Electric cars and auto fuel efficiency may create a government revenue challenge

An article in the current issue of Slate magazine highlights the economic changes that may be required as a result of the growing adoption of electric, hybrid, and more fuel efficient vehicles. Unfortunately some governments may even reverse some of their previous support for EVs rather than finding ways to properly address the problem. According to the article, the legislature of the state of Georgia has voted to scrap the existing $5,000 tax credit for electric vehicles and instead charge a $200 registration fee on such vehicles. Washington state already charges a $100 annual tax on electric cars and Virginia has a $64 tax on hybrids. The problem, at least in part, is not that these states want to penalize EV owners but that increasing adoption of EVs is harming state highway-related revenues.

The Slate article states that hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars account for about 3% of car sales in the US. In addition, vehicle fuel efficiency has increased by 26% since 2007, resulting in a 4% drop in gasoline sales over the same period. From an environmental perspective that is great news, but from an economic perspective it is bad news not only for petroleum companies but also for governments, most of which derive significant revenues from gasoline taxes. The temptation to increase taxes on EVs to counteract falling gas tax revenue is just too great for many politicians.

Oregon is reportedly planning to pilot a road use tax system that is based on miles driven – a fully automated road toll system. The amount a driver pays would be based on the number of miles driven, regardless of the fuel used. The toll system would partially or wholly replace fuel taxes. A mileage-based road tax, perhaps also linked to vehicle weight, another important factor in wear and tear of roads, would seem to GallonDaily to be a much more fair system for raising funds for road construction and maintenance than a fuel tax. Available technology, already being used by some auto insurance companies to monitor driving habits and adjust insurance rates accordingly, could automate the tolling process at relatively low cost.

Such a scheme may be more fair and have greater environmental advantages than fuel taxes but it will still be a very tough sell to voters. It is a dialogue with which environmentally concerned organizations and voters should consider engaging.

The Slate magazine article referenced above, with a more in-depth approach than presented here, is available at http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_juice/2015/04/georgia_passes_200_electric_car_fee_why_are_states_punishing_people_for.html

GallonDaily’s editor is a happy driver of a mostly electric vehicle for which he has received some Ontario government incentives.

Neonics: first bees, now monarchs

Researchers at South Dakota State University and the US Department of Agriculture Research Laboratory at Brookings, South Dakota, have published research results which indicate that a neonicotinoid pesticide could be acting as a stressor to monarch butterfly populations. The effects on monarch larvae were observed  at a pesticide concentration of one part per billion on milkweed, the sole food plant for monarch larvae, equivalent to the potential concentration of the neonic pesticide on milkweed plants growing in a field adjacent to a corn field in which neonic pesticides are being applied.

According to the researchers, neonics are now the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the world.

No doubt the manufacturers and users of neonic pesticides will go ballistic in their efforts to decry this research. GallonDaily suggests that they are now very much on the losing side of the battle and that, without a major change to the formulation of neonic pesticides, the products will sooner or later face restrictions and bans. After all, those who harm honey bees and monarch butterflies are unlikely to win friends among the environmentalist, school kid, and concerned consumer segments of the population.

Gallondaily has written about neonics before, and may do so again. The purpose of this article is to suggest that food retailers not seek to jump on the anti-neonic bandwagon, something that we expect will start sooner or later. The research reported briefly above makes it apparent that trying to sell food as free from neonics, or as from farms that are neonic free, may be an unwise strategy. Even organic food is likely to be contaminated with these extremely low levels of neonics if it is grown in proximity to farms that use neonics. People generally do not eat milkweed, though some parts of the plant, flower buds and young seed pods, are edible. There is no evidence to date that neonics at very low levels on food plants cause harm to human health, so claims that a food product is neonic free could cause problems with label claim regulators who may argue that any such claim is inherently misleading.

GallonDaily suspects that there are claims that can be made for human food products that are grown without use of neonics and that are therefore not contributing to the decline of honey bees and monarch butterflies but the wording of such claims will have to be developed carefully and with considerable assistance from experts in product  environmental claims. Regulators are often all too ready to pounce on claims that harm the big players in the agricultural sector.

The article Non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies can be found at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-015-1270-y The abstract is free; there is a fee, or journal subscription required, for the full article.

Large electricity companies are facing massive downsizing by ~2030

An analysis by researchers with the Rocky Mountain Institute, co-founded by well-known energy guru Amory Lovins, and Homer energy, a private sector spin-off from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, finds that electricity from solar photovoltaic systems will replace the majority of grid-provided electricity, likely by as soon as 2030. The impact on large suppliers of electricity and on distribution companies is likely to be enormous.

Among the findings in this 13 page report:

  • solar-plus-battery systems are rapidly becoming cost effective.
  • the grid’s contribution to electricity supply will shrink from 100% today for commercial customers to ~25% by around 2030 to less than 5% by 2050.
  • large kWh defection could undermine revenue for grid investment under the current rate structure and business models.
  • eliminating net metering only delays kWh loss; fixed charges don’t “fix” the problem

The researchers recommend that the electricity industry and its owners/regulators need to act quickly on three fronts:

  • evolved pricing and rate structures;
  • new business models; and
  • new regulatory models.

A brief summary and links to the executive summary and full report (free, but name and email address are required) are available at http://www.rmi.org/electricity_load_defection

CBC presents false information about electric cars

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets have been claiming over the last few days that a newly published study shows that “even if every driver in Canada made the switch, from gas to electric, the total emissions might not actually go down”. This information is totally false and is not what the study shows.

The study shows, quite correctly, that if drivers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia switched from gasoline to electric vehicles, emissions would rise. This is because much of the electricity in those provinces comes from coal. However, in all other provinces, switching from gasoline to electric vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the three provinces account for less than 17% of Canada’s population, the increased emissions that would arise from electric vehicles would be outweighed by the improvement in emissions arising from the switch to electric vehicles in the other provinces. If every Canadian switched to an electric vehicle, an unlikely scenario over the next decade, the impact on emissions would of course depend on the sources the provinces choose for the increased electricity demand but it seems unlikely much of that the additional power requirements would be met with coal.

The CBC has corrected the story in some of its reporting but incorrect information still remains on its website and was repeated on the flagship radio program The Current this morning.

The following is a brief summary of the commentary by Christopher Kennedy, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto:

  • To reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the short term, and catalyse longer-term cuts, countries should reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation to below a universal target of about 600 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour by 2020. 
  • The world average carbon intensity for electricity production in 2011 was 536 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour
  • In Canada, four provinces have grids under 20 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour, while Alberta and Saskatchewan have high carbon intensities >750 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour.
  • If sub-regions with such carbon-intensive power grids can be encouraged to meet the 600-ton threshold, then this would bring national average intensities down even further.
  • It may be possible to provide all of the worlds electricity needs from renewable sources.

GallonDaily has no difficulty with Professor Kennedy’s commentary but takes objection to the inaccurate way in which the CBC and other media outlets have interpreted it. One CBC article, not the most egregious offender in misinterpretation of the scientific commentary, and a link to Prof. Kennedy’s three page commentary can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-march-24-2015-1.3006711/switching-to-an-electric-car-isn-t-always-good-for-the-environment-1.3006734

Canada West Foundation calls for provincial, not federal, climate initiatives

In an interview with CBC radio’s The 180, Trevor McLeod, Director of the Centre for Natural Resources Policy at the Canada West Foundation, argues that the provinces, not the federal government, should be responsible for climate policies within their own jurisdictions. It is rumoured that the Ontario government also prefers an Ontario-led climate initiative rather than a federal initiative.

McLeod’s arguments appear to include:

provinces jealously guard natural resource ownership,

environment is a shared jurisdiction under the Constitution, and

differences among provincial economies make a one-size-fits-all approach impractical.

He appears to believe that if climate change is left to the provinces they will come together to develop an overarching national climate change program that can be presented to the world as a Canadian initiative.

GallonDaily believes that this Canada West Foundation proposal should be rejected by business, particularly those businesses that have greenhouse gas emitting operations in more than one province or that ship products between provinces. Sooner or later, climate initiatives will inevitably affect more than just the largest emitters. The only way to reach the targets to which Canada has committed is to apply carbon-reducing initiatives to every sector of society. This can be done through carbon taxes, numerous forms of cap and trade program, incentives, and regulations. If action is left to the provinces we suggest that history shows that each and every province will head in a different direction. Substantial coordination among the provinces is unlikely. So companies doing business in more than one province will face:

  • carbon taxes in some provinces but not in others, as already exists
  • cap and trade programs that encompass some provinces but not others and that have different reporting requirements in different provinces
  • industrial and end-user incentive programs that vary from province to province
  • greenhouse gas emissions regulations that are different in each province
  • tailpipe emission regulations which change whenever a vehicle crosses a provincial boundary
  • some provincial requirements based on resource extraction while others are based on utilization of the resource

Companies dealing with packaging stewardship are already grumbling loudly about the inefficiency, from a business perspective, of the several different stewardship models in use across the country. Imagine how much more arduous dealing with ten or more different greenhouse gas emissions control regimes would be.

The radio interview and a brief summary can be heard/seen at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/the180/niqab-ban-endangered-species-three-party-candidate-1.3000139/should-carbon-pricing-fall-to-provinces-regions-or-the-feds-1.3000523 

US Federal Government climate mitigation plan requires supply chain and contractor compliance

Under the heading Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, President Obama this week issued an Executive Order requiring the US Federal Government to begin implementing a climate change mitigation program for its own activities. Among the requirements are that executive departments and agencies shall:

  • increase efficiency and improve their environmental performance. Improved environmental performance will help us protect our planet for future generations and save taxpayer dollars through avoided energy costs and increased efficiency, while also making Federal facilities more resilient. To improve environmental performance and Federal sustainability, priority should first be placed on reducing energy use and cost, then on finding renewable or alternative energy solutions. Pursuing clean sources of energy will improve energy and water security, while ensuring that Federal facilities will continue to meet mission requirements and lead by example. Employing this strategy for the next decade calls for expanded and updated Federal environmental performance goals with a clear overarching objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across Federal operations and the Federal supply chain. Under the order the head of each department and agency is required to:
  • within 90 days of the date of this order, propose to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget percentage reduction targets for agency-wide reductions of scope 1 and 2 and scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms by the end of fiscal year 2025 relative to a fiscal year 2008 baseline.
  • where life-cycle cost-effective, beginning in fiscal year 2016, unless otherwise specified promote building energy conservation, efficiency, and management.
  • promote sustainable acquisition and procurement by ensuring that specified environmental performance and sustainability factors are included to the maximum extent practicable for all applicable procurements in the planning, award, and execution phases of the acquisition. This includes recycled content products, energy and water efficient products and services, BioPreferred and biobased products, and environmentally preferable products and services.
  • for the seven largest Federal procuring agencies, submit for consideration plans to implement at least five new procurements annually in which the agency may include, as appropriate, contract requirements for vendors or evaluation criteria that consider contractor emissions and greenhouse gas emissions management practices.

The 11 page highly detailed order includes many more requirements and specific numerical targets in each area. It is essential reading for Canadian companies doing, or seeking to do, business with the US government. While the actual greenhouse gas reductions that will be achieved by the order are quite small, in the case of most departments and agencies, the leadership that it provides, as well as the compliance that will result from the multitude of US companies doing business with the government, is likely to be substantial.

The full order can be read and copied from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/19/executive-order-planning-federal-sustainability-next-decade

Crowdsourcing the search for tigers

As part of a conservation program, researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK are seeking to count, track and study the behaviour of tigers around the world. To do that they have asked the global community of internet users to assist. Given the popularity of tigers and the support for tiger conservation efforts this is likely to be a very popular initiative to help the scientific community and one which could provide a model not just for animal conservation but also for other scientific crowdsourcing initiatives which have popular appeal. Those who choose to work on the project will be volunteers.

The project team points out that a Google search for tiger identifies 139 million results. Some of these are for real tigers but many are not. In order to catalogue the real tigers the researchers are asking project participants to help go through these 139 web sites seeking photographs of real tigers. The real tiger photographs will be catalogued along with data as to date, time, location, etc. This will result in a database of photos of real tigers. The team hopes that facial recognition software will be able to work on the database and identify the number of distinct individual tigers that exist in the world today.

Although the idea of sorting through more than 139 million photographs and web pages, because new photographs of tigers taken by tourists, locals, biologists, and others are being added to the internet all the time, seems somewhat fantastical, if the project attracts say 300,000 people then each one has to review less than 500 web pages and pictures. Given that many will be about such things as football teams (the Hamilton Tiger Cats), stuffed toys, and pet cats called Tiger the enormous task becomes very manageable. GallonDaily applauds the research team for their creative and almost zero environmental approach to tracking tigers and encourages others to be just as creative when seeking solutions to big data challenges.

Details of the project, known as Wildsense, can be found at http://www.wildsense.org  The app which powers the project has just been released for Ipad.

World Vision campaign against child labour has great motives but may have a downside

This week World Vision Canada released an infographic identifying the parts of the world and the product categories where child labour is rampant. World Vision’s “No Child for Sale” effort is laudable but GallonDaily can’t help but wonder whether tarring such a broad range of categories and products might not have unintended consequences if consumers decide to boycott the complete World Vision list:

  • Argentina
    • berries
    • onions/shallots/garlic/leeks
  • Bangladesh
    • apparel
    • footwear
    • shrimp
    • agriculture
  • Brazil
    • coffee
    • sugar
  • Cambodia
    • apparel
  • China
    • apparel
    • toys/games
    • telephones
    • sporting goods
  • Costa Rica
    • bananas
    • melons
    • pumpkins/squash
  • Dominican Republic
    • vegetables
  • Ecuador
    • bananas
    • shrimp
  • El Salvador
    • sugar
  • Guatemala
    • vegetables
    • coffee
    • sugar
  • Honduras
    • melons
  • India
    • apparel
    • footwear
    • rice
    • beans/legumes
    • onions/shallots/garlic/leeks
    • tea
    • spices
  • Indonesia
    • footwear
    • shrimp
    • fish
    • coffee
    • spices
  • Kenya
    • tea
  • Mexico
    • vegetables
    • fruits
    • coffee
    • sugar
  • Nicaragua
    • bananas
  • Pakistan
    • rice
  • Peru
    • vegetables
    • coffee
  • Philippines
    • fish
  • South Africa
    • fruits
  • Sri Lanka
    • tea
    • rice
  • Thailand
    • apparel
    • shrimp
  • Turkey
    • fruits
  • Vietnam
    • apparel

GallonDaily understands that World Vision is seeking to encourage people to sign its petition to ask the Canadian Government to work with Canadian companies to help consumers access information about what companies are doing to identify, address and prevent child labour in their supply chains. We support that goal but cannot help but worry that well-meaning Canadians may well choose to boycott the listed products without realizing that many of the listed products from these countries are produced without the involvement of child labour and perhaps even in reasonably sustainable ways that help support and develop the economic well-being of the population of these developing countries. Broad brush strokes are not always the best approach to complex challenges like that of child labour. However, if the business response to the World Vision campaign is to quickly implement programs of certification of products as being free from child labour, maybe everyone’s objective will have been achieved.

The World Vision infographic is available at http://nochildforsale.ca/resource/infographic-mapping-global-imports-to-canada/globalmap_final-combined1-2/ and the full campaign can be viewed starting at http://nochildforsale.ca/

Feeding bread to birds is not a good idea but don’t let us discourage you or your family from feeding birds

The feeding of birds seems to be an increasingly controversial topic these days. In many towns and cities bylaws have been passed to restrict or ban the feeding of birds because of the mess, and sometimes the noise, that a large number of birds can create. Despite the bylaws many people, especially elders and children, can be found feeding pigeons, ducks, and other feathered friends in public places. GallonDaily is inclined to think that providing food to birds provides some primal benefit, just as does the housing of cats, dogs, and other pets, and that it should not be prohibited. Indeed there may be reasons to encourage the feeding of birds, both for conservation and for human benefit.

Now a UK charity, Canal and River Trust, has published a series of web pages under the heading Help us keep our ducks healthy. Among the findings of the Trust:

  • going to your local park to throw stale bread at ducks is completely wrong.
  • every year over 6 million loaves of bread are thrown into Britain’s canals and rivers by well-intentioned people feeding the ducks.
  • throwing bread into a river can create overcrowding of bird populations, as the birds will flock to the same location in search of their starchy treat.
  • too many ducks or waterfowl in one place can stress the birds and lead to their habitats being damaged. It also creates excessive amounts of bird poo, which along with being smelly and slippery underfoot, can impair water quality and create harmful algae which can clog the waterway.
  • bread is essentially “junk food” for ducks, and the remnants left behind encourage rats, disease and algae.
  • ducklings that are fed on bread end up being malnourished, while birds that get used to hand-outs can lose their natural fear of humans and may become “aggressive”.
  • people are urged to feed ducks with frozen peas and sweetcorn instead. Ducks are also reportedly partial to grapes, which should be cut into quarters to make them easier to eat.
  • oats, barley, rice and vegetable trimmings are also acceptable replacements for stale bread.

The full series of articles, including some recipes for alternative uses for stale bread, can be found at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/news-and-views/features/help-us-keep-our-ducks-healthy


3M adopts more sustainable pulp and paper sourcing policy

3M has announced a new pulp and paper sourcing policy that it claims is designed to ensure that all the virgin wood fibre going into 3M’s paper-based products and packaging comes from sources that protect forests and respect human rights. Under the new policy, all paper-based products and packaging suppliers are required to provide information on the original forest sources of the virgin pulp in 3M’s products, and allow those sources to be assessed against 3M’s policy. It also sets standards related to social concerns, including respect for workers’ rights and indigenous peoples’ rights to free, prior and informed consent to operations on their traditional lands.  3M has been under pressure from environmental groups for several years to strengthen its commitment to protect forests and endangered wildlife, and to support rights of forest-impacted communities.

Among the numerous elements of the policy are:

  • 3M expects that all pulp, paper and packaging from its suppliers contains wood or plant-based fibre that is legally harvested, sourced, transported and exported from its country of origin. 3M also expects that its pulp, paper and packaging suppliers will work to assure and verify that virgin wood fibre and plant-based fibre provided to 3M is traceable through the supply chain back to the source of harvest.
  • Pulp and paper must not be from areas where natural forests with high carbon stock are being converted to other land uses or plantations and must be obtained in a manner that respects the rights and safety of workers, including no forced or child labour, no employment discrimination, and the freedom to associate.
  • 3M will use information on  responsible forest management, including scientifically-credible ecosystem-based management, good forest planning, minimizing impacts of road building and logging, protection of watershed areas, support for local communities, and responsible chemical usage as a factor for preference in supplier selection.

3M’s new pulp and paper procurement policy is likely to encourage other consumer products manufacturers to move in a similar direction. Historically sustainable procurement policies have served only to reshuffle markets so that more sustainable products go to those companies which demand them while less sustainable, or unsustainable, products go to those which are less discriminating, often in developing countries. However sustainable pulp and paper markets are now beginning to approach a size where suppliers of unsustainable products may be forced by market economics to move to more sustainable sources of supply. There are fewer and fewer markets for unsustainably produced pulp and paper. Those companies that are still marketing products sourced from unsustainable sources or without credible third party verification can expect to feel increased pressure from environmental advocates and from consumers.