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Energy Independence: Legal and Technological Notes

On September 12th the U.S. District Court for Vermont released a 240 page opinion ruling against an alliance of auto manufacturers (and related entities) challenging Vermont’s enactment of laws mirroring California’s recent adoption of strict auto-emission standards.

When I first heard of this case, I thought “Commerce Clause” – that part of the Constitution through which Congress exclusively regulates interstate commerce. If cars driving over state lines were suddenly subject to more strict emissions standards than in the state they had just left, how could this NOT be an impediment to interstate commerce?

More technically (if that’s possible), I should have thought “Dormant Commerce Clause,” the much-debated idea that states are prohibited by the Commerce Clause from passing laws impeding the free flow of commerce between the states. And indeed, the opinion revealed that the Plaintiff auto manufacturers pled violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause in their complaint – but mysteriously dismissed this count prior to the sixteen day bench trial conducted this past spring. I do not know why.

Instead, the Plaintiffs relied on the principle of Federal Preemption of state laws. If a federal statute covers an activity, then any state law covering the same activity is preempted and nullified.

Section 502 of EPCA [Energy Policy and Conservation Act] directs the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) to set fuel economy standards for new passenger vehicles and light trucks. 49 U.S.C. § 32902. Section 509 of EPCA preempts any state laws or regulations related to fuel economy standards. 49 U.S.C. § 32919(a). Because there is a relationship between decreasing carbon dioxide emission from the tailpipe of a motor vehicle and increasing its fuel economy, Plaintiffs challenged Vermont’s regulations as preempted by EPCA, among other contentions. (Opinion, p.4-5)

The District Court rejected the preemption claims, relying on the recent SCOTUS ruling in EPA vs. Massachusetts that “EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions and NHTSA’s authority to set fuel economy standards overlap but do not conflict, and that the agencies have the duty to work together, particularly with regard to emissions standards that affect fuel economy.” The District Court went on for 100 or more pages thoroughly rejecting every possible configuration of the preemption argument.

Provided the EPA grants the requisite waivers, the strict emission standards adopted by California, Vermont and at least ten other states to date will become part of the law of the land, and auto manufacturers will be forced to respond with appropriate technology.

In other major developments:

A Pennsylvania chemist discovered (you gota read this) that salt water could be burned if exposed to a certain frequency of radio waves. Called the most remarkable discovery in water science in 100 years, the frequency forces the separation of the hydrogen atoms which burn like a candle at the surface of the water. The 3,000 F temperature of the flame represents an incredible energy output and could be extremely significant. Fill er up with salt water anyone?

The stroke of uber genius I had upon hearing this news? Everyone run pump hoses into the ocean. As global warming pushes up sea levels, we suck it right down again fueling our salt water combustion engines. My patent is pending.

Also of extreme note:

500 mile round trip on a $9 electrical charge? You need an ultracapacitor in as for your engine. This mindblowing piece of tech is under development by a Austin-based startup EEStor.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” said Ian Clifford, chief executive of Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co., which has licensed EEStor’s invention. “The Achilles’ heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary.”

Capacitor technology has been around for a while, but this one is supposedly 400 times more powerful/efficient than existing technology. You must read the article. Pretty incredible stuff. Is it legit? Check this out:

The deal with ZENN Motor and a $3 million investment by the venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which made big-payoff early bets on companies like Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., hint that EEStor may be on the edge of a breakthrough technology, a “game changer” …

Who do I have to mug to get a place in line for the IPO?

B