Driverless Cars

On April 17, 2014, in Economy, Energy, Environment, Science & Technology, by editor1

Council on Foreign Relations. April 15, 2014.

Autonomous vehicles have quickly moved from science fiction writers’ dreams to test labs. Several manufacturers have announced their intention to roll out vehicles by 2020 with self-driving modes that fully operate the car in certain scenarios, such as highway cruising or stop-and-go traffic. Over time, self-driving modes could handle more situations with less human intervention, and declining costs might allow the technology to spread from luxury cars to the mainstream.

The benefits appear tantalizing, but roadblocks loom, according to this brief. [Note: contains copyrighted material]
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Safety of Crude Oil by Rail

On March 11, 2014, in Economy, Energy, Environment, by editor1

Center for Strategic & International Studies. March 6, 2014.

In the last several years, rail has come to play an important role in the transportation of growing U.S. crude oil production. Over the last seven months, a number of serious accidents have resulted in intense review of the safety of shipping large quantities of oil by rail. The focus has been on classification of the oil, the integrity of tank cars, and rail operations. Regulatory processes have been initiated to attempt to deal with these issues in a timely manner. Further regulation of crude by rail is a near certainty, but the ultimate scope and pace remains unclear. Whether regulatory action actually slows down what has become a burgeoning transportation option for crude oil producers and refiners is an open question. It is increasingly unlikely that regulatory action—unless truly drastic—will stop shipment of crude by rail. However, moving forward, regulatory action such as phasing out older tank cars, rerouting trains, or imposing stringent requirements for testing, could impact the economics of crude by rail. [Note: contains copyrighted material]. [PDF format, 9 pages].

RAND Corporation. January 2014.

For the past hundred years, innovation within the automotive sector has created safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles, but progress has been incremental. The industry now appears close to substantial change, engendered by autonomous, or “self-driving,” vehicle technologies. This technology offers the possibility of significant benefits to social welfare — saving lives; reducing crashes, congestion, fuel consumption, and pollution; increasing mobility for the disabled; and ultimately improving land use. This report is intended as a guide for state and federal policymakers on the many issues that this technology raises. After surveying the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, the authors determined that the benefits of the technology likely outweigh the disadvantages. However, many of the benefits will accrue to parties other than the technology’s purchasers. These positive externalities may justify some form of subsidy. The report also explores policy issues, communications, regulation and standards, and liability issues raised by the technology; and concludes with some tentative guidance for policymakers, guided largely by the principle that the technology should be allowed and perhaps encouraged when it is superior to an average human driver. [Note: contains copyrighted material]. [PDF format, 217 pages].

Congressional Research Service. December 20, 2013.

The provision of $8 billion for intercity passenger rail projects in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5) reinvigorated efforts to expand intercity passenger rail transportation in the United States. The Obama Administration subsequently announced that it would ask Congress to provide $1 billion annually for high speed rail (HSR) projects. This initiative was reflected in the President’s budgets for FY2010 through FY2014. Congress approved $2.5 billion for high speed and intercity passenger rail in FY2010 (P.L. 111-117), but has provided no funding for the program since then, and in the FY2011 appropriations act rescinded $400 million from prior year unobligated balances of program funding. [PDF format, 35 pages].

Domestic Action on Aviation Carbon

On August 6, 2012, in Energy, Environment, by editor1

Center for American Progress. July 24, 2012.

International aviation generates more than 3 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions per year. This amount is relatively small but growing quickly, with worldwide aviation emissions projected to increase 300 percent to 700 percent by 2050. Until recently the sector faced no limits on these emissions. But starting this year, 2012, the European Union began regulating emissions from all flights to and from EU airports. Crucially, the European Union law covers both foreign and EU airlines and their emissions produced over their entire flight path, not just over EU airspace. [Note: contains copyrighted material]. [PDF format, 23 pages].