Calif. Energy Commission's Boyd talks auto efficiency standards, House climate bill

How are California's plans for emissions reduction affecting the national policy discussion? During today's OnPoint, Commissioner James Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, discusses the Obama administration's plan to use California's vehicle emissions standards as part of the national policy. Boyd discusses his state's role in the auto emissions policy negotiations. He also gives his take on the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, which recently cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to this show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Commissioner James Boyd, vice chair of the California Energy Commission. Commissioner, it's great to have you on the show.

James Boyd: It's indeed my pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Commissioner, President Obama recently announced a new auto fuel efficiency standard for the nation. It mirrors California's plan for emissions reduction. How was the CEC involved in the discussions? How much did you actually know before the announcement?

James Boyd: Well, we've known a lot about the subject. The Energy Commission and the Air Resources Board are kind of joined at the hip because energy and air quality and as Tom Friedman said, "This is the energy climate era." Efficiency is job one for all energy sources. The state can't control vehicle efficiency. So to us it's a very significant move forward. Plus it combines California's many years held desire to control CO2 tailpipe emissions, since the automobile is the number one contributor to our global climate change emissions, so very significant, very meaningful, and very timely.

Monica Trauzzi: And were you tuned in specifically to the discussions happening between Mary Nichols and Carol Browner?

James Boyd: Well, only in a general sense and some of it kind of off the record because Mary Nichols and I go back a long, long way together. So I sent her congratulations.

Monica Trauzzi: Are these standards enough though to have a significant impact on energy use? A lot of people would argue that in addition to these standards there also needs to be a gas tax in order to impact consumer's habits, actually the amount of energy that's being used. So does this need to be paired with something else?

James Boyd: Well, I think you're right, a lot of us are talking about the need to affect consumer behavior and it being the weakest leg on the energy stool if you might in terms of vehicle technology or fuels. And this will help because it's just what the consumer will inherit, a car with better mileage. It does take either a high cost of gasoline or some kind of incentive to affect human behavior to reduce vehicle miles traveled and that's what we saw when we had the high gasoline prices. So there's more to be done, but this is an excellent start.

Monica Trauzzi: There's speculation that this move on auto emissions indicates that the administration plans to finalize the endangerment finding. How do you see this auto emissions rule playing into the possibility of EPA acting on emissions down the line if say Congress does not come out with legislation this year?

James Boyd: Well, I mean they have set the threshold. They have established a stage from which they can operate to do that. What they will do is not known by me, but since what California has done historically in terms of tailpipe emissions has kind of shown what's basically needed nationwide, and their only platform is to treat things as almost a criteria pollutant, I expect that this is the beginning of long-held considerations about how they will limit the emissions of CO2 and worry about other greenhouse gases perhaps in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill has made it through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It's the first hurdle of many. What are your thoughts on this legislation and sort of how it compares and relates to what you have in California, A.B. 32?

James Boyd: Well, as is often the case, I think California is doing more, but California doesn't like to always be alone in doing things. And this really is a national problem. I think many of us who worked on climate change for more than a decade have been quite willing to say it's a national problem, it's an international problem. And this is a huge first step and it's very symbolic for the United States to send a message, I think, that will affect the discussions that take place in Copenhagen in the future. So we'll see. I think California will continue to push because it sees the need. Californians seem to understand what the impact of climate change is on their society, their economy, their lives. And that's why they've been so supportive of the need to take action. I think lots of other Americans need to learn what does climate change mean to them in their states, to their environment, and maybe to their economy before there will even be more support for taking climate change action. But this was very meaningful, very courageous, and a huge step in the right direction.

Monica Trauzzi: How far do you see it going in the House?

James Boyd: That's an interesting question. I'm not sure I'm capable or qualified to prognosticate on something like that. I just hope it is a strong enough message to carry us through to meaningful dialogue on the world scene and that's what we've been lacking.

Monica Trauzzi: You preside over the Energy Commission's Transportation Committee and you've been in town talking about hydrogen technology for vehicles. What role do you see hydrogen technology playing for the U.S. automakers in the future and what would you like to see Congress doing on that front?

James Boyd: Well, let me approach this first from just saying that California is very pro alternative fuels. We have been saying we need a mixed portfolio of transportation fuels. We've been saying it for years. We produced a report in 2003 that said we needed the equivalent of 40 miles per gallon CAFE type standards and we needed alternative fuels. And we were then talking about hydrogen, perhaps at the end of that highway somewhere. The importance to us of alternative fuels is very significant and I was here talking about California's new program where we have been authorized to spend up to $120 million a year for 7 1/2 years to incent alternative technologies and alternative fuels. Hydrogen is on our menu of things for the future. My agency just put up $40 million for hydrogen infrastructure because the domestic and world auto industry said we need infrastructure. We want to come to California. And we've seen of late that it's very important to Detroit and a reformulated Detroit. I think General Motors is very dependent upon, first, their plug-in hybrid, the Volt, and then hydrogen. And there are other world makers of automobiles who have indicated they truly see hydrogen there. So, we were very shocked and disappointed that the administration is not putting any effort into hydrogen. We hope they're not tainted by the fear that there was just an action on the part of the last administration. We've gone both ways in California. We're now convinced it will play a role somewhere out there. And now is the time to send signals and fiscal signals to the Detroit automakers that this will be in their future. So we are anxious to see the Congress put some money back in just to show that the United States, along with the state of California, haven't abandoned hydrogen as a possibility. We're into a mixed portfolio of fuels there's no silver bullet anymore. It's silver buckshot as we like to say out West and hydrogen should be considered a player. Not today, not tomorrow, but not ruled out completely.

Monica Trauzzi: The Renewable Electricity Standard that's part of the Waxman-Markey bill is significantly lower than what California has. Is it enough? Is it a step in the right direction? What more do we have to do on a national level in terms of an RES?

James Boyd: It's a step in the right direction. It's not enough. California started efficiency 30 years ago. It's kept us from building tens of thousands of megawatts and yet we still are pushing efficiency. Efficiency is job one for all energy sources. Deficiency is the easiest thing to do. Renewables are next. We need a much stronger renewable portfolio standard, something matching what California is doing, 20 percent by 2010, 33 percent by 2020. It needs to be done. We really need to change the direction in which we're going.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. California is no stranger to economic woes and your state has also implemented a huge number of green initiatives. Based on your state's experiences, is sort of this idea of greening the economy, the way to create a healthier economy and a way for the U.S. to get out of the current economic crisis.

James Boyd: We think so. I think California has been the litmus test for the question of can a healthy economy go hand-in-hand with a healthy environment? California has sincerely believed in that for decades and it's been proven to be true and we think as you transition to various technologies down through time it has served California well to be on the cutting edge of that. And so we believe very strongly that green technologies will be our future and green technologies really offer a lot to the United States in terms of the changes it has to make in its per capita use of electricity, in all of its energy sources as we diversify and try to save more. So that's a very promising thing. California went after modern technologies in the transportation area when the peace dividend did not visit California years ago and its aerospace and defense industries suffered severely. We transitioned a lot of those people to the revolution in new transportation technologies, electric cars, battery electric cars, other forms of transportation fuel and other forms of transportation. It worked. It's continuing to work and it can work across the whole threshold of green technologies that we're talking about now. So we're investing a lot of money in workforce training to accommodate the workforce to dealing with green technologies.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there on that note. Thank you for coming on the show.

James Boyd: Oh, it's indeed my pleasure, thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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