Senate Briefing Focuses on "Moving Cooler" Report
"Freeways" by renowned American photographer Ansel Adams.

"Freeways" by renowned American photographer Ansel Adams.

A briefing hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) yesterday delved into the transportation’s impact on carbon emissions and examined different strategies that can be incorporated into upcoming climate and transportation legislation to reduce a sector of the economy that contributes 28% of the United States’ total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Recognizing the profound link between transportation and climate change panel-member Paul Schmid, Legislative Assistant to Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware), said that what’s needed is strong federal “transportation bill with a climate change focus and a climate bill with a transportation focus.”

The briefing focused on a report called Moving Cooler that was released in June and sponsored by a coalition of federal agencies, transportation organizations, and environmental groups. Between 1990 and 2006, transportation contributed almost one half of the increase in US GHG emission . EESI notes that:

“Despite prospects for more efficient vehicles and lower-carbon fuels, total carbon emissions from the transportation sector are projected to remain relatively unchanged unless rising trends in overall travel demand and improvements in system efficiency are addressed. Climate legislation that establishes a market price for carbon emissions is estimated to have a lesser effect on transportation emissions…”

Basically, innovations in vehicle and fuel technology will reduce GHGs but those advances will be largely offset by increases in travel and growth in the U.S. population. The Moving Cooler report analyzes 50 transportation strategies individually and in various combinations that can combat GHG emissions. At the same time, it is important to remember that these strategies meet broader economic, transportation, and environmental goals. The types of strategies examined include:

  • Pricing, tolls, “pay as you drive” insurance, VMT fees, carbon/fuel taxes
  • Regional ride-sharing, commute measures
  • Land use and smart growth
  • Nonmotorized transportation
  • Public transportation
  • Regulatory measures
  • Operational/ITS strategies
  • Capacity/bottleneck relief improvements
  • Freight sector strategies

Perhaps the most telling conclusion of the study (and one emphasized heavily in the briefing) is that aggressive implementation of all of these strategies without economy-wide taxes and fees would lead to less than 4% to 18% annual GHG reductions from transportation by 2050 compared to anticipated emissions if nothing was done. Similarly, when maximum implementation of strategies could lead to an up to 24% annual GHG reductions by 2050 compared to anticipated emissions if nothing was done. That would include local and regional pricing strategies are included. Consumers would rely more on alternative modes, drive less, and choose more accessible places to live and work.

Furthermore, if there were “strong economy-wide pricing measures” (equivalent of $0.60 per gallon in 2015 increasing to $1.25 per gallon in 2050) Moving Cooler predicts an additional 17% reduction in GHG emissions from transportation in 2050 compared to anticipated emissions if nothing was done. This is significant. It shows that if bills before Congress were passed today there pricing effect  could fall short in the transportation sector.

Snapshot of a powerpoint slide of Joanne Potter of Cambridge Systematics Inc.

Snapshot of a powerpoint slide of Joanne Potter of Cambridge Systematics Inc.

Keep an eye out on the climate bills making there way through Congress. They include many provisions for increasing transportation efficiency  by requiring states and larger metropolitan areas to submit plans to EPA to reduce GHG emissions from transportation.

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