Kipp Coddington, with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kazmarek Mowrey Cloud Laseter, said there are many factors driving adoption of "green" vehicles that have nothing to do with government incentives or Congressional gridlock.
PHOENIX -- What should you expect in President Obama's second term? A single word: gridlock. The current government shutdown is just one more symptom of a Congress that hasn't passed a budget since 2007. Yet that might not affect green fleets' investments in clean-burning and alternative fueled vehicles as much as you might think, said Kipp Coddington, with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kazmarek Mowrey Cloud Laseter, Tuesday during the breakfast keynote address of the Green Fleet Conference.
Speaking to a mixture of government, private and for-hire fleets running everything from company cars to medium and heavy duty trucks, Coddington told the audience, "The innovators for the U.S. are sitting here today – they are not sitting inside the Beltway. You should not be distracted by what is going on in Washington, D.C."
The national debt, approaching $17 trillion, or more than $52,000 for each U.S. citizen, is the primary thing motivating the current level of dysfunction in Washington, he said. "People in Washington are saying, 'We don't really understand this, but it's out of control so we're going to shut it down,'" he explained. "Until this is resolved and I don't think it's going to be resolved anytime soon, folks coming to Washington for assistance aren't going to find it."
And that probably includes incentives for buying alternative fueled vehicles, he said. As the government faces continuing expenditures for programs such as social security and healthcare, he said, it will have less money for discretionary spending on things like infrastructure and environmental programs.
For instance, there are a number of alternative fuel tax incentives expiring Dec. 31, he said, including a cellulosic biofuel producer credit and incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel. Don't expect them to be extended again at the end of this year, he said. "So if you want these incentives, use them now – they won't be here come January."
However, Coddington emphasized, there are many factors driving adoption of "green" vehicles that have nothing to do with government incentives or Congressional gridlock.
Regulations 'Baked In'
The price of electricity may go up as the government slaps more regulations on coal-fired power plants.
"The cake is already baked" in terms of environmental requirements for vehicles and fuels that will take effect during Obama's second term. For instance, he said, "ambient air quality standards are on automatic pilot." Air quality standards for things such as ozone and particulate matter going to continue to get stricter. "They are reviewed every five years and they are never relaxed." As these standards tighten, more cities, regions and states will be in non-attainment status, and will be "scrambling to come up with more stringent emissions controls on fleets. So green fleets are ahead of the game."
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Tier 3 standards that would reduce tailpipe and evaporative emissions from light-duty vehicles, medium-duty passenger vehicles and some heavy-duty vehicles between 2017 and 2025.
There are also the new fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. "There are still a small a mount of legal battles on these, but I think they will ultimately withstand legal challenge," Coddington said. "Light-duty standards are baked into the cake till 2025," he added, noting the automotive industry has done an outstanding job of working with the agency instead of fighting it.
For medium and heavy-duty trucks, those new GHG standards go into effect with the 2014 model year and run through MY 2018, the end of Obama's second term. Over the summer, the President announced plans for phase 2 of the program starting with MY 2019 trucks.
"So these standards are largely immune from gridlock in Washington, D.C."
The government is also looking at fuel, with a recent proposal to further reduce sulfur levels in gasoline. California's low-carb fuel standard "has faced a withering blizzard of legal challenges, and to date all those challenges have been parried to the side, although there are a few remaining."
There is a chance that at some point we could see a national low-carbon fuel standard, he said, but it will probably take years and years of regulation-writing. So it won't happen in Obama's second term, "but I don't think this issue will go away."
Meanwhile, the renewable fuel standard, which requires blenders of on-road transportation fuel, primarily gasoline, to blend in increasing amounts of renewable fuels (mostly ethanol), has faced intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill, with some bipartisan opposition, Coddington said. The EPA said it will address some of these issues next year. "I don't think ethanol is going to go away, but it's possible that its peak of political support is behind it."
Coddington also noted that there has been a lot of talk about electricity as a transportation fuel, but more stringent regulations upstream on coal-fired power plants, which provide about 30% of the nation's electricity, could mean higher electricity prices.
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