Recap: Roundtable on Reducing Transportation Sector Emissions

November 25, 2020

Together with Columbia University’s Sabin Center For Climate Change Law, we recently held the third virtual forum in our series on implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This roundtable focused on reducing emissions from the transportation sector, which is the state’s largest contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A recording of the forum is available here.

 

The forum featured discussions about two policies in particular: the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) and a Clean Fuels Standard (CFS). The forum was moderated by Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. It featured several expert speakers from the transportation and climate sectors: James Bradbury, Bruce Ho, Ben Mandel, Porie Saikia-Eapen, Kerene Tayloe, and Floyd Vergara.

James Bradbury is the Mitigation Program Director at the Georgetown Climate Center. During the roundtable, he spoke about how the Transportation and Climate Initiative would commit 12 Northeastern states to reduce emissions from regional transportation. The TCI proposes to cut down on the over 40% of carbon emissions that transportation is responsible for regionally through creating a multijurisdictional cap on carbon emissions. It proposes a 20-25% cut in carbon emissions from 2022-2032. It would also modestly raise prices at the pump and use the proceeds to fund research in and incentivize clean energy. The final memorandum of understanding for the TCI is on track to be released by the end of the year, with the policy set to go into effect in 2021. The TCI and its regional approach can get more done than if the states were to only act alone.

Bradbury also discussed the current federal political landscape. While he said that Congress is currently very unpredictable with funding, he stated that the Biden/Harris Administration will pursue climate-friendly initiatives such as setting federal vehicle emissions standards and restoring tax credits for electric vehicles. Because of uncertainty on the federal level, Bradbury contends that state and local leadership is critical to creating long-term climate programs. He said that a combination of bottom-up leadership from communities and state-level funding will be important.

Bruce Ho, Senior Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, mentioned the need for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to tackle the transportation sector’s pollution problem. He lauded the TCI’s enforceable declining cap on transportation emissions and $1.4 billion in annual funding it would create, citing its potential to save lives and prevent over 1,000 childhood asthma cases in New York every year. He mentioned the need to use TCI funds to support equitable solutions like mass transit. He also stated that it would be unacceptable if the TCI exacerbates existing disparities, and that the program will need to provide certainties and guarantees for health benefits for communities of color. Finally, Ho emphasized that no single policy is a silver bullet, and that it is essential for a clean fuels standard to work hand in hand with the TCI.

Ben Mandel, Northeast Regional Director for CALSTART, reiterated that while the TCI is imperative, we also need an all-hands-on-deck approach. A clean fuels standard would establish a declining standard for the carbon from fuels used in the state. It would create revenue to reinvest in the public transportation system and the development of low carbon fuels. He said that clean fuel standard bills have bipartisan support in the State Assembly and Senate. Mandle suggested using incentives to reduce payback periods for investing in an electric fleet in order to get more clean-fuel vehicles on the road. To handle areas without access to mass transit, he suggested enhancing first and last mile connections such as e-bikes and e-scooters, reducing the need for single-person car trips.

Porie Saikia-Eapen, Director of Environmental Sustainability and Compliance at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, discussed the agency’s long term goals for fleet electrification, including plans to convert the entire 6000-strong bus fleet to run on electricity by 2040. This process has already begun through the purchase of 15 electric buses and plans to order 500 more in the 2024 capital plan. She mentioned that the MTA has 2000 miles of track, covers 5000 square miles of territory, and moved an average of 9,000,000 people per day prior to the pandemic. The agency keeps 17,000,000 tons of GHG emissions out of the air annually by reducing the number of cars on the road, she said. It is currently looking to make a 10-year agreement with energy developers to install solar panels on bus depot roofs to send power to the grid. A similar program already exists with panels on the roof of the Stillwood Avenue subway terminal that power the station. Saikia-Eapen also mentioned that the agency exceeded its 2010-2020 goal of reducing energy consumption of spaces greater than 20,000 square feet by 20%. Additionally, the MTA is currently researching biodiesel as a possible fuel source. Finally, the agency is committed to reporting emissions on an annual basis to the climate registry and to meeting the science-based targets of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Kerena Tayloe is the Director of Federal Legislative Affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. During the roundtable, she expressed some of the concerns about TCI, including that many of these policies were created without input from environmental justice communities. Tayloe also criticized the Trump Administration’s rollbacks of CAFE standards. She opposes market-based approaches to reducing emissions, which she feels are ineffectual. She supports the adoption of electric buses, and mentioned that an increase in the price of gas would only increase the burden on already-burdened people.

Floyd Vergara is the leader of the West Coast Office for the National Biodiesel Board. He discussed the clean fuels standard, which he said decarbonizes the transportation fuel pool, improves air quality, reduces dependency on fossil-fuels, incentivizes investment in new industries, and creates jobs. The CFS incentivizes alternative fuels such as biodiesel, which has created an estimated 38,000 jobs. Vergara said that the CFS in California has not had an adverse impact on prices at the pump. He says we often focus on the magnitude of emission reductions but ignore how long it would take to achieve these goals. Biodiesel can be implemented right now since it is compatible with existing engines and would significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from trucks. Electrification makes sense for light-duty vehicles, but for heavy-duty vehicles, biofuels will play an important role, said Vergara.

We will continue to plan more in our forum series on implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

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