The War on the Internal Combustion Engine

Environmentalists have been waging a war on gasoline and diesel powered vehicles for decades.  The Clinton and Obama Administrations and the state of California have been in the forefront by increasing CAFÉ standards and imposing ever more stringent tailpipe standards as a way to drive up the cost of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles.  After the Kyoto Treaty in 1997, climate change became the major justification for pushing hybrids and electric vehicles and making climate change the justification for ever more stringent regulations and subsidies for hybrids and EVs.

So far, that strategy has not worked.  Gasoline prices peaked in July 2008 at $4.09 per gallon and have been lower since then providing the incentive to buy larger cars, SUVs, and pickups.  Last week, the national average was $2.57 a gallon.  The market for hybrids and EVs, which is not great, has been kept afloat by subsidies and tax credits, which were promoted by George W. Bush in 2007 to achieve energy security.  Even with that help, DOT data show only about 500,000 hybrids and EVs being sold from 2000-2015.

While advocates continue to promise a rosy future for electric vehicles, the challenge is daunting because subsidies will begin to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 vehicles.  As an example, EV sales were growing briskly in Georgia until the state cut its $5000 per vehicle tax credit, causing sales to drop from 1400 EVs per month to less than 100.

Subsidy phase-outs are not the only challenge. While battery costs per KHW have dropped, the cost of battery packs is still not commercially viable.  In spite of spending billions of dollars on battery research, the lithium ion battery remains the main source of EV electrical power.  And, its many limitations remain as well.  Those include range limits, charging times, and performance in hot and cold weather.  EVs may become viable when there is a technological breakthrough that solves these problem without the helping handout from government.

Although Obama EPA regulations were intended to further tilt the scales in favor of hybrids and EVs, the new philosophy at EPA is sending a different message.  So now, it is California that is the driving force with its zero emission requirements and Clean Air Act provisions that allow other states to opt-in to the California program.  So far 11 have.  Because California represents 10% of the domestic auto market, manufacturers continue to invest in battery powered vehicles.  But their main emphasis continues to be improvements in the performance and efficiency of the internal combustion engine.  Variable speed transmissions, turbocharged engines, improved engine oil lubricity, and direct injection.  Improvements in lubricants have been estimated potential efficiency gains of up to 15% while optimizing how internal combustion engines function could add another 25%. The bottom line is the engine efficiency has not reached its limits.

EPA would serve consumer interests by revising current tailpipe and emission standards so that they are based on real science, as opposed to ideological science, and on real environmental benefits.  Actual data show that air quality continues to improve.  Since 1980, carbon monoxide emissions are down84%, NOX 60%, and ozone 32% according to EPA data.  Those improvements will continue.  Analyses have demonstrated that any benefits from carbon dioxide reductions would be infinitesimal at best.

Revising the standards would force California to seek a new waiver, which should be denied.  Auto manufacturers should be freed from mandates that force them to make and sell cars at a loss so that technology, innovation, and market forces can determine what type of engine systems consumers want to buy.

Tax Reform: Class Warfare Bamboozle

Opponents of the tax reform bills working their way through Congress claim that they are a sell out to the rich, will increases taxes on the poor, and increase the deficit.  These criticisms come from the same folks who like a big government that grows bigger and who think they can spend other peoples’ money more wisely than people can spend it themselves.

Part of the claims about the rich are the proposal to eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.  The estate tax actually applies to a very small number of tax payers.  They have the wealth to hire tax specialists who know how to use the tax code for tax payers to avoid the estate tax.   Setting up foundations and trusts have become two favorites avoidance techniques.  More basically, it is difficult to come up with a sound public policy reason for taxing assets of the dead when their assets or the money that acquired them has already been taxed.

The alternative minimum tax—AMT–was added to the tax code in the 1970s when some companies found ways to avoid paying any taxes. The provision was not limited to companies so in time it has captured a growing number of individual tax payers because the threshold for being subject to the AMT was not indexed.  Since it was intended to apply to companies, eliminating it frees individuals from a potential tax that never was intended to apply to them.

The Tax Foundation published a report, putting a Face on America’s Tax Returns, that provides statistics clearly showing that tax reform is not going to harm middle and lower class tax payers. Here’s why.   The top 10% of taxpayers pay 70% of taxes while the bottom 50% pay 2.4%.  The percentage of Americans who pay no federal income tax is a startling 45%. Those statistics explain why tax payers in the top income groups benefit the most from tax reform. It also explains why polls show only luke warm support for tax reform. If you don’t pay taxes, you really don’t care whether or not there is reform.

Reductions in tax rates are only going to benefit those who actually pay taxes. Those who claim otherwise are engaged in a major case of misleading the public. It is unfortunate that so many in the main stream media have not taken the time to expose this scam.  They also have not taken the time to point out the major cause of deficit spending and increases in the national debt are entitlement programs, primarily Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which together account for 62% of government spending.  Until politicians have the courage to reform those programs, the debt and deficit are just going to grow larger.

Tax reform will allow companies and individuals to keep more of their own money.  Since they will spend it more efficiently than the government will, the economy will benefit.  This has little or nothing to do with “trickle down” which is another ruse that opponents of tax reform raise in a pejorative manner.

Give Steve Koonin a Sunlight Award

In 1913, Louis Brandeis, later to be Justice Brandeis, wrote “Sunlight is said to the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”  He was referring to the banking business back then but his insight offers a strong principle in support of openness and transparency.  On November 2 in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Koonin, a well respected physicist and former deputy secretary of energy. critiqued the most recent U.S. GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROGRAM CLIMATE SCIENCE SPECIAL REPORT.

His basic criticism is that the Congressionally mandated report reinforces alarmism and the narrative that human activities are mainly responsible for climate change since the mid 20th Century. The charter for the research program is to conduct a “comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” Koonis’s opinion piece explains the failure of the just released report to do that.  It is advocacy masked as science.

The alarmist tone in the  report is not really surprising since the agencies that are involved in and managing the program have been populated by bureaucrats and scientists who operate in a structure and system created by Al Gore when he was Vice President.  During the early 2000s, the Bush Administration attempted to get control of the process but was thwarted by the bureaucracy, especially as the Administration’s priorities changed dramatically after 9-11.  Bureaucrats know that political appointees come and go every couple of years but they stay for what seems like forever.  What is especially alarming is the complicity of the National Academies of Science in endorsing it.

Yogi Berra is erroneously attributed with the observation that in theory, theory and practice are the same but in practice they are not.  The wisdom of this insight is proven by the fact that while the transparency with which the special report was prepared and reviewed should have been an incentive for those involved to honestly do their jobs, that was not the case for those who promote the climate orthodoxy.  Climate change for over two decades has been dominated by environmental zealots, GroupThink,  actions that reinforce it, and confirmation bias. Changing the current situation will not happen quickly but it needs changing for the sake of sound policy and the integrity of the scientific establishment.

Members of the Academy should demand a review of why and how its review process failed and openly admit that failure while withdrawing support for the Special Report.  Koonin has been calling for Red/Blue process for at least a year.  Although his call has gotten support from the EPA Administrator, it clearly is not one of his highest priorities.  Congress should step in and initiate an independent review of the Global Change Research Program, including a mandate for the Red/Blue Team review of the Special Report, and mandate corrective changes to enhance the integrity of the program, if it concludes that it should continue, which is not a foregone conclusion. Investing in climate science is a worthwhile activity but not the way it has been pursued since the early 1990s.

So, Steve Koonin began the application of the disinfectant and his initiative needs a great deal of support from others.  He deserves a Brandeis.