Category: Environmental Law


Hypermiling and EPA vehicle efficiency estimates

Thanks for the welcome, Daniel!

I’m just getting settled into being back in Madison after a long road trip to Texas and back, during which my partner D was generous in driving the entire time, because I am a wimpy (and not particularly skilled) driver. We decided to drive partly to reduce travel costs, and partly to lower our carbon footprint.

To make the drive more interesting, my partner (during stretches of little or no traffic) decided to practice some hypermiling techniques. The idea of hypermiling is to use various driving practices, like pulsing and gliding in order to exceed the US EPA’s estimated fuel efficiency on one’s vehicles. Some of the techniques used by hypermilers are are relatively noncontroversial (like keeping your car maintained), while others (like drafting off trucks to avoid wind resistance) are much more controversial (and many hypermilers avoid them). According to D, some of these techniques are more “fun” (like thinking about ways to use hills to one’s advantage, and planning one’s routes to avoid using the brake as much).

So what’s this foray into hypermiling accomplished? In our blue ’05 Prius, we managed to get over 70mpg (EPA’s combined city/highway estimate is 46 mpg), which is still nowhere near the over 100mpg that some hypermiling marathoners have achieved. In his defense, D’s just starting. But he still might need more practice before being anywhere near competitive in the upcoming 2008 Hybridfest MPG Challenge.

One interesting thing is the relationship between hypermiling and official estimated fuel efficiencies for vehicles. If gas prices keep increasing, will more people adopt some of the more efficient driving techniques of hypermiling? After all, there’s already been studies that suggest that the amount of driving has decreased as a result of high gas prices. So what if the amount of driving not only goes down, but the actual driving is done with gas efficiency in mind? Is there a point at which the EPA must change its techniques for estimating vehicle efficiency to adapt to changing driver practices?

Update: As commenter Jon Garfunkel points out, there’s a lot more nuance to this.

The historically cheap price of gas in the U.S. (and vast size of the country, and commutes) hadn’t encouraged enough drivers to think about buying fuel efficient cars. So the Energy Tax Act of 1978 added the “gas guzzler tax” to push the disincentives up front to the purchase of a new car (strictly speaking, it’s assessed to the manufacturer, who duly passes it along in the total sticker price.) After all, even the most economically rational consumer can best weigh in the cost of gas today, not in the future, when they’ll be buying most of it.

There’s one twist: the gas guzzler tax is calculated based on the EPA mileage estimate. And the EPA in fact changed their formula a year ago. They changed it not to reflect the obscure hypermileage subculture*, but instead some more real world factors of like the A/C, quick acceleration, etc. And thus it increased the number of cars subject to the gas guzzler tax. If fellow liberals here are looking for administrative measures over the last eight years to celebrate, this could be one of them.

Suing Big Energy for Global Warming?

The Tom Ashbrook show features two innovative (and perhaps quixotic) attorneys who are suing “24 oil, coal and electric companies” for global warming on behalf of the “tiny fishing village of Kivalina,” which is “falling into the sea.” I predict the defense will be reading David Dana’s paper “The Mismatch between Public Nuisance Law and Global Warming” very closely.

Meanwhile, Dean Saul Levmore of Chicago predicts a “battle of the generations” on the issue, while Eric Posner and Cass Sunstein discuss what justice requires the US to do here. I was disappointed that these discussions did not adequately focus (or perhaps ignored–but I can’t claim to have listened to every minute) on the extraordinary waste of energy in much of the US (and some other parts of the developed world). Autos in Europe & Asia routinely get much better mileage; just consider these stats on fleetwide standards for new vehicles:

Japan: 46 MPG

EU: 43 MPG

China: 36 MPG

US Cars: 27.5 MPG

US Light Trucks: 22.2 MPG

Since 1980, consider how the following countries’ oil consumption moved:

Denmark: Down 33%

Sweden: Down 32%

Germany: Down 20%

France: Down 14%

Finland: Down 14%

Italy: Down 13%

Japan: Up 0.2%

UK: Up 2%

US: Up 21%

Now there’s a real triumph for the US’s resistance to “central planning” for a sustainable future.

I’m sure that many great and good legal analysts will be mocking the Alaska nuisance suit against big energy. But they might want to consider first what alternative exists given the apparent stranglehold of big energy over the US political process, and the warped priorities that predictably brings. It’s all very well to sign up for a “Pigou Club,” but when you’re inextricably tied to politicians who oppose even the most minimal steps toward energy independence, it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that you really care about the problem.

Dilemmas of the Cheap Aesthetic

I’ve frequently taken aim at “expensive tastes” on this blog. It seems like the corollary of that critique would be praise for inexpensive tastes, or a cheap aesthetic. This may well be the cheapest music video ever made (American Princes, Never Grow Old):

Here’s the band’s (promoter’s) description of the video on YouTube:

Take a moment and think back to the younger years. All you have is a pen, notebook paper, and an imagination. No distractions to interrupt you, just you and the music in your head. How would you envision your new favorite rock band? American Princes captures this innocent moment with their music video, Never Grow Old. It will effortlessly and entertainingly take you back to simplicity . . . . It’s new, fresh, ingenious, and original.

The simulations here are not merely simple (unlike, say, Justice’s graphics-dominated video for DVNO), but are quite a lot less resource-intensive than, say, real drums, guitars, stages, etc. Never Grow Old reminded me of Albert C. Lin’s article Virtual Consumption: A Second Life for Earth (2008 BYU L. Rev. 47), which provides a creative response to the Malthusian dilemmas I was discussing yesterday.

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On the Colloquy: Jurisdiction and Climate Change


This week, the Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy published a response by Professor Scott Dodson regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowles v. Russell. He responded to critiques by Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Mr. E. King Poor, and Professor Perry Dane and defended his position that the Court disrupted prior precedent in Bowles. To see all of the pieces in the series, click here.

Last week, Professor Howard M. Wasserman responded to Professor Dodson’s Article In Search of Removal Jurisdiction, 102 Nw. U. L. Rev. 55 (2008). His Essay examines the connections between jurisdiction, merits, and procedure, when the connections come into play, and how to separate them out.

On February 11, Professor Robert L. Glicksman participated in the ongoing debate on climate change legislation. He discussed which federal agencies should be responsible for implementing climate change regulation, the proper measure of discretion that Congress should afford these various agencies, and whether the regulation should trump state and local initiatives. To see all pieces in the series, click here.

For more, go to the Colloquy archives page, and remember to check back each week for new content.

Tex-ternalities and the China/Europe Spectrum

I’ve recently come across these three facts about Texas:

1) About 60% of US executions occur in Texas.

2) About 20% of children in Texas do not have health insurance–almost twice the national average.

3) Texas produces more greenhouse gas emissions than California and New York combined.

When I first saw these figures, I thought that Texas may be burdening the US with some “reputational externalities” abroad, manifest in books like Vernon God Little. The judges who awarded it the Booker Prize called it a “coruscating black comedy reflecting our alarm but also our fascination with America.”

Some economic theories predict that these externalities will eventually be internalized. For example, there are many stories about a European condo-buying boom in New York; I haven’t seen as much on residential real estate purchases by overseas buyers in Texas. According to Anup Malani, “The value of a law [may] be judged [in part] by the extent to which it raises housing prices.” So perhaps more highly valued laws elsewhere in America will push up housing prices, comparatively enriching those property owners.

On the other hand, perhaps Texas’s policies are a bid to flatter China by imitation. Pollution in places like Shenzhen is a big problem (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Executions are common. And China’s decisions about health care in the 1980s and 90s might warm many laissez-faire hearts: “From 1978 to 1999, the central government’s share of national health care spending fell from 32 percent to 15 percent [and] the central government drastically reduced its ability and commitment to redistribute health care resources from wealthy areas to poor areas.”

Looking at world trends, a modern-day Tocqueville might think that the US’s future lay in political development of either a Chinese or EU variety. Texas appears to be a red state in more ways than one.


What I Want for Christmas (Sort of)

Popular Mechanics has a fun piece about a car company called Aptera. It looks cool and is made here in the U.S.A. In fact it is made up the road from me in Carlsbad, CA. The hybrd prototype will cost $30K according to the company. It can get a claimed 300 mpg. The available all electric gets, well it is not mpg, but has a 120 mile range. That one seems like the same problem all electrics had before: short range and need to plug in. Still the vehicle looks like fun. Apparently it handles well too. Why do I want it? Well honestly I love the idea that such a cool car is designed and built in the U.S. The price seems right too. If the company does well I hope some massive U.S. automaker buys them (making the Aptera people as rich as they may deserve to be) and regains some leadership in the car market. In addition, the company and the approach reminds me of the small, dedicated aerospace companies of California’s past. They went on to greatness. Maybe these folks or others like them will enjoy that type of success too. So that is what I really want for Christmas and having the car is just a proxy for the idea. Then again if someone wanted to give me one, I wouldn’t object.

Here’s the video:


Cherry Pies, Candy Bars, and Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Nobel Peace Prize Concert

Nobel_Prize_Medal_2.jpgAl Gore and Rajendra Pachauri, the head of and representing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change. Yes, it is an important issue. Here are Gore’s speech and Pauchari’s speech on behalf of the IPCC. Gore pulled out the stops and invoked Churchill and Hitler. The IPCC speech detailed many problems including one I recall from years ago when I took a class called the Water Planet at Berkeley. The professor had a few lectures on the science and then hammered water policy. This was around 1990 and I remember thinking his points about wars and conflicts turning on water policy were quite persuasive. Today they seem prescient. Gore’s and others’ calls for legislation and ways to address an event that will shape our future pose numerous fascinating and complex questions that require much thought. Maybe that is why I was distracted by the gala aspect of the Prize. I had always thought of the Nobel ceremony as a somber event when I read some of the speeches in high school. Apparently things are bit more festive than I realized.

First there is a banquet, “an event many would pay a fortune to attend.” (seriously right there at the home page) The banquet page details all the themes and history behind the dinner. As if that were not enough there is a big show that was almost thwarted until Kevin Spacey stepped in to cover for Tommy Lee Jones as co-host with Uma Thurman at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Yes, folks, the Nobel Peace Prize concert. The Web site looks more like an Academy Awards event than I expected. Alicia Keys, Annie Lennox, Kylie Minogue, Earth Wind & Fire, Melissa Etheridge, Morten Harket, KT Tunstall, Juanes, Junoon, Nick Davies (conductor) and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra perform. Wikipedia has a nice entry about the history of the concert which dates from 1994. Take a look there are some impressive names in there not to mention some Nobel Prize winners. (Sinead O’Connor singing in front of Arafat, Peres, and Rabin must have been surreal. Boyz II Men performed one year. The list is fascinating.)

Now although I do think that the issue is important I think that the committee erred. Maybe Earth Wind & Fire were a nod to the elements and the environment or maybe people miss that fat horn section (I do). Regardless the obvious choice should have been a reunion of Talking Heads and the song has to have been (Nothing But) Flowers. It was 1988 and environmental commentary with intelligent, witty satire flew. (Here are some choice lines but listen to the whole thing. “The highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture … We used to microwave, now we just eat nuts and berrries. This was a discount store now it’s turned into a corn field”). Not to mention the world music aspect of the song seems to fit with the Nobel Prizes. The album is Naked (I also recommend Remain In Light arguably a masterpiece). You ask where is this song? As Talking Heads might say you got it.

image: Wikicommons

cross-posted at Madisonian


Law Talk: Linda Malone on Litigating Global Warming

In this episode we hear from my colleague Linda Malone, at William & Mary Law School. Linda is an expert on international law, national security law, and the legal issues surrounding global warming. In this episode Linda discusses new litigation strategies that are using domestic courts as a way of enforcing international norms on global warming, as well as forcing action by domestic regulators. Her remarks were originally delivered as the St. George Tucker Lecture at William & Mary, which is given each year to honor the scholarlly accomplishments of a senior member of the law faculty.

You can subscribe to “Law Talk” using iTunes or Feedburner. You can also visit the “Law Talk” page at the iTunes store. For previous episodes of Law Talk at Co-Op click here.

Why did the US try to Undermine EU Safety Regulation?

As a website relates, “Mark Schapiro’s new book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products investigates how corporations intent on thwarting stricter environmental and health guidelines here in the U.S. are forced to meet new demands by the European Union.” An excerpt from the book compares the U.S.’s oft-toothless Toxic Substances Control Act to the EU’s scheme for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH). Schapiro notes that “REACH amounts to a revolution in how chemicals are managed, and in how production decisions around the world will be made from now on.”

As REACH was being crafted, the U.S. decided to intervene decisively:

[A]s REACH was being debated in the European Parliament from 2003 to 2006, the U.S. government and the nation’s industries teamed up to undertake an unprecedented international lobbying effort to kill or

radically weaken the proposal. The assault came from an assortment of government and industry offices.

A memo that circulated at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs denounced REACH as too “costly, burdensome, and complex” for industry to follow. . . [A] Commerce Department brief warned, “hundreds of thousands of Americans could be thrown out of their jobs.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick submitted a protest to the World Trade Organization asserting that REACH amounted to a “non-tariff” barrier to foreign exporters.

Though REACH promises to become a world standard, the U.S. may soon see itself in the position that Larry Summers recommended for LDC’s: “our nation’s steady retreat from environmental leadership means it may soon become a dumping ground for chemicals deemed too hazardous by more progressive countries.” Schapiro suggests that the bottom line will be an relative increase in European power and quality of life: “American consumers are more at risk than their European counterparts[;] the European Union is . . . gaining the upper hand in regulating the behavior of multinational corporations; and [the EU] is thus amassing more economic power.”

Yoshida Battles the Pink Jellyfish

pinkjellyfish.jpgThe WSJ has a great story on a jellyfish invasion in Japanese waters:

Fisherman Ryoichi Yoshida pulled in his nets before dawn one morning, hoping for lots of yellowtail and mackerel. But the fish were overwhelmed by a heaving mass of living pink slime. The creatures, called Nomura jellyfish, can measure six feet across and weigh up to about 450 pounds.

Fish poisoned by jellyfish tentacles die with their mouths agape. That mars their appearance and reduces their value by as much as 20%. “When their mouths are wide open, it means they’ve died going, ‘I’m in pain! I’m in pain!’ ” explains Mr. Yoshida.

The jellyfish could lead to an international incident–either over Chinese industrialization, or global warming:

[A] computer model of ocean currents suggests the jellyfish are breeding off the Chinese coast near the mouth of the Yangtze River. One theory is that pollution, perhaps linked to industrialization in China, is helping create more algae in the sea. The algae are food for plankton, which is food for jellyfish. . . . [But the] dean of the Ocean University of China [says] “Floating jellyfish are mostly in the Sea of Japan….That’s Japan and Korea’s problem.”

One fear among scientists is that the creatures are multiplying in a “jellyfish spiral.” Shinichi Uye, a leading jellyfish researcher at Hiroshima University in western Japan, thinks overfishing off China has led to fewer plankton-eating fish, leaving more plankton for the jellyfish to suck up. This growing army of jellyfish then also eats fish eggs, resulting in even fewer fish.

If China is helping to generate giant pink jellyfish, it will be interesting to see if any international body can do anything to control the problem. On the other hand, the new popularity of “vanilla-and-jellyfish ice cream” shows that the industrious can turn even the most noxious pests into a blessing in disguise.

Photo Credit: Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.