Environment Forum

A tax by any other name…

Can semantics help save the planet?

A showdown between leaders of Chevron Corp and the Sierra Club on Wednesday night revealed a number of shared beliefs between the two California institutions, particularly about the need for a transparent way of pricing carbon.

The debate at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on Wednesday night pitted Chevron CEO David O’Reilly against Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, and both agreed that limiting carbon emissions should involve some sort of levy imposed by the government – if only there was a word for such a thing.

“It would be much cleaner if there was a transparent cost on carbon that one could see,” O’Reilly said.

The moderator suggested that was a ‘tax’. “Nobody wants to talk about it,” O’Reilly replied. 

“Call it a fee,” Pope then suggested.

They also agreed that legislation which is workable in California or other states was not so easy to sell at a national level, even though the White House now seemed supportive, according to Pope.

Even hydrogen cars have a carbon problem

While it might not seem immediately obvious for a quietly purring car that drips water out its tailpipe, even hydrogen-powered vehicles have a carbon problem.

Given all the electricity needed to get hydrogen compressed and ready for the tank, that juice will need to come from solar, wind or (whisper it) nuclear power to get the fuel cells under the hood nearer to zero carbon output over the fuel’s ”life-cycle.” According to a Volkswagen manager developing the technology, the current mix of power generated on the U.S. grid is still too dirty.

The efficiency of the fuel cell is what makes these prototypes greener than the average gas gazzler, but then there’s also the “chicken and egg” problem of fuel distribution to consider. John Tillman, VW’s program manager for U.S. advanced powertrain research, said hydrogen refueling stations can cost two to three times as much as a gasoline equivalent to build.

VW on electric cars: “Please, lower your expectations”

Volkswagen’s U.S. chief ruffled some entrepreneurial feathers on Thursday when he told a group of business school students at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management that  it will be 35 years before electric cars make up a significant portion of the world’s auto market.

During his prepared remarks, Volkswagen Group of America CEO Stefan Jacoby outlined the German automaker’s view that fossil fuels and traditional combustion engines will be with us for many years to come. VW, however, is committed to making them vastly more fuel efficient. The company is also investing heavily in so-called clean diesel technology, which reduces tailpipe emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases while still giving cars their “fun-to-drive” pep.

“At Volkswagen we are taking a long-term and a short-term approach, and the short-term approach is not electric vehicles,” Jacoby said. “We can have cars on the road that have fuel consumption of 50, 60, 70 miles per gallon. That can happen in the next ten years.”

What bailout? Automakers lay out green future at L.A. show

 The car is king in Southern California, so what better place for stressed out auto executives to blow off some steam and take a break from their considerable recent troubles?

That’s exactly what they did this week at the Los Angeles auto show, where many car manufacturers laid out plans for electric, fuel cell and diesel cars that they say are key to reviving the ailing industry.

Volkswagen’s clean diesel Jetta TDI made the biggest splash, taking home the coveted “Green Car of the Year” award. It was the first time a diesel car has taken home the industry’s top environmental prize.