Good job, y’all! Rise in annual global CO2 emissions halved in 2008

June 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm

(Source: Autobloggreen, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Guardian, UK)

  • Financial crisis, pricey oil halve rise in CO2 emissions
  • Developing nations now emit more than industrialised world

Image Courtesy: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)

High oil prices and the impact of a global recession halved yearly rises in global greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels in 2008, the first evidence of an impact from the financial crisis, a study said on Thursday.

Also for the first time, the share of global carbon emissions from developing countries was higher than from industrialised nations, at 50.3 percent. China recently overtook the United States as the world’s top carbon emitter.

The good news comes to us via a study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) which points out that the use of biofuels and an increase in the use of renewables has helped achieve the encouraging result. It’s also worth noting that America actually reduced emissions by 3 percent and that the continuing increases are mostly occurring in developing countries. One final positive worth underlining is that 2008 was the first year investment in renewables was greater than investments in fossil-fuelled technologies.

Thursday’s data showed that global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and from cement production reached 31.6 billion tonnes in 2008, up 40 percent from 1990 levels and a doubling since 1970. Scientists say that annual increases in global greenhouse gas emissions must level off and start to fall by 2015-2020 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Emissions increased by 1.7 percent in 2008 compared with 3.3 percent in 2007. Since 2002, the average annual increase was almost 4 percent, the study said.

Click here to read the results of the entire PBL study. Below is an interesting exceprt from the report.

Trends in USA, European Union, China, Russia and India

In total, CO2 emissions of the USA and the European Union decreased by about 3% and 1.5% in 2008, Although China’s emissions showed an increase of 6%, this is the lowest increase since 2001. Cement production in China showed a similar pattern, with a 2.5% increase in 2008, a drop from 9.5% in 2007. The declining increase of China’s emissions fits in the trend since 2004, when its emissions increased by 17%. Smaller contributions to increasing global emissions were made by India and Russia, which emissions increased by 7% and 2%, respectively.

Since 1990, CO2 emissions per person of China have increased from 2 to 5.5 tonne of CO2 per capita and decreased from 9 to 8.5 for the EU-15 and from 19.5 to 18.5 for the USA. These changes reflect the large economic development of China, structural changes in national and global economies and the impact of climate and energy policies.

It can be observed that due to its fast economic development, per capita emissions of China quickly approaches levels that are common within the industrialised countries of the Annex I group under the Kyoto Protocol. Among the largest countries, other countries that show fast increasing per capita emissions are South Korea, Iran and Australia. On the other hand per capita emissions of the EU-15 and the USA are gradually decreasing over time. Those of Russia and Ukraine have decreased fast since 1990, although the emissions in 1990 and therefore the trend are rather uncertain due to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Tata Motors suffers loss of $521.8 million; Serious belt tightening forecasted

June 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm

(Source:  Reuters, Times of India, SIFY, Bloomberg)

  • Tata FY09 loss $520 million, first in eight years
  • Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) unit 10-mth loss of 306 mln pounds
  • Warns of more job cuts, plant closures
  • Shares end 0.8 pct higher in Mumbai market

Image Courtesy: Apture - The Tata top and Jaguar auto company logos Top Indian vehicle

India’s Tata Motors said Friday that it suffered a loss of 25.05 billion rupees ($521.8 million) after taxes in the past fiscal year as the global meltdown exacted a toll on the auto industry worldwide.

The loss came after a year in which the company recorded a profit of 21.67 billion rupees ($451 million) after taxes, the company said in a statement.

Tata Motors reported a consolidated gross revenue of 741.51 billion rupees ($15.44 billion) in 2008-2009. India’s financial year runs from April 1 to March 31.  About 120,000 Land Rovers were sold in the 10 months ended March 31, down from 198,000 a year ago, Chief Financial Officer C. Ramakrishnan told reporters today. Jaguar sales fell to 47,000 in the same period from 48,800.

“The consolidated financial performance of the company is not comparable to 2007-08 on account of the acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover in June 2008,” it said.

The firm, which controls 60 percent of the world’s fifth-biggest truck and bus market, said it was readying for major belt-tightening, including deferring capital expenditure wherever possible to keep a tight rein on costs.

The company said sales across the group were hit by the global economic downturn, which saw demand and vehicle financing dry up.

“The company has actively responded to this changed situation by taking a number of urgent and long-term measures. These include cutting costs drastically and working on a plan of substantial cost reduction, aligning production with demand and tight control over cash flows,” the company said in a statement.

“At this moment, things are beginning to improve only marginally. There may be more job losses and more shut downs of plants if required,” Sky News quoted Tata Motors vice-chairman, Ravi Kant, as saying.

Tata Motors said the Jaguar Land Rover unit it bought in 2008 posted a loss after tax of 306 million pounds ($504 million) in the 10 months of the fiscal year to March 2009 as a brutal global recession crippled car sales, primarily luxury and sports utility vehicles.

Tata Motors is continuing talks with the U.K government to secure a guarantee for a 340-million pound loan approved by the European Investment Bank for Jaguar and Land Rover, Kant said. It has the option to get the guarantee from private banks, he said.

JLR sold 167,000 vehicles for the 10 months to March, compared with 246,000 in the same period the year before.

The economic crisis has sent two of America’s three big carmakers into receivership and is set to plunge Toyota Motor Corp deeper into loss.

House Passes Landmark Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change

June 26, 2009 at 9:45 pm

(Source: Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, & CNN)

Image Courtesy: - An Inconvenient Truth

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday narrowly passed a climate change bill that would create a national system to cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow trade of such credits. Only eight Republicans joined Democrats in backing the measure. Prospects for Senate passage this year are uncertain. States that have set the U.S. agenda on addressing greenhouse gas emissions are lining up behind a federal climate bill, fearing signs of dissent would weaken a plan that still faces hurdles.

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

There was no derth of drama in the House from the moment the legislators began the day’s proceedings.  The Democrats released a 301-page amendment to the bill at 3:09 a.m. Friday, drawing protest from Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.  “This is the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives. Right here. This bill,” Boehner said.

The leaders of the House are customarily granted unlimited speaking time, but when the Boehner’s speech went more than 2½ hours, Democrats objected.  “Is this an attempt to try to get some people to leave on a close vote?” asked Rep Henry Waxman, D-California, the bill’s lead sponsor.

President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as “a bold and necessary step.” Mr. Obama had lobbied wavering lawmakers in recent days, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had made personal appeals to dozens of fence-sitters.

But the legislation, a patchwork of compromises, falls far short of what many European governments and environmentalists have said is needed to avert the worst effects of global warming. And it pitted liberal Democrats from the East and West Coasts against more conservative Democrats from areas dependent on coal for electricity and on heavy manufacturing for jobs.

The House legislation reflects a series of concessions necessary to attract the support of Democrats from different regions and with different ideologies. In the months of horse-trading before the vote Friday, the bill’s targets for emissions of heat-trapping gases were weakened, its mandate for renewable electricity was scaled back, and incentives for industries were sweetened.

Several House members expressed concern about the market to be created in carbon allowances, saying it posed the same risks as those in markets in other kinds of derivatives. Regulation of such markets would be divided among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Following is a list of key provisions of the landmark bill (thanks to Washington Post):

  • Emissions from a large sector of the U.S. economy, including power plants, factories and auto tailpipes, will be required to be cut 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below those levels by 2050.
  • These reductions would be managed by requiring emitters to amass buyable, sellable “credits” equal to their pollution.
  • About 85 percent of these credits would be given away for free, many of them with the mandate that electricity distributors sell them and use the proceeds to soften the blow of rising energy prices. Environmentalists had wanted the government to auction them all off.
  • Electricity producers would be required to get at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, with up to 5 percent more energy saved from new efficiency measures. The two figures must add up to 20 percent.
  • Polluters could also balance out some of their emissions by purchasing carbon “offsets,” which are official certificates that greenhouse gas emissions have been avoided, or taken out of the air. In a last-minute amendment, oversight over offsets generated on farms was taken from the Environmental Protection Agency and given to the Agriculture Department.
  • A new Clean Energy Deployment Administration funded with $7.5 billion in “green bonds” would provide government money to private companies investing in environment-friendly technologies.

Nearly half the U.S. states have moved toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions and want the federal government to learn from their experience in creating systems to cap emissions and trade pollution credits.  States that have set the U.S. agenda on addressing greenhouse gas emissions are lining up behind a federal climate bill, fearing signs of dissent would weaken a plan that still faces hurdles.

Image Courtesy:

At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.

The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy.

Regional considerations tend to loom larger in debates over environmental policy than in other sorts of affairs. Some states consume more energy than others. Some states have more carbon-intensive economies than others.

Some states are more or less likely to be negatively impacted by global warming. And some states are better equipped to take advantage of green energy development.

One of the first of those concerns: household energy usage. The goal here is simple: the Congressional Budget Office recently put out an estimate (.pdf) of the costs of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. The CBO estimated that the average American household would wind up paying a net of $175 in additional energy costs in the year it benchmarked, which was 2020. But how does that cost translate to individual states?

Our renowned statistics whiz at has come up with a brilliant way to translate the CBO’s numbers, based on his interpretation of the CBO’s assumptions, to the level of individual states, making it easy for us common folk to understand what is to be expected when this cap and trade takes effect  ( Transportgooru recommends this as a must read article, especially if you care to know about the the nuts and bolts of “cap-and-trade” system)

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter (TCN) – June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Friday, June 26, 2009 – ISSN 1529-1057


1) Israel to Install Air Defense in Passenger Planes

Link to UPI story:


2) Boeing: Urgent GPS Satellite Launches on Schedule

Link to story in Computerworld:


3) Summer Issue of National Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research & Education Newsletter Online

Link to newsletter:


4) Historic Steam Locomotive Goes High-Tech on Way to Railroad Days

Union Pacific engine can be followed by GPS and Twitter.

Link to story in the Lincoln Journal Star:

Link to GPS tracking:

Link to Twitter updates:


5) Unclear what Happens to Personal Info with Clear

Link to AP story:

6) GIS Maps Prevent Vehicle Collisions with Elk and Deer

Link to story in Government Technology:


7) A Metro Train Control System Fails a Post-Crash Test

Link to story in The Washington Post:

8) Operational Test for the Implementation of Advanced Technologies in Rural Transit Service

Link to report from the Federal Transit Administration:


9) Ghosts in the Machine

Robots are taking the place of human drivers in an increasing number of vehicle test scenarios.

Link to story in Vehicle Dynamics International:

News Releases

1) BART Unveils News Web Site to Keep Riders, Public Informed on Labor Negotiations

Upcoming Events

Western Snow & Ice Conference – September 22-26 – Estes Park, Colorado

Friday Bonus

I thought Batman Airport was in Gotham City.

Today in Transportation History

1959 **50th anniversary** – The St. Lawrence Seaway is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Dwight Eisenhower.


The Transportation Communications Newsletter is published electronically Monday through Friday.

To subscribe send an e-mail to:

To unsubscribe send an e-mail to:

TCN archives:

Questions, comments about the TCN?  Please write the editor, Bernie Wagenblast at

© 2009 Bernie Wagenblast

For $5,790 you can go on pirate hunting luxury cruises along the Somali Coast

June 26, 2009 at 4:33 pm

(source: Ananova, Wirtschaftsblatt & Slashdot)

Somali pirates - Image Courtesy: Apture

Select Russian ocean liners are offering  pirate hunting cruises on armed private yachts. £3,500 a day buys you a cruise close to the coast of Somalia and up to Kenya. The ships deliberately cruise close to the coast at a speed of just five nautical miles in an attempt to attract the interest of pirates.  When the ship is attacked, a squad of ex-special forces troops fights back with grenade launchers, machine guns, and rockets, reports Austrian business paper Wirtschaftsblatt.

Passengers who want to earn their stripes can pay an extra £5 a day for an AK-47 machine gun and £7 for 100 rounds of ammo.

The yachts travel from Djibouti in Somalia to Mombasa in Kenya.

“They are worse than the pirates,” said Russian yachtsman Vladimir Mironov. “At least the pirates have the decency to take hostages, these people are just paying to commit murder,” he continued.

An editors note found at the bottom of this Wirtschaftsblatt article says “Goldman Morgenstern & Partners tells us, that “they believe”, this story is “satire”.

TransportGooru Musings:  Hope this is a hoax.  It is appalling to even think that any government will authorize “hunting” humans and conduct that as a business, just because the “hunted” ones are pirates.  Russian government as such as earned a bad reputation for its alleged human rights excess and for failing to rein in the xenophobic thugs that attack people of color.  If they happened to let such a business take place in their watch, it can be worth calling the UN Security Council (which, as  an apex body has not done anything good lately).

Car Allowance Rebate System (C.A.R.S.) Act a.k.a “Cash for Clunkers” Update: June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

(Source: New York Times – Wheels Blog, Sec.  LaHood’s Fast Lane Blog, U.S. News and World Report)

First of all, it’s no longer Cash-for-Clunkers. The program is now called the Car Allowance Rebate System (C.A.R.S.).  The program, which President Obama signed into law on Thursday, pays consumers up to $4,500 in credit for trading in their cars or trucks for those that are more fuel efficient. The law allocates $1 billion for the program.

The incentive program begins within 30 days of today’s bill signing by the President. The final day for an eligible purchase or lease is November 1, 2009, or when DOT exhausts the funds set aside for the program, whichever occurs first. The credit is not retroactive prior to the start of the program and cannot be applied toward the purchase of used vehicles.

Of course, there are plenty of regulations to determine what vehicles qualify for the credit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is overseeing the program, has put together this Web site to help consumers who would like to participate in the program.

Image Courtesy: USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood's Fast Lane Blog

Today, the Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote on his blog: “This program helps consumers pay for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles when they trade in less fuel-efficient cars or trucks. Stimulating the automobile industry while improving the environment and reducing fuel consumption–these are outcomes the DOT is pleased to support.

Congress and the Obama Administration recognize this is an important time for the automobile industry. And, the CARS program will help boost car and truck sales. Moreover, since the auto industry has improved vehicle safety and reduced vehicle emissions over the years, we are also excited about a program that puts vehicles on the road that are safer, pollute less, and get more miles to the gallon than the vehicles they replace.

CARS will be implemented by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s a new responsibility this department welcomes; I know the folks in NHTSA stand ready to fulfill their new charge.  I encourage everyone to learn more about the program from the website,, or call NHTSA’s Auto Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236). ”

The C.A.R.S. rebate does not count on top of the trade-in value of your vehicle. In the F.A.Q. section of “The law requires your trade-in vehicle to be destroyed. Therefore, the value you negotiate with the dealer for your trade-in vehicle is not likely to exceed its scrap value.”

An Important FYI item: N.H.T.S.A. warns consumers of unofficial C.A.R.S. Web sites that are now popping up, reports USA Today. “Some want a lot of personal information, and talk about consumers being able to pre-register,” said Eric Bolton, a N.H.T.S.A. spokesman. “Consumers don’t have to register for this program at all.”

For those of you who are contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle under this program, here is a wonderful guide put together by the U.S. News and World Report:

10 Things You Should Know About Cash for Clunkers Car Allowance Rebate System”

1. What’s the official definition of a clunker? A driveable car made within the last 25 years, with a fuel economy rating of no more than 18 mpg. To learn more about the combined city/highway fuel-economy of your car, check out the Car Allowance Rebate System site.

2. Here’s how the program works: you trade in your old car for cash towards the purchase of a new, more efficient one. The better the mileage of the new car , the more money you’ll get towards its purchase – either $3,500 or $4,500. Check out Jalponik’s handy chart to figure out how much you might be able to claim.  The minimum combined fuel economy of a new car purchased under the program must be at least 22 mpg, while new small trucks and SUVs have to get at least 18 mpg, and large trucks have to get 15 mpg. The old cars will be salvaged once they’re turned in.

3. Consumers should act fast. The bill provides vouchers for one million purchases, and the window of time is only fron July 1 to November 1. The bill will be revisited in the fall , and some changes may be made at that time.

4. The program will cost $4 billion. Funds will come from TARP.

5. Sorry, would-be entrepreneurs: it’s off-limits to buy an old car and “flip” it for the program – the car must have been insured by the same owner for at least one year before the trade.

6. The environmental idea behind the bill is that it takes old, inefficient vehicles off of the road. But some environmentalists are actually opposed to the bill because it takes functioning cars off of the road before their time is up, and does not permit the vouchers to go towards used vehicles, even if they are more fuel-efficient. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who sponsored an alternate bill stated that the current version undermines fuel efficiency standards and provides “handouts for Hummers.” On the other hand, some argue that higher fuel standards would disproportionately benefit foreign cars, denying American automakers their much-needed boost.

7. The economic incentive of the bill is to jump-start drowsy auto sales. According to Bloomberg, similar programs worldwide have raised auto sales 25 percent to 40 percent in Germany, 15 percent in China and 8 percent in France.

8. Even if it’s not designed entirely the way environmentalists had hoped, there are still green benefits. Says Treehugger: “One positive effect the bill could have, though, is simply to further advance the presence of ‘fuel efficiency’ as a reward term in the skeptical American consumer market. Yes, hybrids continue to sell, but not to 99 percent of the population. The bill could, albeit in a relatively minor way, serve to advance an attitude that places importance on fuel efficiency in the future.”

9. Cash for Clunkers is expected to have a great impact on the Hispanic community. That’s why the program is getting a celebrity endorsement from Dancing With The Stars’ Cristian de la Fuente and Ugly Betty’s Angelica Vale.

10. As always, buyer beware. It doesn’t make sense to trade in your vehicle unless its value is less than or equal to what you’d get in the program. Edmunds has identified a list of cars that are guaranteed to be worth less than the value of the voucher. You can find it here (PDF). Said ABC News Consumer Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy, “From a strictly consumer standpoint, the Cash for Clunkers program is not a great deal. Yes, if you are bent on buying brand new, you will save money. But the savings are nothing compared with how well you can do by buying a used car.”

New GAO Report on Energy Markets Analyzes the Effects of Mergers and Market Concentration on Wholesale Gasoline Prices

June 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

(Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office)


In 2008, GAO reported that 1,088 oil industry mergers occurred between 2000 and 2007. Given the potential for price effects, GAO recommended that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency with the authority to maintain petroleum industry competition, undertake more regular retrospective reviews of past petroleum industry mergers, and FTC said it would consider this recommendation. GAO was asked to conduct such a review of its own to determine how mergers and market concentration—a measure of the number and market shares of firms in a market—affected wholesale gasoline prices since 2000.

GAO examined the effects of mergers and market concentration using an economic model that ruled out the effects of many other factors. GAO consulted with a number of experts and used both public and private data in developing the model. GAO tested the model under a variety of assumptions to address some of its limitations. GAO also interviewed petroleum market participants.

Study Findings

Image Courtesy: GAO

GAO examined seven mergers that occurred since 2000—ranging in value and geography and for which there was available gasoline pricing data (see table)—and found three that were associated with statistically significant increases or decreases in wholesale gasoline prices. Specifically, GAO found that the mergers of Valero Energy with Ultramar Diamond Shamrock and Valero Energy with Premcor, which both involved the acquisition of refineries, were associated with estimated average price increases of about 1 cent per gallon each. In addition, GAO found that the merger of Phillips Petroleum with Conoco, which primarily involved the acquisition of oil exploration and production assets, was associated with an estimated average decrease in wholesale gasoline prices across cities affected by the merger of nearly 2 cents per gallon. This analysis provides an indicator of the impact that petroleum industry mergers can have on wholesale gasoline prices. Additional analysis would be needed to explain the price effects that GAO estimated.

GAO used two separate measures of market concentration, one which measured the number of sellers at wholesale gasoline terminals and another which measured the market share of refiners supplying gasoline to those sellers, and found that less concentrated markets were statistically significantly associated with lower gasoline prices. For example, for wholesale terminals with more sellers—i.e., terminals that were less concentrated—GAO estimated that prices were about 8 cents per gallon lower at terminals with 14 sellers than at terminals that had only 9 sellers. This result is consistent with the idea that markets with more sellers are likely to be more competitive, resulting in lower prices. Using the second measure of concentration, GAO similarly found a statistically significant association between prices and the level of refinery concentration, with less concentrated groups of refineries associated with lower prices.

GAO Recommendation

This study reinforces the need to review past petroleum industry mergers, and GAO continues to recommend that FTC conduct such reviews more regularly and develop risk-based guidelines to determine when to conduct them. FTC reviewed a draft of this report and supports GAO’s recommendation to conduct more reviews of past petroleum industry mergers.

Click here to download the full report.

Transportation Reauthorization (STAA) Updates: Media-Roundup – June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm

White House Says Transportation System Overhaul Must Wait (Washington Post)

After rejecting criticism that it is taking on too much, the Obama administration has identified one area where ambitious reforms will have to wait: overhauling the nation’s aging, congested and carbon-emitting transportation system.

It became clear at a contentious Senate hearing yesterday that the half-trillion-dollar question is how to pay for the bill. The 18.4-cent federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, and revenue from it falls increasingly short every year because of inflation and the shift to more fuel-efficient cars.

The White House and some of its Senate allies are letting it be known, though, that this is not a discussion they want to have now, in the middle of a recession and as Washington is consumed with battles over health care and energy. Also, polls show that Americans are growing anxious about government spending.

“President Obama does have a vision for transportation. It’s not something he’s going to ignore or turn a blind eye to at all,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told skeptical senators yesterday. “The timing is where we part company.”

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) is proposing that if the White House and the Senate will not consider a higher gas tax, then the bill could be paid for with a new tax on oil speculators.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said: “President Obama said to us during the campaign that we must have the fierce urgency of now. And that’s what Mr. Oberstar has done.”

Boxer agreed but said a gas tax increase now is not feasible. “I would tell you if you go out to the people of America and say that’s the solution, I don’t think they will buy it,” she said. “They’re struggling right now.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Boxer and Inhofe Agree: Transportation Policy Reform Can Wait (Streetsblog)

Green transportation advocates are pressing Congress to refuse any new spending that’s not tied to reform of the existing system — a call that influential senators in both parties ruled out today.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), the panel’s ranking GOPer, in endorsing another 18 months of the 2005 transportation bill.

The extension, Boxer said, should be “clean as it can be, clean as a whistle … not with these policy changes, because it will in fact jeopardize a quick passage of this extension.”

Boxer’s agreement to an extension free of policy reforms appears to be an acknowledgment that Inhofe and most other GOP senators would slow down approval of the short-term transportation measure. But she faced a lone critic today in Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who challenged Boxer to back down from her opposition to raising the federal gas tax during an economic recession.

Voinovich reminded the Californian that she “is always talking about the environment; [drafting a new transportation bill] is going to have a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions.” He suggested that senators “look at” the House transportation bill offered by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and pitch the American public on an increase in the gas tax, which has remained static since 1993.

In fact, recent polling supports Voinovich’s argument, not Boxer’s. A survey released earlier this year by the advocacy group Building America’s Future found that 81 percent of Americans would pay more in federal taxes to support infrastructure investments.

But the alignment of Boxer and Inhofe, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) — whose Finance Committee must agree on a revenue source for the next transportation bill — in favor of a clean 18-month extension is enough to doom the House effort to pass a bill this year.

Click here to read the entire story.

Voinovich: Business Buy-in Can Get a New Transportation Bill Done (Streetsblog)

Getting business interests to work on methods for funding a long-term transportation bill can help shift the political climate, he told Streetsblog Capitol Hill today after Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) vowed to continue searching for revenue raisers that can pay for massive new legislation.

“Right now, the president is frankly worried about health care, climate change, a lot of other things [and may have said] ‘see, I don’t need another thing on my plate,'” Voinovich said.

But, he added, the White House would likely come around if the private sector — which has “been heretofore reluctant … to step up” — is willing to shoulder some of the extra tax burden needed to pay for increased infrastructure investment.

The senator suggested pushing for a transportation funding extension shorter than 18 months, “to put the pressure on to get this thing done by next year.” In response, Basso would say only that “we’re supportive of the Oberstar [House] bill moving forward.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Congressman Peter DeFazio: Make Wall Street A**holes Foot The Bill For Infrastructure (The Infrastructurist)

Politicians agree that we need to invest in our transportation infrastructure, but ask any of them how we should pay for it and you’re likely to endure an uncomfortable silence. The problem is so bad that it seems to have derailed the new transportation bill until 2011.

There is at least one guy willing to offer a serious proposal though. Instead of taxing drivers more at the pump, says Peter DeFazio, why not make those finance guys that we all hate so much pay for it?

Specifically, the Democratic congressman from Oregon wants to impose a small tax–0.02%–on oil futures contracts.

From his office: “A transaction tax on crude oil securities will close the gap in funding a twenty-first century transportation system while lowering the price of oil. This is a win/win,” DeFazio said. “If we put off this transportation authorization, we will push off needed reform. Every day we wait people will sit in traffic instead of spending time with their families, every day people are not as safe as they could be because of our crumbling infrastructure, every day our economy suffers when our products sit in traffic jams. My proposal will not cost consumers one cent but will substantially increase our investment in our transportation infrastructure.”

The only trick will be selling it. That shouldn’t be hard with the right name. “The Oil Speculator Tax,” perhaps?

*We’re using “Wall Street” generically here, btw — a lot of oil trading occurs on Chicago Mercantile

Click here to read the entire article.

Senator Boxer is Right: There is No Consensus in Congress on Funding (The Transport Politic)

Today at a hearing on the reauthorization of the transportation bill, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) made it quite clear that Congressman James Oberstar’s (D-MN) proposed legislation won’t make it through the Senate over the next few months. Ms. Boxer’s testimony indicated that she’d push for a no-changes “clean” extension of SAFETEA-LU over the next 18 months, as proposed by Secretary of Transportation of Ray LaHood. More serious reforms will have to wait. This means fewer than hoped for funds for transit and high-speed rail, as well as no substantive improvements in the manner in which federal dollars are distributed.

Congress’ problems are two fold: it has too many other projects on the near horizon and it has no consensus, even along partisan lines, on how to fund a major expansion in transportation funding. Today’s fuel tax, which provides the primary source of revenue for the Trust Fund, is out of cash and cannot fund the nation’s transportation needs alone. A relatively simple extension of SAFETEA-LU, bolstered by an infusion of general fund dollars into the Highway Trust Fund, is the easiest answer.

Mr. Oberstar has been adamant in his desire to push forward the next transportation bill now, but this hearing made clear that the Senate is not going to play along. Ms. Boxer is chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and her position will effectively block Mr. Oberstar’s bill even if that legislation passes in the House. Without the support of the White House, Mr. Oberstar is loosing ground. His inability to pinpoint a stable funding source is similarly problematic.

What hasn’t been suggested, but that which I will continue to bring up, is a simple abandonment of the idea that transportation must be sponsored by its “users.” We are all beneficiaries of a strong transportation network, and filling the Trust Fund mostly with general fund sources is a viable and long-term solution that would require none of the shenanigans that currently deteriorate efforts to raise the gas tax or impose a VMT. Whether now or in 18 months, we’re going to need something better than today’s non-proposals from Ms. Boxer.

Click here to read the entire article.

Transportation Bill Is Dead As A Doornail For 2009 Because Nobody Can Figure Out How To Pay For It (The Infrastructurist)

Over the past week or so, there has been a pretend drama in Washington about whether we’ll be getting a giant new transportation bill in 2009. The prospect is exiciting, of course, because in addition to $500 billion in loot that would be handed out, the bill would offers tantalizing opportunities for bureaucratic and policy reform.

On Monday, perhaps the most active and powerful Congressional player in these matters, Jim Oberstar, released his long-awaited draft version of the bill and, along with his committee-mates, vowed to push forward and get it passed into law by the end of September.

Oddly, that came on the heels of the Secretary of Transportation–a man who speaks for the president–requesting that it be kicked back to 2011 and that Congress craft an 18 month extension of the present legislation to cover the country’s needs in the meantime. Clash of the titans?

Now, at a hearing today in the Senate, Barbara Boxer pretty much closed the door on the idea the bill might happen this year. As chair of the Environment and Public Works committee, she would play a leading role in sheparding the bill through the upper house. And she’s saying unequivocally that the new bill will have to wait for 2011.

She gave a very clear reason: “It’s not because we [in the Senate] have a full plate”–dealing with healthcare, climate, and financial reforms–”it’s because we have no consensus on how to fund the new bill.”

“Oberstar wants to raise the gas tax,” she said, then noted it would have to go up by a dime just meet the current shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. She took a spin through the math of how much it would have to go up to cover the new investment he proposed in the bill. And while she neither she or her witnesses stated an exact figure, it would probably be 25 cents or so more. (The tax now stands at 18 cents per gallon.)

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U.S. must boost gas tax, transportation expert says (Baltimore Sun)

The executive director of an influential group representing top transportation officials from around the country told a Greater Baltimore Committee summit Thursday that it is time for the United States to “grow up” and increase the federal tax on gasoline and other motor fuels.

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, warned that without new revenue, the U.S. transportation infrastructure faces a grim future.

“We’re in the soup,” Horsley warned the gathering of Baltimore business leaders, transportation officials and civic activists.

Horsley, whose organization represents state transportation secretaries and other top officials, noted that the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax has remained level since the early 1990s and that the national highway trust fund is heading for depletion in August.

Horsley noted that two recent bipartisan commissions created by Congress concluded that federal fuel taxes must increase. One backed a rise of 25 to 40 cents; the other urged an increase of 10 cents a gallon on gasoline and 15 cents on diesel.

Those recommendations were opposed by the Bush administration, and President Barack Obama has ruled out any increase in gas taxes during the recession.

But Horsley said Thursday that a 10-cent increase in the gas tax amounts to “less than 60 bucks” a year for the typical driver.

Without new revenue, Horsley said, Congress must transfer $5 billion to $7 billion to replenish the highway trust fund during the current fiscal year or watch as road projects grind to a halt. He said $8 billion to $10 billion would be needed for the fiscal year that begins in October.

Obama and others have called for passage of an 18-month stopgap funding measure, saying that Congress has its plate full with health care, energy and other issues.

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Rep. John Mica on the transportation bill (PBS Blueprint America)

The proposed transportation bill calls for $450 billion in federal funding, which is a 57 percent increase over the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005.

The following is an interview with Rep. John Mica (R., FL), ranking minority member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, about the recent developments of the transportation bill:

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: The current highway authorization expires at the end of September. So what exactly is expiring?

REP. JOHN MICA: Every six years Congress adopts a federal authorization for highways, which outlines transportation policy, projects, and funding distributions for the whole country.

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: Right now, however, the Obama Administration wants to delay authorization.

REP. MICA: We’re on the verge of a transportation meltdown. The Administration has proposed an 18-month extension of both the highway authorization bill and the highway trust fund. That will require, depending on how long it is extended, between $8 and $15 billion.

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: But, typically, the transportation bill is not authorized every six years – it’s generally extended.

REP. MICA: Right. I think the last time we tried to authorize it we had 13 extensions.

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: Are you opposed to this 18-month extension by the Obama Administration?

REP. MICA: Well, I think that it would be better to go ahead with the transportation bill Rep. (Jim) Oberstar has introduced. We have been working on the bill for some time.

Still, I think we take that bill as the starter. The problem you’ve got with an 18-month extension is that it puts many of the major infrastructure projects on hold. The 18-month extension is a job killer. It gives you a temporary relief with the highway trust fund, but because you don’t have projects approved and policy and funding mechanisms in place for the future, it ends up killing jobs and delaying decisions on projects across the country. For example, there are 6, 800 project requests in the House bill alone – all of these would go on hold.

Click here to read the entire interview.

U.S.’ first all-electric car-sharing program, AltCar, debuts in Baltimore, Maryland

June 25, 2009 at 7:51 pm

(Source: Baltimore SunNew York Times & Wired)

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon smiles after test-driving a Maya 300 electric car outside the Maryland Science Center Tuesday, June 23, 2009 in Baltimore. ExxonMobil and Electrovaya, a manufacturer of electric car battery systems, announced an all-electric car-sharing program Tuesday in Baltimore. (AP Photo/ Steve Ruark -via Baltimore Sun)

The nation’s first all-electric car-sharing program debuted in Baltimore, Maryland this week. The nation’s first all-electric car-sharing program debuted Tuesday at the city’s Inner Harbor, with manufacturer Electrovaya hoping urban residents seeking to go green and curious tourists will take the concept for a spin.   Electrovaya Inc. is offering its Maya 300 for rent at the Maryland Science Center. The car can go up to 120 miles on one charge of its lithium-ion battery system, and it gets its juice from a regular 110-volt outlet.

The altcar car-sharing service has a fleet of 10 electric cars at the Maryland Science Center.  Ten cars will be available starting Wednesday through the new car-sharing Web site A two-hour trip costs $29, with discounts for science center members. (Wired reports that the cars won’t be available to the public until Aug. 1). Signing up requires a $25 application fee to pay for the background check and a $50 membership fee.

Image Courtesy:

This rental program gives Baltimore residents and tourists the opportunity to rent a five-door, five- passenger Maya-300 at the Maryland Science Center and drive it around the city.  The car makes little noise, provides dashboard gauges for battery life and temperature, and offers other conveniences of gas-powered cars.  Electrovaya’s battery technology is made possible by ExxonMobil Corp.’s battery separator film. The film, with lithium-ion batteries, allows for the units to operate at higher temperatures with a reduced risk of meltdown.

“This is an example of what science centers do best,” said Van Reiner, president and CEO of the science center. “We are showcasing new technology, and that’s what makes us so excited.”

The manufacturer calls the fleet of emission-free cars a “game changer” in urban transportation alternatives. Electrovaya CEO Sankar Das Gupta said that’s because the vehicle has the look and feel of a four-door, gas-powered sedan and should appeal to consumers who want to reduce oil dependence.

Das Gupta said he hopes to ink deals with larger fleet operators to scale up production of the Maya 300, which is currently manufactured in Michigan. He hopes to begin selling the vehicle to the general public within a year for about $25,000 apiece.

“Ultimately, in order to drop the price of electric cars, you have to generate large volumes,” explained Das Gupta, who said the lithium-ion battery his company makes constitutes 40-50 percent of the Maya 300’s cost.

In addition to manufacturing and selling the Maya 300, Electrovaya would supply major automakers lithium-ion batteries — which move lithium between an anode and cathode when charging and discharging. Das Gupta declined to say with whom he is discussing such an arrangement.

The Maya 300’s debut came as President Obama and his advisers dished out $8 billion in loans to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Inc through DOE grants. “We have an historic opportunity to help ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America,” Obama said.

More than 50 million new vehicles hit the world’s roads each year, and President Obama has set a goal of 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.

Electrovaya’s Das Gupta is bullish on America’s — and the world’s — ability to achieve the Obama’s goal.

“We expect that within the next few years, one third of these vehicles will be electric,” he said.

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U.S. GAO Report on Aviation Safety Says Better Data and Targeted FAA Efforts Needed to Identify and Address Safety Issues of Small Air Cargo Carriers

June 25, 2009 at 6:35 pm

(Source: U.S. GAO)

Image Courtesy: GAO

The air cargo industry contributed over $37 billion to the U.S. economy in 2008 and provides government, businesses, and individuals with quick delivery of goods. Although part of an aviation system with an extraordinary safety record, there have been over 400 air cargo accidents and over 900 incidents since 1997, raising concerns about cargo safety.

GAO’s congressionally requested study addresses:

(1) recent trends in air cargo safety,

2) factors that have contributed to air cargo accidents,

(3) federal government and industry efforts to improve air cargo safety and experts’ views on the effectiveness of these efforts, and

(4) experts’ views on further improving air cargo safety.

To perform the study, GAO analyzed agency data, surveyed a panel of experts, reviewed industry and government documents, and interviewed industry and government officials. GAO also conducted site visits to Alaska, Ohio, and Texas.

From 1997 through 2008, 443 accidents involving cargo-only carriers occurred, including 93 fatal accidents. Total accidents declined 63 percent from a high of 62 in 1997 to 23 in 2008. Small cargo carriers were involved in the vast majority of the accidents–79 percent of all accidents and 96 percent of fatal accidents. Although accident rates for large cargo carriers fluctuated during this period, they were comparable to accident rates for large passenger carriers in 2007.

GAO could not calculate accident rates based on operations or miles traveled for small carriers because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not collect the necessary data. Although several factors contributed to these air cargo accidents, our review of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data found that pilot performance was identified as a probable cause for about 80 percent of fatal and about 53 percent of non-fatal cargo accidents.

Furthermore, GAO’s analysis of NTSB reports for the 93 fatal accidents, using an FAA flight-risk checklist, identified three or more risk factors in 63 of the accidents. Risk factors included low pilot experience, winter weather, and nighttime operations. Alaska’s challenging operating conditions and remotely located populations who rely on air cargo are also a contributing factor. Many federal efforts to improve air cargo safety focus on large carriers.

Air cargo experts that GAO surveyed ranked FAA’s voluntary disclosure programs–in which participating carriers voluntarily disclose safety events to FAA–as the most effective effort to improve air cargo, but two of the three main voluntary disclosure programs are used typically by large carriers. Several industry initiatives, however, focus on carriers with smaller aircraft, such as the Medallion Foundation, which has improved small aircraft safety in Alaska through training and safety audits.

The two actions experts cited most often to further improve air cargo safety were installing better technology on cargo aircraft to provide additional tools to pilots and collecting data to track small cargo carrier operations. Using flight risk checklists can also help pilots assess the accumulated risk factors associated with some cargo flights.


  • To help FAA improve the data on and the safety of air cargo operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to gather comprehensive and accurate data on all part 135 cargo operations to gain a better understanding of air cargo accident rates and better target safety initiatives. This can be done by separating out cargo activity in FAA’s annual survey of aircraft owners or by requiring all part 135 cargo carriers to report operational data as part 121 carriers currently do.
  • To help FAA improve the data on and the safety of air cargo operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to promote the increased use of safety programs by small (feeder and ad hoc) cargo carriers that use the principles underpinning SMS and voluntary self-disclosure programs.
  • To help FAA improve the data on and the safety of air cargo operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to evaluate the likelihood that cargo incidents could be precursors to accidents and, if FAA determines they are, create a process for capturing incidents that would allow in-depth analysis of incidents to identify accident precursors related to specific carriers, locations, operations, and equipment.
  • To help FAA improve the data on and the safety of air cargo operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to create incentives for cargo carriers to use flight risk assessment checklists in their daily operations, including tailoring a sample flight risk assessment checklist for part 135 cargo carriers.

Click here to read/download the entire report (60 Pages).