars by removing the GHG lifecycle analysis for those vehicles. By so doing, the impact of fossil fuel used to produce vehicle charging electricity is removed from electric car GHG accounting. The result? The Zero-Emission vehicle!
Regardless of our continued efforts, we watch the crumbling of our nation’s environment. How can this be happening?
We have the best environmental legislation ever written in the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. We have an independent federal agency unencumbered with prior conflicting issues set up to enforce those laws. Nixon even approved the use of fines collected by EPA to be used for future enforcement and not returned to the General Fund.
It seems very clear now that the Obama Administration has embraced, and possibly expanded the White House control of EPA that began under President Ronald Reagan.
At first, EPA Administrators like William Ruckelshaus fought back hard for EPA independence. But, under the succeeding Administrations of Clinton, Bush, and Obama, the EPA has been brought to heel and now operates like another White House office.
For example, when setting ozone standards, the Obama Administration in 2011 followed the same course as the Bush Administration and rejected science based standards developed by the EPA.
And, while the Obama Administration announced with much fanfare in 2015 a plan to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas drilling and pipeline operations, the Administration restricted EPA from writing regulations that would cover existing operations, which produce most of the leaking methane. Under the Obama plan, EPA could only regulate drilling and pipeline operations placed in operation after the regulations were approved. They haven’t been yet.
You might say this is all “inside the Beltway” minutia that doesn’t mean anything to people in the Midwest expecting clean drinking water. But it does, and here’s why.
What came with increasing White House control of EPA was also increasing protection for those limited number of corporations and individuals that funded the Presidents’ campaigns.
Chief among those contributors have been banks and investment houses. What type of projects do they like to issue bonds for? How about “privatized government operations” like water treatment that guarantee bond owners payment through water bills and taxes. Flint, Michigan anyone? And, oh by the way, unless something changes, the folks in Flint will still be on the hook for paying for that useless system long after it’s replaced. Isn’t Wall Street capitalism great?
Outside of Bernie Sanders, have any of the other Presidential candidates seriously questioned the role of campaign contributions on the enforcement of American laws that protect the average citizen? I don’t think so. For that matter have any of the mainstream media types conducting televised “debates” asked this question?
One hopes that these examples of restricted EPA actions will be enough to shake up the American people so this systemic degradation of a citizen’s right to a clean environment is ended.
One hopes that the next President will not base his or her government on the demands of those who paid for the election.
One hopes voters will demand the justice promised in the Declaration of Independence and codified in our hard fought laws and judicial decisions.
*Robert E. (Bob) Kozak is the founder of Atlantic Biomass, LLC, and a co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA. Having worked for about 40 years in the transportation, energy, environmental, and government relations industries and in enzyme development, he serves as a fuels/engines and policy expert for Advanced Biofuels USA. He can be reached at atlanticbiomass @ aol.com
Blog: More Details on the High Octane Story
by Holly Jessen (Ethanol Producer Magazine) I really enjoyed learning about research into midlevel ethanol blends from Timothy Theiss and Brian West, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “E25, E40 for the masses” went live on our website last week … First, there’s the issue of what to call the fuel. If a new midlevel blend does reach consumers, how should it be branded? West said some suggested “renewable super premium,” but says others have expressed concern that the word premium could lead to the fuel being priced too high. One of the key pieces of the puzzle in making optimized vehicles and a new midlevel ethanol blend a reality is that the fuel cannot be more expensive than E10, West said. When oil prices once again go up and ethanol is less expensive than gas, a midlevel ethanol blend could be priced very attractively. “You could make a high octane E25 and sell it in a way that the consumer wins, the retailer wins and everybody wins,” West says.
Another issue I wasn’t able to include in my story was West’s thoughts on a possible performance specification. In this scenario, as long as the performance spec is met, the ethanol content wouldn’t have to be dictated, so E25 could potentially met the spec but another blend could as well.
One possible way to get there is by adding an additive to an ethanol and gasoline blend, West said.
Apparently, the U.S. EPA is assessing a possible change from the current R-Factor of 0.6. If the R-Factor was set closer to 1 vehicle manufactures would be favorably inclined to build vehicles optimized for midlevel ethanol blends, the researchers told me. Basically, the R-factor was incorporated into fuel economy calculations in the 1980s and, with the EPA decision to add ethanol to certification fuel, data shows it needs to be updated. “Essentially it converts certification fuel economy to a gasoline equivalent fuel economy for a 1975 cert fuel,” West said. “Bottom line, if the vehicle can attain volumetric fuel economy parity with an E25 certification fuel, the CAFE benefit to the manufacturer is significant if R is close to 1.0.”
R-Factor is an incredibly complicated issue that I don’t pretend to understand fully. If you’d like to read more about it, you can do so in this ORNL publication or this one, published by SAE International.
Vehicle manufacturers already have the technology to build the vehicles. And the ethanol industry stands, ready and able, to provide the ethanol. Another piece of good news is that work to expand midlevel ethanol compatible refueling infrastructure is already ongoing. Every single blender pump installed is one more pump where consumers could, someday, fill up with a midlevel ethanol blend with their optimized vehicle. READ MORE and MORE
E25, E40 for the Masses
by Holly Jessen (Ethanol Producer Magazine) Widely introducing consumers to ‘super premium’ ethanol blends could offer substantial benefits, but the barriers to making it happen are significant as well. — Which needs to come first, a new high-octane midlevel ethanol blend or new vehicles optimized to more efficiently take advantage of the higher octane content?
“It is that classic chicken and egg thing,” says Timothy Theiss, bioenergy technologies program manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “The analysts say it’s the simultaneous introduction of a new fuel and a new vehicle, which is very difficult.”
Brian West, deputy director of the Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center at ORNL, offered a slight tweak to that perspective. “All we are talking about doing, and I don’t mean to make it sound easy, is just changing that ratio a little bit,” he says, adding that the nation already has a gasoline and ethanol infrastructure. “It would certainly seem to me to be a much simpler thing than putting in a whole new infrastructure of, say, hydrogen.”
West believes a new E25 or E40 blend, perhaps marketed as a “renewable super premium,” could be sold in a way that is a win for consumers, retailers and everybody involved. In fact, vehicles optimized for the new fuel could be manufactured today. “I often say, there’s not a good technical reason we couldn’t see this in the marketplace in five or 10 years,” West adds. “That doesn’t mean I think it will happen in that time frame. There’s just too many parties that need to be in agreement.”
Thiess and West are two of many researchers at ORNL, Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory who have been engaged in a study since 2013.
Up next is the Optima initiative, which will focus on developing new, co-optimized fuels and engines to maximize performance and carbon efficiency. While the high-octane fuel study focused specifically on ethanol, Optima will look at fuels like ethanol as well as other high-octane fuels, as well as fuels for advanced compression engines, Thiess says.
The high-octane fuel study found that E25 and E40—when used to fuel a vehicle optimized for the blend—could achieve volumetric fuel-economy parity with E10. In other words, each additional gallon of ethanol added would displace a full gallon of gasoline and fuel economy would be the same as one of today’s vehicles using E10. Vehicle efficiency would also increase, at 5 percent for E25 and 10 percent for E40.
“In this, we’re finding we have a lot of ands,” he (Thiess) says. “We can get better fuel economy. And. When ethanol is traditionally priced a little less than gasoline, we can get a fuel that is a little bit less because we are using less petroleum and more ethanol. And. We’re showing that we’d get pretty nice greenhouse gas emission reductions. And. We’re showing that the vehicle manufacturers would be favorably inclined to build those vehicles. And. We’re showing that the biofuel infrastructure could pretty much be adapted to handle it. And. We’re showing that there’s a lot of feedstock out there that could be used to make it. So, there’s a lot of ands, and not the major ors, where we have to make very big trade-off decisions right up front. Now, that’s not to say that it’s not a difficult thing. It is very difficult to introduce any new fuel. And this would be no exception. But there are a lot of benefits that stack on top of each other.”
In fact, E30 is already being sold at some blender pumps across the nation and work to increase the infrastructure for higher ethanol blends is ongoing. And, most flex-fuel vehicles on the road today can already use midlevel ethanol blends and actually see a performance benefit doing so. Thiess sees the FFV fleet as a bridge across the chicken and egg dilemma in establishing a new midlevel ethanol blend and new vehicles optimized for that fuel. READ MORE and MORE
US Files Civil Complaint against VW for Clean Air Act Violations
(Biodiesel Magazine/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. EPA, filed a civil complaint Jan. 4 in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Volkswagen Group of America Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations LLC, Porsche AG, and Porsche Cars North America Inc. (collectively referred to as Volkswagen). The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution. The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the U.S. motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board.
“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”
“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”
“VW’s illegal defeat devices have resulted in thousands of tons of excess NOx emissions in California, a state where more than 12 million people live in areas that exceed air quality standards set to protect public health,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “The California Air Resources Board is fully coordinating its investigation with the federal EPA and DOJ to address the environmental harm VW has caused.”
Consistent with EPA’s Notices of Violation, issued on Sept. 18 for 2.0 liter engines, and Nov. 2 for certain 3.0 liter engines, the complaint alleges that the defeat devices cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards during normal driving conditions. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution. Motor vehicles equipped with illegal defeat devices cannot be certified.
The complaint alleges that Volkswagen equipped certain 2.0 liter vehicles with software that detects when the car is being tested for compliance with EPA emissions standards and turns on full emissions controls only during that testing process. During normal driving situations the effectiveness of the emissions control devices is greatly reduced. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory and at the test site, but during normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at levels up to 40 times the EPA compliance level. In total, the complaint covers approximately 499,000 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since the 2009 model year.
The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen also equipped certain 3.0 liter vehicles with software that senses when the vehicle is undergoing federal emissions testing. When the vehicle senses the test procedure, it operates in a “temperature conditioning” mode and meets emissions standards. At all other times, including during normal vehicle operation, the vehicles operate in a “normal mode” that permits NOx emissions of up to nine times the federal standard. In total, the complaint covers approximately 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since the 2009 model year.
NOx pollution contributes to harmful ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. These pollutants are linked with asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter is also associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with preexisting respiratory disease are particularly at risk of health effects from exposure to these pollutants. Recent studies indicate that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, including respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue, and premature death.
Today’s filing of a civil complaint under Sections 204 and 205 of the Clean Air Act seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. A civil complaint does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies. The U.S. will seek to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multidistrict litigation in the Northern District of California. The U.S.’s investigation is ongoing, in close coordination with CARB. EPA and CARB have been in active discussion with Volkswagen about potential remedies and recalls to address the noncompliance, and those discussions are ongoing.
Affected 2.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
Jetta Sportwagen (2009-’14)
Beetle Convertible (2013-’15)
Audi A3 (2010-’15)
Golf Sportwagen (2015)
Affected 3.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
Volkswagen Touareg (2009-’16)
Porsche Cayenne (2013-’16)
Audi A6 Quattro (2014-’16)
Audi A7 Quattro (2014-’16)
Audi A8 (2014-’16)
Audi A8L (2014-’16)
Audi Q5 (2014-’16)
Audi Q7 (2009-’15)
For information about the complaint, click here.
For information about EPA actions on Volkswagen, click here. READ MORE