Friday, February 01, 2019

Pollution Progress Exhausted

The United States has pledged to cut carbon emissions by between 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. Trump has signaled his intention to pull the United States out of the accord, a group of states led by California wants to ensure the U.S. meets its commitments, which scientists call critical to avoiding the most devastating effects of climate change. But California’s problems - and those of other sprawling U.S. cities - suggest that meeting that goal will be difficult. For three decades, California has led the fight to control tailpipe  (exhaust) pollution, with countless policies promoting cleaner gasoline, carpooling, public transportation and its signature strategy - the electric vehicle. Californians now buy more than half of all EVs sold in the United States, and the state’s car-pollution policies have provided a model being adopted around the world. But they’re not working , by the state’s own measure. Tailpipe pollution here is going up, not down, despite billions of dollars spent by one of the most environmentally progressive governments on earth. Transportation is tied with power generation as America’s leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, at 28 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – and it takes top billing in California, at about 40 percent.

"The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters. That failure has less to do with energy or environmental policies and more with decades-old urban planning decisions that made California – and especially Los Angeles – a haven for sprawling development of single-family homes and long commutes, according to state officials. California’s struggle doesn't bode well for other major U.S. cities with similar sprawl and expensive urban housing – such as Houston, Atlanta, and others that planned their cities around cars - and casts doubt on whether the United States can meet its pledged carbon cuts under an international agreement to fight climate change. The state’s troubles also hold lessons for massive economies including China and India, major carbon emitters that hope to control pollution from vehicles as they rapidly urbanize. “If we keep thinking we are going to overcome a 1950s system overnight, that’s wrong,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, the city’s main public planning body. Transportation emissions have also been rising in other major cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Antonio, according to city climate emissions reports from recent years, and have climbed about 21 percent nationwide since 1990, according to the EPA. 
California’s carbon emissions amounted to 429 million metric tons in 2016, the last year for which data is available. That’s the lowest level since 1990 thanks to a shift away from coal-fired electricity toward natural gas, solar and wind. But its next target - calling for a further 40 percent cut by 2030 - will be out of reach without transformative changes in state residents’ driving habits, CARB said in a report published late last year. California’s tailpipe emissions have risen 5 percent since 2013, according to CARB data, as population growth, urban sprawl, and a devotion to one’s own car produced longer commutes and choking traffic.

 The increase came even as the state has finally caught traction in promoting electric and hybrid vehicles, some 1.18 million of which have been sold in the state since 2011, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The government last year set a target of 5 million electric vehicles by 2030. But even hitting that goal – by no means assured - won’t be near enough to allow the state to meet its goal for carbon reduction, which would require California drivers to reduce per capita miles traveled by 25 percent, CARB said in its report. Electric cars, by comparison, represent just 1 percent of new vehicle sales in Texas, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In California, it was around 7 percent in the first eight months of last year.

Los Angeles is mulling a proposal to charge drivers during rush hour and use that money to make public transit free by 2028, according to Metro Chief Executive Phillip Washington.

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