GHGs and transportation policy

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"We can't get there from here without reducing emissions from transportation." –Colin Peppard, climate and infrastructure policy director, Environmental Defense Fund

So there’s a new 97-page study hitting the streets this week, compiled by one of the best transportation consulting firms in the business – Cambridge Systematics – on behalf of a VERY wide variety of groups, from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, to the American Public Transportation Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, and the Urban Land Institute, to name but a few.

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This new study – entitled “Moving Cooler: Transportation Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions” – is going to become a critical policy linchpin in the months ahead, I think, as work on the highway bill looks more and more likely to be delayed until late 2010.

Regardless of whether you believe in the phenomenon dubbed “Global Warming” or not, trucking needs to pay very close attention to efforts designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or “GHGs” as they are called. That’s because reports like this one are not being spun out of some fringe group – no less than THREE federal agencies signed on to support this GHG transportation study, meaning the findings in this report are going to be incorporated into transportation policy strategy at the federal level. So again, whether you think the threat of GHGs is valid or not, you must deal with it – simply because GHG reduction is now becoming a core component of transportation policy.

"Moving Cooler provides an expanded array of options for policymakers to begin considering to ensure America can adapt to a rapidly changing world, especially given the impacts of decisions on future generations, when the climate crisis and the stability of U.S. energy supplies may present far more acute societal challenges," said Michael Replogle, a member of the steering committee for the report on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund and an advisor to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Replogle noted that transportation contributes roughly 28% of the total U.S. GHGs and transportation emissions have been growing faster than those of other sectors. Between 1990 and 2006, growth in U.S. transportation GHG emissions represented almost one-half (47%) of the increase in total U.S. GHGs. If the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) – which the U.S. House of Representatives passed last month – becomes law, he said, U.S. GHGs would need to be reduced 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% below 2005 levels by 2050.

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That’s a tall order – and such a large GHG reduction effort is going to come with a very big price tag. Cambridge’s research determined that transportation GHG emissions are the result of the interaction of four factors: vehicle fuel efficiency, the carbon content of the fuel burned, the number of miles that vehicles travel, and the operational efficiency experienced during travel. It’s Moving Cooler report deals with the last two items – vehicle travel and operational efficiency – and suggests nine areas for the focus of GHG reduction strategies:

Pricing and taxes. Strategies raise the costs associated with the use of the transportation system, including the cost of vehicle miles of travel and fuel consumption. Both local and regional facility-level pricing strategies (e.g., congestion pricing) and economy-wide pricing strategies (e.g., carbon pricing) are considered.

Land use and smart growth. Strategies focus on creating more transportation-efficient land use patterns, and by doing so reduce the need to make motor vehicle trips and reduce the length of the motor vehicle trips that are made.

Non-motorized transport. Strategies encourage greater levels of walking and bicycling as alternatives to driving.

Public transportation improvements. Strategies expand public transportation by subsidizing fares, increasing service on existing routes, or building new infrastructure.

Ride-sharing, car-sharing, and other commuting strategies. Strategies expand services and provide incentives to travelers to choose transportation options other than driving alone.

Regulatory strategies. Strategies implement regulations that moderate vehicle travel or reduce speeds to achieve higher fuel efficiency.

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Operational and intelligent transportation system (ITS) strategies. Strategies improve the operation of the transportation system to make better use of the existing capacity; strategies also encourage more efficient driving.

Capacity expansion and bottleneck relief. Strategies expand highway capacity to reduce congestion and to improve the efficiency of travel.

Multimodal freight sector strategies. Strategies promote more efficient freight movement within and across modes.

“An integrated, multi-strategy approach — combining travel activity, local and regional pricing, operational, and efficiency strategies — can contribute to significant GHG reductions,” Cambridge noted in its report. “Such reductions would, however, involve considerable — and in some cases major — changes to current transportation systems and operations, travel behavior, land use patterns, and public policy and regulations.”

The strategies that contribute the most to GHG reductions, the group found, are local and regional pricing and regulatory strategies that increase the costs of single occupancy vehicle travel, regulatory strategies that reduce and enforce speed limits, educational strategies to encourage eco-driving behavior that achieves better fuel efficiency, land use and smart growth strategies that reduce travel distances, and multimodal strategies that expand travel options.

“The costs of implementing many of the Moving Cooler strategies are substantial,” Cambridge stressed. “Yet for five of the six strategy ‘bundles’ examined, the estimated average annual savings in direct vehicle costs (i.e., ownership, maintenance and repair, and fuel) exceed estimated implementation costs by up to $72 billion for an aggressive level of deployment and up to $112 billion for a maximum level of deployment during a 40-year time frame.”

Relevant to energy independence, reduced fuel consumption realized nationally through these strategies translates to an average annual savings of 85 million to 470 million barrels of oil at an aggressive level of deployment, and to a savings of as much as 110 million to 660 million barrels a year at a maximum level of deployment, the firm calculated.

“It is important to note that this comparison of implementation costs to vehicle cost savings is not a full assessment of costs and benefits, because the Moving Cooler analysis did not address other important benefits and costs, such as changes in mobility, travel time, safety, user fees, environmental quality, economic development, and public health,” Cambridge added.

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The group noted that raising fuel taxes could boost GHG reductions well beyond those that could be achieved by the strategy “bundles” considered in the report. “For example, an additional fee (in current dollars) starting at the equivalent of $0.60 per gallon in 2015 and increasing to $1.25 per gallon in 2050 (Aggressive Deployment) could result in an additional 17% reduction in GHG emissions in 2050,” the report concluded. “A much higher fee similar to current European fuel taxes, starting at $2.40 a gallon in 2015 and increasing to $5.00 a gallon in 2050 (Maximum Effort Deployment) could result in an additional 28% reduction in GHG emissions in 2050.”

Thus you can see why GHG reduction efforts are important to truckers large and small – as a core component of transportation policy, such efforts could lead to increased fuel taxes, more tolls, and other fees.

"Moving Cooler shows that vehicle efficiency is not the only way to reduce emissions from transportation," said Andy Darrell, VP at Environmental Defense Fund. "Around the country, states and cities are experimenting with ideas like road-use pricing and transit tailored to the communities they serve. By supporting transportation innovations like those outlined in Moving Cooler, the federal government could achieve an outcome that's good for the planet and good for business: fewer greenhouse emissions and less congestion."

Going unsaid here is that they’ll also affect your wallet pretty significantly and over a long time span. So it behooves truckers to read this report and see if there are a mix of strategies that can still lead to lower GHGs without adding significant costs to their operations.

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