The United States can cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in half by 2050 with strategies ranging from cutting speed limits to imposing road pricing, according to a report released today by federal agencies and environmental and industry groups.
Examining about 50 transportation strategies, the report found transportation emissions could be reduced 24 percent by 2050 by acting to change travel behavior and land-use patterns. The emissions reduction hit 47 percent by adding road pricing techniques, ranging from pay-as-you-go insurance to charging Americans for every mile driven.
The report found environmental gains from advances in fuel efficiency would be mostly undermined by increased travel and population, making it important to address the efficiency of the transportation sector by investing in public transit, land-use planning and other low-carbon alternatives.
John Porcari, deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, said the report shows that lawmakers looking to recast the nation's transportation system to curb emissions and fuel consumption will need to look for combinations of policy changes. "There is no magic bullet," he said. "There is no single strategy that can be pursued to help us turn our corner. We need to look at a number of options."
Transportation accounts for roughly 28 percent of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions, and the sector has been one of the fastest-growing in the past two decades -- representing nearly half of the nation's total increase in greenhouse emissions since 1990.
The sweeping energy and climate measure that the House passed last month, H.R. 2454, would require carbon dioxide emissions to drop 17 percent below 2005 levels and a total of 83 percent by 2050. The study released today finds that making the transportation sector more efficient is critical to meeting those goals.
"We can't get there from here without reducing emissions from transportation," said Colin Peppard, climate and infrastructure policy director for Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that commissioned the report.
The report was written by consulting firm Cambridge Systematics. Its sponsors include DOT, the American Public Transportation Association and Shell Oil Co.
'Blowtorch to the behind'
If all goes according to plan for many advocates of transportation reform, the climate effort will draw the outlines of a policy that pushes Americans out of their personal vehicles and into trains and buses, leaving the door open for the reauthorization of the federal highway bill to provide massive amounts of cash to build and sustain alternative systems.
When the reauthorization will occur, and what form it will take, remains uncertain.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hopes to pass its reform-minded, six-year bill before the current authorization expires at the end of September. The House effort, however, has run into multiple roadblocks, with Senate leaders and the White House instead pushing an 18-month extension of the current law.
The committee chairman, James Oberstar (D-Minn.), applauded the report today, saying it could serve as a "blowtorch to the behinds" for those pushing to postpone his effort. He also took a shot at the DOT officials who have asked for the extension so they can have more time to consider the reforms Oberstar is proposing.
"They need to go to Head Start for transportation and catch up with us on the Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure," Oberstar said, noting that the report suggests many of the same transportation policies included in his bill.
The study's authors said their report is the first to offer a comprehensive analysis of transportation efficiency and its relationship to greenhouse gas reductions and consumer savings.