The EV revolution could spur a used car catastrophe abroad
Hello, and welcome to Thursday’s Protocol Climate newsletter. Today, we’re talking about the sneaky problem with EV adoption in the U.S. and the bitcoin mining showdown in New York. Turns out politicians can flip-flop on an issue. Who knew? Read on!
Joe Biden's dirty EV secret
President Joe Biden once declared himself “a car guy,” and his infrastructure priorities have backed that up. His administration has approved $7.5 billion in funding for EV charging stations nationwide as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, set a goal for EVs to make up 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030 and is still pressing Congress to pass tax credits for EVs and batteries.
But there’s something missing: what to do with the diesel and gas-guzzling vehicles being exported in increasingly large numbers to low-income countries. There’s a potential fix, though.
The U.S is a major used car exporter. While it’s tempting to think used cars all end up in the junkyard or meet their fate in a trash compactor, the truth is a little more complicated: Many get shipped overseas.
- The U.S. exported $8 billion worth of used passenger vehicles in 2021, up from about $6 billion in 2017 when the U.S. was still rebounding from a lull in exports, as countries including Mexico introduced import restrictions.
- A large number of vehicles end up in Africa. Nigeria alone took in around $720 million worth of used vehicles from the U.S. in 2021.
- The issue mirrors the U.S.’s widespread export of plastic waste to poorer nations.
The EV revolution could make matters worse. The Biden administration’s goal of ramping up EV sales may make U.S. skies clearer and reduce the country’s emissions. But in the case of the climate and public health, out of sight isn’t out of mind.
- The cars that are exported abroad are often older, emit more carbon and harmful pollutants, and would not be allowed on U.S. roads.
- A 2020 United Nations report attributed some of the export problem to a “very weak” regulatory environment for used vehicles in Nigeria and 65 other countries, more than half of which are in Africa. That’s creating a climate quagmire.
- “We will have a self-defeating set of climate policies,” warned Paul Bledsoe, a climate policy expert at American University. “We're simply exporting emissions that would otherwise have occurred here. The global commons and the global climate [aren’t] helped at all.”
The climate only cares about absolute emissions, and exporting gas-powered vehicles means carbon will still enter the atmosphere and cause temperatures to rise. There are ways to ensure that doesn’t happen, though, while allowing poorer countries to develop in a more sustainable manner.
- In the absence of policy to address the unintended consequences, some analysts have suggested the return of the Obama-era “Cash for Clunkers” program, which bought up old cars in a bid to stimulate the automotive industry following the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
- Bledsoe said revamping the program with emissions reduction as the core motive and barring the purchased vehicles from being exported could have a major impact.
- On the other side of the coin, countries such as South Africa have banned used car imports. Mauritius, meanwhile, has instituted a policy that allows cars made within the past three years to be imported and reduced taxes on new and used hybrid and electric cars.
Cutting carbon is a zero-sum game. And winning when it comes to transportation will require ensuring all countries have access to an electrified future.—Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu (email)
Eric Adams flip-flops on crypto mining
A New York bill that would hit pause on new energy-intensive crypto mining for two years has a new opponent. New York City Mayor Eric Adams intends to ask Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto it, according to reporting by Crain’s New York. The move would be an about-face from what he said just four months ago.
Adams said he wants to protect New York’s role as a leader in crypto, which he characterized as a fledgling industry threatened by lawmakers biased against it.
- Adams took his first three paychecks in bitcoin, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the industry since taking office earlier this year.
- However, he told a joint session of state legislators back in February that he supports “cryptocurrency, not crypto mining” in light of climate-related concerns. It’s a distinction he seems to have left behind, though, with a bill that would take on mining on the governor's desk after the legislature passed it earlier this month.
The bill does not constitute an all-out ban on crypto mining. It puts a two-year moratorium on certain kinds of particularly energy-intensive operations.
- At issue are mines using proof of work, which is a computational process that keeps the blockchain secure but also uses lots of energy and is responsible for substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
- But proof of work mines that rely on renewables would still be allowed under the potential law; the bill would only place a two-year block on renewing or expanding permits for mines that pull electricity from fossil fuel power plants. And permits for new mines that meet that description would be out as well.
- Seemingly misunderstanding this, Adams said the state should focus its efforts on industry “innovation” and “deadlines” for emissions reduction rather than “bans.”
Mining bitcoin is a fossil fuel lifeline. It gives power plants a new way to generate cash and keep them up and running, but doing so could jeopardize the state’s climate goals. And upstate New York is swiftly becoming a major hub for crypto mining.
- Our fearless leader Brian [Editor’s note: Blushing!] did a deep dive into a particularly controversial site on the shores of Seneca Lake, where a crypto mining operation revived a long-closed coal plant and retrofitted it to run on natural gas. While it sends a small amount of power to the grid, it’s primarily a vehicle for mining bitcoin.
- In a statement about Adams’ attempt to tank the bill, Seneca Lake Guardian Vice President Yvonne Taylor said that “it's frankly shameful to see the mayor of the largest city in the country so nakedly in thrall to crypto cash in the middle of a climate crisis.”
We might not see a decision on the bill until later in the year. Hochul technically has 10 working days after the bill’s June 3 passage to sign or veto it, but governors often bump such decisions until the end of the year.
- In recent comments to reporters, she suggested that the bill’s fate will be decided in a matter of months, not days.
A MESSAGE FROM INTERNET FOR GROWTH
The idea that politicians could restrict cost-effective online advertising and marketing is daunting. These laws could potentially cripple the way small companies like ours do business in this ever-evolving digital age.
Make it rain
Sustainability data firm EcoVadis raised $500 million in a funding round, led by the private equity firms Astorg and BeyondNetZero. The valuation makes it one of the sector’s first unicorns.
As if we needed more acronyms: The electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eVTOL) startup Overair secured $145 in funding, including from Hanwha Systems and Hanwha Aerospace. The money will be directed toward developing a prototype by 2023.
Xendee, a software for distributed energy planning and operations, raised $12 million in series A financing, led by Anzu Partners.
The floating wind technology developer Wind Catching Systems raised $10 million in series A funding, led by GM Ventures, the automaker’s venture capital arm. GM Chief Sustainability Officer Kristen Siemen said in a statement that it’s a move that complements its transition to electric vehicles, and that it is “critical” that GM “simultaneously drive the transition of the grid to low-carbon energy sources.”
Looking for a job? Terra.do, a platform for climate careers, raised $5 million in seed funding, led by Avaana Capital.
Indian rooftop solar startup SolarSquare raised $4 million in a round led by Good Capital. Lowercarbon Capital also contributed, marking the firm’s first Indian venture.
Carbon dioxide removal operation Travertine is emerging from stealth with a $3 million seed financing round, led by Grantham Environmental Trust and Clean Energy Ventures. The company is angling for pilot-scale implementation in 2023.
In acquisition news, the charging company Blink acquired the electric vehicle infrastructure company SemaConnect for $200 million in cash and stock.
—Lisa Martine Jenkins
Move over, net zero. “Real zero” is the new climate buzzphrase, and power giant NextEra has a plan to get there by 2045. (And a trademark for the term to boot!) The proof, though, will be in the pudding.
Reservoirs are tech. And they’re imperiled tech at that. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are approaching dangerously low levels as the West’s megadrought worsens, and water cuts are on the horizon.
New York lawmakers aren’t the only ones with crypto on the brain. Lawmakers and regulators in Washington, D.C. are also thinking about regulations, though they remain divided on the climate question.
Another day, another debate about offsets. The Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity initiative is a watchdog for net zero pledges, and it’s trying to gauge the role of offsets in tech giants’ climate claims. The early efforts are decidedly mixed.
Texans should say thanks to wind and solar. Renewables are helping keep the lights (and AC!) on and lower power costs amid record heat.
Airplanes could see their first climate regulations in the U.S. There’s just one problem: The regulations don’t do much of anything to reduce emissions.—Lisa Martine Jenkins and Brian Kahn (email | twitter)
A MESSAGE FROM INTERNET FOR GROWTH
Internet advertising has enabled us to grow our business to what it is today, but proposed regulations limiting advertisers’ ability to reach target audiences would hurt media publishers like us.
Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you Tuesday!