Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Administration Proposes 'Bold' Climate Rule for Highways

Emissions of Greenhouse Gases by Sector (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The Federal Highway Administration is considering measuring the success of state and local transportation projects by their greenhouse gas emissions.

FHWA asked for feedback on establishing the climate metric in a proposed rule establishing new performance standards for transportation projects receiving federal dollars.  If finalized, it would be the first-ever requirement for all state and local transportation officials to tally and report their carbon pollution.

"It's a bold move by the secretary to include carbon pollution in the rule and it's also eminently reasonable," said Deron Lovaas, senior policy adviser on energy efficiency and transportation at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  "Expecting planners to think about air quality and health goes to the heart of what it means to plan, so this is a promising first step."

The 423-page document includes six pages on greenhouse gas emissions, and even there, the idea is floated rather than concrete.  FHWA asked a series of questions to determine whether or not it should include a carbon dioxide measure in the final rule, expected at the end of the year. The agency said the unit for the metric would probably be annual tons of CO2 from on-road mobile sources, but it didn't say whether upstream emissions from vehicle manufacturing or construction and maintenance emissions would be covered.

Transportation accounts for 26 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.  On-road vehicles, both light-duty and heavy-duty, contribute more than 80 percent of that share.

Several states and cities already account for greenhouse gas emissions in their transportation planning. FHWA has previously developed some tools, including a handbook and a model, to encourage more state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to do the same.  But "FHWA recognizes that more will be needed to meet the U.S. climate goals," including international commitments to cut emissions, according to the proposal.

The proposed rule fulfills a requirement of the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which sought to create new ways to measure the success of transportation projects.  Carbon pollution would join other metrics proposed by FHWA, like congestion, freight movement improvement, pavement condition, and fatalities and injuries.

"What's attractive here is they're kind of taking transportation out of its box and connecting it to other goals and measures," said Robert Puentes, director of the Eno Center for Transportation. "Everybody says transportation is a means to an end; well, here is the end, whether it's connecting people to economic opportunity or cleaning the environment."

Having the carbon emissions measure in place could spur vehicle electrification and development of rail and bus rapid transit.  Other things that could be affected are road pricing to decrease congestion or housing development decisions, said Lovaas.

Read more at Administration Proposes 'Bold' Climate Rule for Highways

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