Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, has just struck a deal on his long-awaited climate change
bill — and though the agreement makes a number of concessions to polluters, it also takes a step forward towards popularizing the cause of "complete streets".
House climate bill requires every state and metropolitan area with more
than 200,000 residents to devise plans for reducing
transportation-related carbon emissions. The bill directs states and
localities to draft plans that "consider transportation and land use
strategies" that encourage transit use, walking and bike riding, as
well as equal access by all users.
In short, the House climate bill officially sets "complete streets" principles
as planning goals for state and local transportation officials. The DOT
and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would enforce the
deadlines for each state and local transportation emissions-reduction
plan and hand out grants to help areas implement innovative strategies
for diminishing auto dependence.
The funding for those grants
would have to come from future spending bills, not from the auctions of
carbon-emissions permits to polluting industries — the so-called CLEAN TEA plan that Transportation for America and other advocacy groups have been hoping for.
deal would auction only 15 percent of the emissions permits, giving the
rest away free to coal companies, electric utilities and the auto
industry. Why did CLEAN TEA fall by the wayside? Sadly, Democrats from
coal- and oil-dominant states were prepared to bring down Waxman’s bill
unless their hometown industries got emissions permits for free. Even
those Democrats who are still fighting to make polluting industries pay
for their permits want the revenue to go back to the public in the form
of tax credits, rather than to green transportation.
As Waxman’s climate bill takes flak
from environmentalists who (rightly) lament its giveaways to industry,
should the very presence of "complete streets" language in the bill be
considered a minor victory? Or is the climate deal just another example
of Congress kowtowing to Big Carbon?