States target lower transport emissions under proposed rule – govern | Gmx Pharm

A recently proposed federal rule would require states and metropolitan planning organizations to set targets for reducing tailpipe carbon emissions on portions of the National Highway System that are within their borders and to publicly monitor progress toward those targets.

Drafted during the Obama administration, the rule was intended to help track emissions that contribute to climate change and make transportation planning decisions that could help reduce them. It was released two days before President Trump took office, and his administration later repealed the rule before it went into effect. The Federal Roads Administration (FHWA) published the planned measure in the Federal Register in July.

In an attempt to reintroduce the rule, the Biden administration is asking states to set targets that align with national carbon reduction targets. The government has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels and achieving “net-zero” emissions by 2050. Coupled with billions of dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for carbon reduction and electric vehicle infrastructure – and more modest sums for multimodal transit planning – the government hopes the rule will help states and metropolitan areas make less climate-damaging transportation decisions.


In a press release announcing the rule, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called it “an important step forward in addressing transportation’s contribution to the climate challenge.” But the five-year delay in implementing the rule and the lack of enforcement action for states that don’t meet their targets leave the potential impact open-ended overall.

Largest emitter of carbon

Transportation in the US emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other economic sector — about 27 percent of the country’s total carbon emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of these emissions come from cars and light trucks.

For decades, beginning with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, cars have become progressively more fuel efficient and cleaner in terms of the air polluting chemicals they produce. But burning gasoline to power a vehicle still produces carbon dioxide, the main climate-warming gas.

The Clean Air Act and other fuel efficiency regulations have done little to reduce the total amount of driving on US roads. On the contrary, average vehicle kilometers traveled per person have risen sharply since the early 1980s, with a decade-long slump between 2004 and 2014, according to the Eno Center for Transportation.

The new rule proposed by the FHWA would create more detailed, site-specific data on transport emissions. And the agency hopes this would help reduce those emissions over time. The rules are deliberately flexible, requiring states and cities to set goals but not prescribing strategies for achieving them. That’s because there is “no one-size-fits-all approach to combating climate change,” a spokesman for FHWA said in an email.

Fuel efficiency regulations have done little to reduce the total amount of driving on US roads. Average vehicle kilometers traveled per person have increased sharply since the early 1980s, with a decade-long decline between 2004 and 2014.

(Eno Center for Transport)

“Positioning state governments and city planning organizations to do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions begins with respecting their autonomy and giving them the flexibility to set decreasing annual targets that reflect their unique circumstances,” the spokesman said.

State and Local Progress

For states and major cities, the main benefit of setting targets is establishing a baseline for emissions against which to track progress, says Stephanie Gagnon, associate policy fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, which oversees government climate policies. Strategies for achieving these reductions fall into two categories: eliminating emissions from vehicles and reducing vehicle miles driven, she says.

Some states are well ahead of the curve. California, for example, has been more aggressive than other states when it comes to setting carbon reduction targets and, in particular, policies to reduce emissions from transportation. The state has set a 2035 deadline to phase out new fuel-powered vehicles and switch to electric cars, a goal that presents difficult infrastructure and cost challenges. Just as challenging, if not more so, is redesigning the built environment to allow for more mobility with less dependency on the car.

“Basically, people shouldn’t be locked into a deadly depreciation that also poisons their neighbors just to get around town,” said Craig Segall, deputy executive director of mobile sources and incentives for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). , which monitors the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The state is “sprinting away” from gas-powered driving, Segall says, and CARB administers a variety of incentive programs for clean vehicle adoption. The recent increase in driving overall has wiped out some of the advances in electric vehicle technology, he says. But other initiatives, such as B. Hard-fought, contentious efforts to build denser housing in single-family areas and invest in transport-oriented development could reduce the need for private car travel.

“There’s so much low-hanging fruit here because we’ve been making so many car-dependent decisions for so long,” says Segall.

However, since much of the power to decide where people live and work lies in the hands of local governments, states and metro planning organizations cannot unilaterally impose more climate-friendly changes in the design of urban regions. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has had greenhouse gas emissions targets for years, says Erin Aleman, the group’s chief executive.

But like the targets that would be required under the proposed FHWA rule, they are non-binding. Planning organizations in large cities like Chicago have little power to force local leaders to make different decisions about development, housing, and transportation infrastructure. “We are limited by our power of persuasion to get people to think about implementing and moving forward with those goals,” says Aleman.

Limited impact with no enforcement

FHWA hopes the rule will help make better decisions about transportation investments, in part because it will “transparently characterize the impact of those decisions on greenhouse gas emissions and increase public awareness of trends in greenhouse gas emissions,” a spokesman said. Supporters say the rule is welcome but will have no real impact on overall emissions without changes to the way mass transit and highway projects are funded.

Transportation for America director Beth Osborne says it was disheartening when the Trump administration repealed the rule before it went into effect because it was “just a measure of sunlight and accountability” that would have helped Track how traffic planning affects climate emissions. States won’t have a hard time complying with the proposed rule, which congressional Republicans rejected, because all it requires is that they set a target for reduced emissions — not that they implement a plan to reduce it or suffer a consequence of not achieving them.

The Department of Transportation could do more than it needs to bring climate considerations into transportation planning and funding, Osborne says. For example, when agencies conduct environmental assessments of transportation projects, DOT might require them to include an analysis of induced demand — the process by which construction of new road capacity invites new vehicle travel, and “a phenomenon we’ve understood for over a century,” says you.

Though the science of climate change is increasingly uncontroversial, policies to combat it remain politically divisive, says Yonah Freemark, senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. The Biden administration wants to address the climate and environmental impact of the country’s transportation system, but “the rule itself falls short of the urgency of the moment,” he says. Without enforcement action, there is no evidence that this will prompt states and MPOs that have not yet made significant progress in reducing emissions to do so.

“I think it’s a step forward,” says Freemark. “But it’s an insufficient step forward to meet the goal of reducing carbon emissions.”

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