Electric cars, the EPA, and us

The Island has become a major leader in combating climate change, especially regarding carbon emissions. Massachusetts has designated several towns as green communities, which, as The Times has reported, allows them to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars for renewable energy projects (“Aquinnah is now a Green Community,” Feb. 13).

Last month, I attended an informational meeting at the Chilmark Community Center hosted by the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee, which includes representatives from all six towns. The speaker was its chairman, Robert Hannemann, a retired Tufts University engineering professor. He focused on the Island’s vision of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 (see his op/ed in the Times’s Oct. 23 issue).

He pointed out several opportunities for residents to reduce their carbon footprint. One is that when we must replace furnaces or boilers in our homes and commercial and town buildings, we should purchase energy-efficient heat pumps. Another is for us to drive electric or hybrid vehicles.

In our house, we have reduced our heating fuel bill by adding heat pumps. As for driving, we are shamefully behind. Our early 2000s Ford is, bluntly, a gas guzzler, emitting way too much carbon into the atmosphere.

In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency gave automakers 13 years to meet new emissions standards that required their vehicles to average 54 miles per gallon. This goal doubled the average distance that vehicles reached in miles per gallon. According to the New York Times, climate scientists estimate that the increase in gas mileage would cut emissions by 6 billion tons over the life of the more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Since 2017, the EPA, first under the disgraced administrator, Scott Pruitt, who was forced to resign, and now under the current head, Andrew Wheeler, has eliminated approximately 100 regulations concerning clean air, clean water, and endangered species. Along with them, the agency has either removed or sidetracked scientists working in the field. 

The Interior Department’s director of science and technology policy, Indur M. Goklany, is a climate change denier. The New York Times reported on March 2 that he included misleading language in nine scientific reports because he claims there is “a lack of consensus among scientists that the earth is warming.”

Yet NASA has verified that 97 percent of scientists studying the climate agree that the earth is warming in an ever-increasing manner (see climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/).

The Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed a recent re-evaluation that the EPA undertook to justify eliminating the Obama-era regulations to increase gas mileage. The center noted that the “analysis is full of errors that grossly misrepresent the costs and benefits of the rollback, and ignores the years of work and thousands of pages of research that went into the Obama administration’s standards.”

The center quoted Jeff Alson, who spent 40 years at the EPA as an engineer, as saying, “I think they basically knew the answer that the White House wanted, and they were going to cook the books by twisting every knob in that model, all the assumptions, so they could get to the bottom-line results that the White House wanted, and it really made me kind of ashamed and appalled.”

In attempting to cancel Obama-era emissions rules, the current administration has, however, run into a critical personnel problem. It lacks competent people to implement a new policy. Two major missing studies lack competent experts to undertake them: an environmental impact study and a regulatory impact analysis. Those now working on the documents have no technical expertise to craft them.

Without these two studies completed at the highest scientific level, a court would likely reject the new rules.

The New York Times reported that when the Obama regulations went into effect, its report on the environment and regulatory impacts ran some 1,217 pages. According to Alson, “That’s the single most important document for the legal status of the rule. That’s where all the key numbers are explained and generated and supported.”

Eliminating scientists is not the administration’s only goal. In a study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, the administration in three years has had a turnover of 38 percent of high-level staffers, some more than once or twice: a figure higher than the past five presidencies. 

One example is the White House personnel office, which is now led by a 29-year-old, inexperienced novice whose previous position was as the president’s personal assistant until John Kelly, the president’s then chief of staff, dismissed him for undisclosed security reasons. His assistant is a George Washington University senior who is 23 years old.

Despite all this, Island residents, including me, will have to act to ensure that we can do our part to combat climate change. A good beginning is Hannemann’s advice to make those building and transportation replacements with heat pumps and electric or hybrid cars.

 

Jack Fruchtman, a part-time resident of Aquinnah, taught constitutional law and politics for over 40 years.