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A Global Strategy to Fight Clima


									Case for Support: The Role of US Transportation Policy Reform in Global Climate Protection1 “French Field Marshal Leyete summoned his gardener and asked him to plant a new type of flowering tree. The gardener protested, explaining that the tree was slow growing and would not flower for 100 years. „In that case,‟ replied the Field Marshall, „plant it today.” --John F. Kennedy A disciplined, focused, and strategic campaign to keep global atmospheric carbon below 450 ppm (about a 2 Centigrade increase over base levels) must include an urgent and broad-based initiative to curb U. S transportation carbon emissions, including efforts to develop and integrate transportation systems for carbon efficiency. The most immediate and significant opportunity to do so is the upcoming reauthorization of the federal transportation funding law in 2009. This is the law that distributes, and sets the rules on, federal transportation assistance to all 50 states as well as federal spending on international transportation assistance. Here is why efforts to radically reform U.S. domestic transportation policy is of critical importance to the climate community: U.S. leadership is required to win the climate fight. What the U.S, says and does still matters in the world—enormously. The U.S. transportation sector is largest and fastestgrowing domestic, end-use source of carbon emissions (33%). This is due in large part to massive public subsidies to transportation (including the externalization of environmental costs) generally, and to highway travel in particular. These subsidies remain the basis of our national transportation policies. We are now exporting these policies to developing countries—just as the folly of reliance on such policies is becoming self-evident. If the US can‟t reduce its own transportation carbon emissions when car ownership has reached the saturation point (857 vehicles/1000 population) why should China (at 15 vehicles/1000 on the way to 100 vehicles/1000 by 2020) be expected to do so when the country is still in the early stages of motorization?2 Market demand already exists to achieve the rapid changes in U.S. travel behavior needed to reduce transportation carbon emissions to global targets by 2050, but we must start now. Rapid change in U.S transportation behavior can happen. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population lives in urbanized areas.3 Sixty-five percent live in the top 50 metro areas of over one million. A 2007 survey of U.S. real estate investment fund managers controlling over $350 billion in annual equity investments identified “mixed

This case for support was prepared by David Burwell for the Funders‟ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. January 2008. 2 At 33% of total U.S. carbon emissions, transportation represents the largest and fastest growing end-use sector of domestic GHG emissions and at least 7% of global carbon emissions. This figure only represents direct emissions (“pump-to-wheel”). If upstream emissions from the extraction and refining of transportation fuels are included (“well-to-wheel”), the percentage is about 41%. This does not include (1) maritime emissions from international shipping or (2) aircraft emissions over 1000 feet (surface and takeoff/landing emissions only), both of which are increasing over twice as fast as surface transportation emissions (cars, trucks, rail etc.). These trends show no sign of abating. 3 Bruce Katz et al. , Blueprint for National Prosperity, (Brookings Institution, Center for Metropolitan Policy) November 6, 2007.


use, transit-oriented development” as their top investment choice, but they dedicate only 5% of their investments to such projects due to regulatory barriers.4 Removal of regulatory barriers to efficient land development (single-use zoning, minimum parking requirements, density restrictions etc.) combined with smart transportation strategies to both encourage and serve efficient land development, can make the critical difference. Almost 50% of the present U.S. built environment will turn over (demolished, restored, or replaced) in the next 25 years. In Los Angeles--the densest county in the nation—bus rapid transit (BRT) can turn highways into transit systems that link to light rail (trolley) and heavy rail (subways) systems. Combined with location-efficient housing and mixed use development, plus congestion pricing and other strategies that align the price of access to the cost of capacity actually used, the U.S. can reduce regional vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita by over 30% by 2030. In other words, we still control the future density, design and functionally of our major cities and urban areas. U.S. growth policy going forward will influence how Beijing, Bangalore, and Buenos Aires manage their own growth. Reducing the VMT-intensity of development is a common objective. There is precedent for rapid transportation system change. In 1903, when Horatio Nelson Jackson completed the first transcontinental auto trip (San Francisco to New York City in 63 days) there were about 7000 cars and 150 miles of paved road in the U.S. Twenty years later there were 8-10 million cars and over 200,000 miles of paved road. We can repeat that pace of change—in reverse. Pricing strategies (tolls, congestion pricing, parking fees, emission-based tolls etc.) are more efficient than building new road capacity to address congestion—and they generally reduce VMT.5 This turns the transportation industry from adversary to advocate in the fight to control VMT. When pricing strategies are combined with other VMT reduction measures such as (1) smart growth strategies, (2) capital investments to improve travel choices, (3) smart system management such as access controls, system integration, and improved transit information systems, and (4) tax strategies such as Commuter Choice and the cash-outparking benefit, VMT reductions accelerate. These smart transportation and tax strategies can achieve near term (2010-2020) absolute VMT reductions of 1.4% annually which, when combined with vehicle and fuel efficiency strategies, would allow U.S transportation carbon emissions to drop to 1990 levels by 2020. This is still short of IPCC global targets for 2020, but can position the U.S. for even greater changes in travel behavior in the critical 2030-2050 time frame. We have no choice: the U.S. can’t even meet short term (2020) carbon reduction goals absent immediate application of strong system efficiency measures. The recently enacted Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 now mandates a 40% improvement in vehicle efficiency (35 mpg) by 2020 and provides significant incentives for production of low-carbon fuels.6 These measures, if fully implemented in a timely manner, approximate on a national basis the vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels
4 5

Emerging Real Estate Trends, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Urban Land Institute (2007 edition). Road pricing alone reduces VMT, on average, by 10% when variable cost per mile doubles even when not combined with other demand-side strategies that magnify these VMT reduction benefits. 6 Signed into law December 19, 2007.


requirements established under California law AB 32. However, as shown in the chart below, assuming the targets set by AB 32 and the Energy Independence Act are both met nationwide, U.S. vehicle-related carbon emissions will still be 35% above 1990 levels (8% above 2005 levels) due to continued increases in vehicle miles traveled (see chart). This compares to a global target of a 20% reduction below 1990 carbon levels by 2020. In short, VMT growth is blowing a hole in technology-based carbon reduction strategies in the U. S., and will swamp such strategies worldwide where vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is growing much more rapidly.7
US VMT Growth Causes GHG Emissions to Rise 8% in 2030 with CAFÉ at 35 mpg (Energy Act) and low-carbon fuels at 10% of fuel mix (CA AB 32)
170% 160% 150% 140%


2005 = 100%

130% 120% 110% 100% 90% 80% 70% 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030


Fue l GHG 1 990 CO2

So urce: S. Winkelman. VM T:: EIA wit h 1 % reb o und M PG: US Senat e, Fuels : CARB 0


The reauthorization of the U.S. transportation funding law in 2009 is a critical “first, don’t lose” opportunity to leverage domestic transportation funding to reduce VMT. U.S. leadership in transportation reform can stimulate worldwide change in the pace and nature of global motorization. But we must start at home. The simple truth is that transportation in the U.S. has historically been a policy-free zone. We must adopt a radically reformed domestic transportation agenda that puts the U.S. on a glide-path to absolute, long-term reductions in transportation carbon emissions. This agenda includes (1) adoption and utilization of basic benefit/cost analysis that includes the cost of carbon emissions and provides best value for money (VfM), (2) balanced infrastructure investment and land development policies, and (3) pricing and financing structures that internalize the climate impacts of transportation. We can do this. The 2009 federal transportation law, by far the nation‟s largest public works program, will allocate somewhere between $300-$350 billion ($50-$60 billion/year) in federal gas tax and other revenues to states in support of a five-to-six year federal surface transportation investment program. These federal dollars will set direction for state and local transportation investments of another $550-$650 billion ($110-$120

These calculations do not address aviation emissions that (1) are growing at a rate above 3% annually, (2) have higher global warming impacts due to the fact that the majority of these emissions occur at high altitudes, and (3) are themselves growing more slowly than maritime emissions, which are accelerating due to economic globalization.


billion/year) in transportation road and transit facilities.8 The policies Congress adopts in this law will largely determine the carbon efficiency of U.S. transportation systems during the critical 2010-2020 time period. They can also position the U.S. to achieve even greater reductions during the 2030-2050 time period when transportation vehicle and fuel efficiencies have largely been exploited. Elements of this reform agenda include:  Change federal transportation policy to focus on the critical public outcomes, namely economic efficiency, energy efficiency and climate protection. This means replacing mobility with congestion relief as the primary mission of state transportation agencies.9 Redirect our international transportation assistance programs to support integrated transportation system development in rapidly motorizing countries, rather than focusing primarily on helping countries set up and train road-building agencies modeled on the U.S. car-centric system. Introduce market forces that lead to sustainable transportation practice such as (1) value capture on land development and (2) system pricing in particular. Connect transportation investments to land use (location efficiency) in urban areas where 83 percent of the population lives. Change federal funding laws that allocate federal transportation assistance based largely on VMT growth and gasoline consumption and replace them with formulae that reward states/localities that reduce VMT and GHG emissions. Eliminate state laws that restrict use of state gas taxes to highways alone, and allow such revenues to support all transportation modes. This can be done by making federal assistance contingent on modally-neutral state funding laws. Leverage capital funding by requiring modally-agnostic benefit cost analysis of all new capital investments, with preference given for projects that yield highest value-for-money (VfM). Reform the transportation research agenda to conduct research in support of best sustainable practice.


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A note about co-benefits: Our current transportation policy structure encourages states to maximize carbon emissions while failing to price these emissions into the system. 10 It also drains wealth from the poor, promotes sprawl, costs hundreds of billions in lost productivity due to congestion, chews up valuable farmland, contributes excessively to air and water pollution, poorly serves non-drivers (the old and the young) and badly serves our cities. While these costs, which can be alleviated through transportation reform, don‟t count in the economic calculus of cost-per-ton of carbon emissions

These figures do not include federal investment in airports and airways, ports and waterways, or passenger rail (Amtrak), all of which have separate authorizations and funding sources, but which also will be highly influenced by surface transportation investment policy. 9 Mobility views VMT as an absolute good—something that adds economic and consumer value wherever and whenever it is stimulated. In contract, congestion relief is more ambivalent about VMT, and even supports removing vehicle trips from the system to achieve overall system efficiency. 10 Federal transportation funding assistance is distributed to states largely based on how much gasoline is purchased (and, thus, carbon emitted) and VMT generated in each state, while allowing motorists free access to the federal-aid system (free roads) regardless of the externalized costs of these emissions.


harvested, they do count in the political calculus. This is because, as the costs of bad transportation policies gain public attention, they activate a huge reform constituency. By poking this latent “hornets‟ nest” for reform, a broad-based, national transportation reform campaign can re-frame the domestic political landscape by creating the expectation that radical transportation policy reform is inevitable. That is the political environment we must create to convince Congress to redirect the federal program towards climate outcomes. Conclusion In summary, the conditions now exist for repositioning U.S. transportation programs, and U.S. international transportation assistance, towards climate protection. These include:        Recognition that an effective domestic program to curb U.S. transportation carbon emissions is a necessary predicate to adoption of similar programs in rapidly motorizing economies, including China and India. Demonstrative failure of present federal transportation policy to support broad national economic, energy or environmental goals. Documentation that transportation is the end-use sector with the largest and fastest-growing percentage (33%) of U.S. carbon emissions.11 Convergence of national climate legislation and national transportation legislation in the 2009-2010 time period. Enactment of vehicle and fuel efficiency measures in the Energy Independence Act that cannot provide the carbon reductions needed to reduce transportation carbon emissions in either the short term (2010-2030) or long-term (2030-2050). Organization of a large, installed and politically sophisticated constituency for national transportation reform, with a well-developed campaign plan. Favorable demographic trends (re-urbanization), installed institutional capacity (multi-modal transportation agencies) and technical expertise (pricing, land use and investment expertise) to support rapid change in towards carbonefficient urban growth patterns through in-fill development, system connectivity, and transportation system management improvements.

In short, the time is right for a major initiative to radically change how the U.S. invests and manages $180 billion annually (federal, state and local) in surface (road, transit, nonmotorized, some rail) programs for climate and energy efficiency outcomes. The “tree” of transportation reform is, thus, an essential weapon in the fight to contain carbon emissions below catastrophic levels. Without it, the U.S. can neither reach GHG emission-reduction goals domestically nor lead internationally. It will take many years to reap reform‟s full benefits. But that is why the time to start is now.


USDOE, Emissions of Greenhouse gases in the United States 2005 (November 2006), DOE/EIA0573(2005) at xii.


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