State Funding and Planning Mechanisms to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector

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Title: State Funding and Planning Mechanisms to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector
Author: Isbell, Rory
Abstract: Many states are working to mitigate their contributions to global climate change by controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These efforts often begin with a establishment of a statewide GHG reduction goal, followed by targeted policies to reduce GHG emission from specific classes of sources or economic sectors. For the transportation sector, many policy, legal, and cultural barriers stand in the way of achieving goals to reduce GHG emissions. Our immense transportation and transportation fuels infrastructure – including roads, highways, parking lots, pipelines, refineries, abundant and affordable gasoline, and low density land development patterns – supports continued reliance on cars and light-duty trucks. Transportation project programming processes, through which transportation capital projects are chosen for receipt of funding, often support the selection of projects that reinforce the existing carbon intensive infrastructure. Funding is limited, and many funding sources are constrained in how they may legally be spent. Other transportation goals and policy efforts compete with climate goals for funding priority. Political forces can skew transportation agencies’ programming processes. These barriers notwithstanding, the 20th century’s trend towards single occupancy vehicle trips is not permanently fixed. Many academics, engineers, planners, and policymakers have worked to map out the path to a carbon-minimal transportation future. With this roadmap in place, the greatest obstacle facing states attempting to reduce greenhouse gases from their transportation sector is inadequate implementation. With a desired outcome in mind – reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80percent below 1990 levels by 20501 – states must work backward from this goal: measure current emissions, plan for reduced emissions, select projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing vehicle miles traveled, and fund and build those projects. Projects that lead to transportation sector GHG reductions are projects are usually reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled, such as public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and congestion mitigation projects2. Although less likely to be achieved through funding and planning mechanisms, other projects will reduce transportation sector GHG reductions by increasing vehicle efficiency or decreasing the carbon content of fuels, such as electric vehicle charging stations. In due course, reduced greenhouse gas emissions resulting from planning efforts, combined with improved vehicle efficiency technology and reduced carbon content of fuels from the automobile and energy industries, will yield drastically decreased transportation sector GHG emissions. Many states today are doing some of this work by measuring transportation emissions and setting goals to reduce those emissions. This report shows that these actions are meaningless unless states are also funding, planning, and programming transportation projects that will reduce GHG emissions. 1 As discussed below, all three case study states described here (California, Massachusetts, and Washington) have a statewide GHG reduction goal similar to this figure. 2 See Greene & Plotkin. 2011. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation. Pew Center of Global Climate Change. ghg.pdf 3 The efforts of three states – California, Washington, and Massachusetts – to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector are investigated here. Through investigation of these three states, this report addresses the following questions: • Are states with greenhouse gas reduction goals in both state statute and in long range transportation plans implementing processes to ensure their transportation investments achieve the goals? • What legal and other policy barriers exist to spending on GHG-reducing projects in transportation? All three states have similar statewide GHG reduction goals set in statute. California is the largest state and has the most far-reaching policies and programs to mitigate GHG emissions. California’s approach delegates authority to regional metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to achieve regional GHG reduction goals set by the state. Pursuant to its statutory authority, Massachusetts’ state environment agency promulgated rules requiring the state transportation agency to demonstrate how it will meet GHG reduction targets through prioritization of GHG-reducing projects. Washington has statutory goals to reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in addition to a statewide GHG reduction goal. This report describes the policy and processes used in these three states to reduce greenhouse gases from the transportation sector through state and metropolitan transportation funding, planning, and programming and then discusses legal barriers to implementing processes to achieve GHG reduction goals. This paper does not measure actual GHG emissions reductions that the three states have accomplished since enacting goals. Rather, this report critiques the efficacy of states’ policy and processes to achieve transportation sector GHG reduction goals. Finally, this report makes recommendations for building greater efficiency and transparency into funding and programming processes in order to implement transportation programming frameworks that better achieve transportation sector GHG reduction goals. After assessing current policy, federal funding and planning frameworks, and legal barriers to implementation, a set of recommendations for implementing transportation sector GHG reductions emerges. States’ GHG reduction goals must be legally enforceable through strong statutory language. Constraints on funding sources should be removed. States should implement greenhouse gas performance measures that ensure transportation dollars are spent on transportation projects that actually reduce greenhouse gases. A performance-driven approach is consistent with the existing federal framework for funding, planning, and programming transportation. By implementing a feedback loop where the GHG outcomes of transportation projects influence how future projects are selected, states can ensure that transportation funding actively works to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals. To do this, states must go much further than establishing GHG reductions as a goal in long term transportation plans. They should integrate GHG considerations in every state of the transportation programming process: funding, planning, programming, and performance measurement.
Description: 38 pages
Date: 2016-12

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