Dare I suggest that eighty percent of the world is run on this basis?

Despite the cloud cast by the Volkswagen scandal, automakers are proposing that they be allowed a 70 percent increase in the nitrogen oxides their cars emit, unreleased documents show, as part of new European pollution tests.

Under the new plan, cars in Europe would for the first time be tested on the road, using portable monitoring equipment, in addition to laboratory testing.

The automakers, which include Volkswagen, General Motors, Daimler, BMW, Toyota, Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Ford and Hyundai, are essentially conceding what outside groups have said for some time — that the industry cannot meet pollution regulations when cars are taken out of testing laboratories.

Here is the Danny Hakim NYT story.


Maybe it's command and control regulatory standards which are a problem.

So what is the preferred method for internalizing the externality and dealing with the market failure if command and control doesn't work? Wouldn't a pigou tax of some sort, or tradeable permits also require the same sort of chemical monitoring?

That would be the alternative, provided you get your monitoring right (which the EPA does not appear to do).

For NOx, wouldn't tradeable permits make the most sense.This is the type of pollution where it might cost 10x to reduce on a per auto basis versus a large scale industrial polluter. So holding them to the same standard just results in inefficiencies. Whereas, tradeable permits would allow the industrial polluter to go below the standard and sell the difference to the auto manufacturers to recoup the cost of their emission control equipment.

Pigou taxes have political problems. While the economist can show that it may lead to highly "efficient" outcomes and ALSO achieve the targeted/"optimal" level of pollution, I think quite a lot of people find the notion of "buying the right to pollute" to be offensive.

Why should wealthy people get to buy big polluting muscle cars or "too powerful" monster trucks when I can't? So ... regulate everyone. No one can have cars which pollute "too much".

For tradeable permits - perhaps this could work at the level of manufacturers, who could be required to meet fleet-wide objectives, but I don't think this would work if implemented at the level of individual car owners.

That having been said, I think the main takeaway from the article is that the regulations were measuring in the wrong place. I.e., regulatory goals (amount of NOx released) were not matched to a measuring scheme that caught the relevant real world variables.

....first you must clearly identify and non-arbitrarily define the "externality"

normal Contract Law & Tort Law procedures then apply to the parties identified as injured or at imminent risk of injury

EPA/regulatory-agencies skip all that foundational legal structure and impose mass subjective bureaucratic edicts upon the issue

The externality is the public health effect of the NOx emission. Not only does it affect MY health (NOx effect times one, which is the only thing that the rational actor accounts for), but it also affects the health of millions of other people (NOx effect times millions). In other words, the total social cost is millions of times higher than that accounted for by the rational actor.

This doesn't NECESSARILY imply that the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs, but it is a classic example of an externality where a regulation might improve aggregate outcomes.

ahem, "clearly identify and non-arbitrarily define"

This would be much better. 10% of cars are responsible for 90% of criteria emissions. The success of emission regulations means that almost all emissions are from older or broken cars.

Further ratcheting up the standards is therefore ineffective.

Is that based on reality or modelling assuming that modern diesel manufacturers are achieving the standard. Seems to me that the last sentence should be 'the failure of emission regulations means that almost all emissions are from older, broken, or fraudulent cars'

Its amazing how people will still blame the governments for something thats so clearly the fault of private sector...This is like mood affiliation at its maximum...

Fraud is the fault of the private sector. Bad policy is the fault of the public sector. Not that difficult to grasp.

So the government has imposed unrealistic standards.

Tesla meets the standards. The Nissan Leaf meets the standards. The chevy volt meets the standards. Etc, etc, etc.

Bicycles meet the standards, sailboats and rowboats meet the standards, skateboards meet the standards, pedestrians meet the standards.

Banish all those immigrant-driven taxis and let's get back to pedicabs or even sedan chairs. Of course, they'd be operated by even more immigrants, wouldn't they?

Or, if we're going to stick with internal combustion-powered stuff that can't meet the standards, why doesn't the genius government design the equipment that will? Instead of diesel engines, cars could be equipped with Pelosi engines. Hey, doesn't Porsche market a car named after a California senator?

What about immigrant-driven rickshaws? Do they meet the standards?

Yes on NOx, no on Methane. ;)


NOx and methane are intense GHG's. However, they are not persistent. Neither is a long-term threat.

Granted that a tax would be better, but what is wrong with a standard that tries to equalize the marginal harm to people in the environment with the marginal cost of meeting the standard.

That's just because emissions during production are not taken into account.

After heavy government subsidies? Yes.

"Tesla meets the standards. The Nissan Leaf meets the standards. The chevy volt meets the standards. Etc, etc, etc. "

All of the modern gasoline vehicles meet the NOx standards, it's the diesels that don't.

So do gasoline-powered cars. BTW, anybody think we should start hooking up on-the-road emissions test equipment to diesel-powered city buses?

Of course, though more and more are running on CNG.

Just Saying October 3, 2015 at 11:10 am

Tesla meets the standards. The Nissan Leaf meets the standards. The chevy volt meets the standards. Etc, etc, etc.

Tesla runs on coal. So does the Leaf and the Chevy Volt. They claim they don't but they do of course. Because they have to re-charge and that power comes from thermal power stations by and large.

I am willing to bet those coal fired power stations do not meet those standards.

That can be fixed. Coal fried plats can reduce CO2 emissions, too or power generation can switch to other fuels like nuclear.

Coal fired power stations work by burning coal in the presence of oxygen, that is turning carbon into carbon dioxide. How do you seriously propose to reduce that? Except by burning less of it.

It is not the CO2 that is the problem anyway but the NOxs et al. Which could be reduced, it is true. But economically reduced? That is harder.

They can switch to nuclear.

Or we can just drive out damn Volkswagens.

The "We have coal plants so therefore electric cars are not good" is an argument to improve the grid, not to eliminate the electric car.

The states where most people own Teslas, Leafs and Prius primarily rely on Natural Gas, and also have the fastest growth rates of installation of plants sourcing power from renewables.

People who make your type of arguments are the same type of people who talk about how solar power is not currently profitable and therefore shouldn't pursued, because you have no concept of what a "payback period" is or what "economies of scale" are. You guys are also the ones who like to push the "birds are dying, wind power is anti-environment" agenda as well.

Its based more on tribalistic hatred toward a new technology associated with the other tribe (!liberals!) than any genuine concern.

TheAJ October 4, 2015 at 12:44 pm

How would improving the grid help reduce CO2, NOx or sulphur emissions from thermal power plants? It would have a minor influence on the efficiency with which electricity was delivered. Anything else?

I am willing to bet no Natural Gas fired power plant can meet the same standards that cars have to. So claiming electric cars meet these standards is not true. They are simply moving the generation to a plant far far away where nice middle class people don't have to see the smoke. That is the point.

I guess you are a little over-identified with your Prius or whatever. I have no problem with new technology. I know what a “payback period” is and “economies of scale” are. That is irrelevant. The fact that wind power kills condors is not.

But, you know, as long as we all accept that VW is meeting standards that Tesla is not, I am relaxed.

Silly arguments. We can improve the grid by generating more power from renewable sources. And therefore make the whole coal power plant problem even smaller. Electricity comes form coal now but there is no reason why it should in the future. Guys like you were making similar arguments against solar because it happened to be too expensive when introduced. So no, economies of scale and payback period are not irrelevant.

"The fact that wind power kills condors is not."
Its . . . relevant . . . and important to consider . . . but its typically a point thrown out by people who don't really give a shit about condors and also don't care about wind power.

"But, you know, as long as we all accept that VW is meeting standards that Tesla is not, I am relaxed."

Figures, please? Is Tesla not paying by the rules?

Perhaps the government is just aware that cars will under-perform lab tests when used by consumers in non-lab settings. (This is certainly true of many products.) As such, they rationally wrote particularly stringent lab requirements so that when the degradation between lab tests and field employment occurred, the resulting pollution was at an acceptable level. Had they written less stringent requirements, they cars still would've under-performed and NOx levels would be at a higher, unacceptable level.


This is old news. From an earlier post.

"Many people were appalled at how the rules actually worked. The general view was that the EPA should have set “life of vehicle with realistic driving conditions” rules rather than tailpipe restrictions for newly built cars. Of course, the standards would have to have been higher (more NOx and CO per mile). However, actual emissions would have been substantially lower. The perceived obstacle to making this change was the environmental community that demanded (and got) the status quo."

From http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/09/just-how-guilty-is-volkswagen.html

That said, you are also correct. There was certainly a sentiment to the effect that unrealistically stringent lab tests (for emissions) would result in lower emissions out on the road.

It's kind of a like a teacher discovering a new method of cheating on exams and putting a stop to it and the students requesting that, as a result, the teacher should make the test easier. Maybe the test actually is too hard, or maybe students just don't like hard work.

Of course, they're grading on a curve, and all the students are opposed to it, which suggests that it really is unrealistic.

Sort of. I think the standards were tailored to what seemed to be reasonable in a bullshit testing environment.

If they will test real world output, then presumably the numerical value of these standards should decline.

Test what in the real world? The performance of a vehicle with thousands of pounds of test equipment and a few dozen scientists riding along? Or test to the margin of error of the sampling mechanism?

Most EPA tests are discrete measurements from controlled conditions then extrapolated mathematically. They have nothing to do with the real world, never have never will.

And it doesn't matter. In this situation the manufacturer met the test requirements and happened to run into a rather rabid EPA. Something will be done, dramatically and forcefully, pour les autres.

Maybe the answer is mobile testing centers where the vehicle is confiscated and destroyed if it doesn't meet an arbitrary standard. What do you mean you put off getting your quarterly service.

This is a very publicized issue. Someone smart with thunk up something ...

Cars are ridiculously over-powered for their actual utility. Obviuosly making cars that meet the standards aren't the problem. People will just have to get used to a bit less acceleration, which to me is s good thing.

Frankly, I wish it were possible to force any vehicle into "city mode" within municipally defined zones which would trigger the cruise control unit to give the car the power profile of basically a golf cart: 15mph top speed with the acceleration of a horse-drawn carriage.

Cars as designed today do no belong in cities at all, but forcing them into a mode were they must share the public travel ways with equanimity with all other modes of transportation is a good compromise.

I'm glad you cleared that up. People will just have to get used to what you want. Sounds reasonable, Sir.

Not what I personally want. But if the only way to meet a standard that people have agreed to collectively, then they'll have to make cars that area capable of meeting them. If that means somewhat lower powered vehicles, then yes, they'll have to get used to that.

And if cities wish to enforce that automobiles behave with a certain profile within their limits, that's their prerogative too.

"the only way to meet a standard that people have agreed to collectively"

I don't remember anybody asking me about it and even if they did I wouldn't be able to give them an informed opinion on diesel engines, their emissions and their effect on the environment and humans, putting me in the same class as 99.9% of the human race.

In the US, at least, there might be constitutional limits on what cities or other governmental entities can require in this case. Or there may not, since cities seem to be able to get away with just about anything their zany councilmen come up with.

So the EPA standards are 'agreed to collectively'?

Nope, nowhere near.

Yes, cause history has show that middle-of-the-road, milquetoast solutions that don't offend anyone in the collective always works out so well. *eyeroll*

What you end up with is a solution that no one is happy with and doesn't actually resolve the perceived problem. Buy hey, I guess is all about the feels one gets from at least TRYING to do something right -- logic be damned.

Still better than the 10 fold difference between lab and real world we have seen in Volkswagen case.

Seems like re-calibrating the standards to an on-the-road test ought to be easy enough.

When bureaucrats are involved, nothing is supposed to be easy.

It's actually almost impossible to have a consistent on road test, differences between drivers, weather, temperature and road surfaces mean that the exact same car might fail the test one day and pass the next. It's probably worthwhile to look at on road testing to look for cheating and to improve dyno testing but you can't build a regulatory structure around it.

"but you can’t build a regulatory structure around it"

You can if your real goal is to do away with privately owned passenger cars.

But that is no one's goal. The goal is to reduce the harm from the externality to the cost of reducing the harm.

It is the goal of the Greens. Read Bill McKibben. Read John Holdren.

You can design a reasonable test and cars can easily be made to pass it; it's just the performance of the vehicle will not be the same as people are used to. They'll have to get by with a bit less torque and acceleration.

Ultimately it will be less highway deaths and road rage.

Tell us more about how we should live. I want to hear your opinion. It is so dreamy.

You can design a reasonable test that is done in a lab setting but you can't design a reasonable road test. There are too many variables that effect emissions and fuel economy that you can't control for in the real world or even on a test track.

The standard doesn't have to be perfect, just something that represents some reasonable average of typical driving comditions. The point is to lower the overall emissions for the entire fleet to some prescribed level, whatever gets it there is good enough.

It doesn't matter what standard you set, you can't design it around a road test. You have to have a consistent environment for testing and that means testing indoors where you can control temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, road surface, and driver inputs. If you can't control important variables then the testing is meaningless.

By your logic, clinical trials on patients are impossible and can't be done, since the toxicity/efficacy of drugs varies from patient to patient.

Yes! Impose the most expensive test model imaginable to encourage a standard that is developed by dramatically less rigorous procedures.

Environmentalists always prove they are barking mad by the third sentence.

The problem is the auto companies cannot meet the regulations with Diesel engines, at least without escalating the cost and reducing the fuel economy to the point where that engine choice is no longer desirable. Given the right fuel (natural gas or hydrogen are particularly good, though gasoline can be made to work) and the right engine technology, almost arbritarily ridiculous emission regulations can be met, certainly beyond what makes any sense on a cost benefit basis. The European automakers are suffering from having largely bet on the wrong technology, whereas Japanese and US auto companies that invested heavily in hybrids are looking good. GM just announced a couple of days ago that they're current buying battery cells from LG for $145/kWh, and that they expect the price to fall to $100 kWh by 2022. Given that, increasing electrification of passenger cars is almost a given, either through hybridization or full electric powertrains. We're going to look back at this scandal in 10 years and wonder why anyone got very excited about it.

Hydrogen? The Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity! https://youtu.be/dPOyUB9ZE2Q That's why we don't have hydrogen-powered chain saws and lawn mowers.

By the way, why so little concern over the emissions and efficiency of lawn mowers and garden tractors and the other small engines disturbing the suburban serenity?

As is inevitable in a situation like this, the externalities are pretty abstract:

According to the AP:

The software that the company admitted using to get around government emissions limits allowed VWs to spew enough pollution to kill somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths over seven years, with the annual count increasing more recently as more of the diesels were on the road. The total cost has been well over $100 million.

"Statistically, we can't point out who died because of this policy, but some people have died or likely died as a result of this," said Carnegie Mellon environmental engineer professor Peter Adams. He calculates the cost of air pollution with a sophisticated computer model that he and the AP used in its analysis.

If it's that much of a problem it shouldn't be too difficult to find someone that actually died because of the VW scheme and, of course, prove that it was their mendacity that caused it. What about discomfort? How much is a cough worth?

A claim like that just demonstrates a poor understand of statistics as applied to health.

Even with tobacco, which EVERYONE knows causes cancer, you can never cateorgically state the smoking caused the case of cancer. It's a statistical inference. You can smoke four packs a day for 80 years, and even then, the cancer is only statistically related to the smoking.

Same goes for health problems related to air pollution.

"Hydrogen? The Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity! https://youtu.be/dPOyUB9ZE2Q That’s why we don’t have hydrogen-powered chain saws and lawn mowers. "

No, we don't use hydrogen, because there's no such thing as a Hydrogen well.

16-94 is a large range. Further at what age? How many human life years were sacrificed?

I wonder if the number of years lost is comically low, on the order of 30-ish? Meaning that we spent 3 million / human life year which is far beyond any and all statistical models.

Yes, that's what I've been wondering, too.


We don't have hydrogen powered chain saws and lawn mowers because of several things.

1. Hydrogen costs much more than gasoline to produce. Note that the current oil - natural gas spread actually favors hydrogen production, but only in the U.S. (and the Middle-East).

2. Hydrogen is very hard to store in substantial quantities. The gas is relatively easy to ship in highly compressed form (via pipelines). However, storage is anything but easy.

3. Hydrogen has strange properties as a internal combustion engine fuel, but can certainly be made to work. The alternative is to use fuel cells to generate electricity from hydrogen. The first approach could be down-scaled to a chain saw or lawn mower (if the storage problem could be solved). The second approach is not down-scalable enough.

"By the way, why so little concern over the emissions and efficiency of lawn mowers and garden tractors and the other small engines disturbing the suburban serenity"

In aggregate they don't account for enough fuel consumption or emissions to be all that important.

There's a lawn mower for just about every lawn in America, some have more than one, almost as big and sophisticated as a small farm tractor. There are millions of garden tractors, snow blowers, weed whips, leaf blowers, chain saws, tillers, log splitters, engine-driven welders and generators, snowmobiles, outboard motors and pumps. Not to mention golf carts. Nobody seems to worry about the products of combustion of these things.

Lawn care itself, a truly insane practice, is a $45 billion + business that burns up over 800 million gallons of gasoline annually just snipping the heads off the intrusive dandelions and keeping the bogus grass short enough for the kids to play frisbee on. It's plenty important.


"Lawn care itself, a truly insane practice, is a $45 billion + business that burns up over 800 million gallons of gasoline annually just snipping the heads off the intrusive dandelions and keeping the bogus grass short enough for the kids to play frisbee on. It’s plenty important."

See "How much gasoline does the United States consume?" (EIA)

"In 2014, about 136.78 billion gallons1 (or 3.26 billion barrels) of gasoline were consumed"

Death to Dandelions...

Plenty of people myself included have electric power lawn tools. They're cheap, easy to start, you don't have to worry about winterizing, battery has plenty of power and duration, so why not?

You convinced me. Let use a carbon tax.

Hands off my tiller! Great for the garden.

I like my scythe.

I detest leafblowers... I wish i had five bucks for every time I've seen a guy blow leaves into a pile then have the wind pick up. Rakes! What was wrong with rakes?!

Hydrogen was intended to solve an energy storage problem, with the underlying assumption being that electric production would be the initial source of energy that would have to be transformed to store it in some form other than electricity - for the purpose of efficiently storing the energy that you carry with you while you drive.

Since electric storage (batteries) are getting better, and since there is an existing infrastructure for distribution at the aggregate level (all's needed is to install rapid chargers at gas stations), it seems like the hydrogen idea is done for. Perhaps it would have been more technically efficient (I honestly don't know), but I heritage systems and path dependency seem to be leading the market directly to electric cars and batteries, rather than transforming the energy into a form that would be more efficient than carrying giant batteries with you.


That's certainly Elon Musk's argument. As I see it, hydrogen has one large advantage. Hydrogen cars can be refueled in "normal" amounts of time. Whether that's enough of an advantage is unclear. Type "hydrogen cars" into Google and you will get the pro and con arguments. For whatever reason, Toyota is still quite interested in hydrogen cars.

In practical terms, the existence of a vast electrical utility network and no hydrogen network is probably decisive. There actually is a large hydrogen network in the U.S. However, it only connects a set of oil refineries, petrochemical plants, etc. The U.S. hydrogen network is big, but not connected to the public.

Methane is probably a better store of energy than H2. However, the advances in fuel cells have been slow in coming. So lithium it is.

"Despite the cloud cast by the Volkswagen scandal". I think "despite" is almost the exact opposite of what should have been used.

The scandal is just the latest and most obvious bit of evidence that the current US and EU diesel standards for NOX are not obtainable. If regulators want to ban the use of this fuel, fine: Do it and take the political heat.

The scandal is just the latest and most obvious bit of evidence that the current US and EU diesel standards for NOX are not obtainable.

The scandal tells us nothing of the sort. Whatever the standards are you can have this sort of scandal.

Who buys a VW diesel anyway? On my bike ride this morning I witnessed an amazing sight: delivery of a brand new Rolls Royce Phantom. I don't believe I ever considered how such an automobile is delivered, but now I know: it's delivered to the buyer's house in an enclosed all-white trailer (concealing the trailer's contents - discretion is important - and protecting said contents from the elements). I wanted to stop and smell the interior, but I was a sweaty mess, so instead I told the owner that is one beautiful automobile. He thanked me, on behalf of the automobile I suppose. I've met the owner but he and I travel in different circles. Different automobiles, too.

If discretion were all that important, the driver would be tootling around in a Subaru.

I love my Subaru.

Cough, Cough.

Wheez, Wheez.

Let me die a few years earlier,

So VW doesn't have to meet the clean air standards.

The purpose of the standards is so the computor models can show pollution problems being solved in the future when the fleet is upgraded to that standard. The numbers "move the model". If engineers are given the resources to develop the technology we will have progress. If management gives the money to lawyers to fight regulation that is needed to move humanity toward less fouling of our nests, our local planet earth, and sub-planet regional settlements, then there will be more ill health and medical costs for societies. Lawyers or engineers, which is the better investment fo we the people?

Actually, you are ignoring the case where the lawyers (as represented by an elected legislature of lawyers) decide to vote in very strict, possibly impossible, technical regulations to appear to be "doing something" about an issue.

In which case, no sane amount of engineering will help.

And lawyers suing back, to inform the dunces that, no, you can't have "zero lead" or whatever nonsense they believe will get them elected, seems very rational.

People at Cummins should be happy. Perhaps this scandal will accelerate the migration from diesel to natural gas in trucks.

Very interesting! Now we learn exactly how much the OEM's were gaming the tests by!

Let the market decide if it likes being lied to and having their children potentially poisoned by Volkswagen.

Then, if Volkswagen fails, so what, let it fail. Independent retailers will help to support the defunct brand for consumers who had the misfortune to buy the cars based on asymmetric information.

Despite the cloud cast by the Volkswagen scandal, automakers are proposing that they be allowed a 70 percent increase in the nitrogen oxides their cars emit, unreleased documents show, as part of new European pollution tests.

No. The current regulations on real pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides should be kept in place. Our city air is cleaner as a result and I want to keep it clean. It is this bogus "global warming", which is a proven fraud, that should be dumped once and for all. CO2 is a natural byproduct of respiration and is consumed by plants. Unlike the Nitrogen Oxides, CO2 is not a pollutant.

Welcome to 2015. American Republicans are the only people on the planet with beyond grade 8 education who think AGW is bunk.


You do know... That Canada's economy is significantly more carbon intensive than the USA...

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