EPA Air Chief: We Need to Do More to Reduce VMT

Obama administration officials "need to align together" to work on
reducing the nation’s total vehicle miles traveled — work that should
go beyond a pending congressional climate bill — the Environmental
Protection Agency’s (EPA) air-quality chief said today.

GinaMcCarthy.jpgGina McCarthy, EPA’s top air pollution regulator. (Photo: CECE)

Gina McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, acknowledged in a speech at EMBARQ‘s transportation conference that her agency as "less effective" working alone on crafting strategies to cut VMT.

McCarthy
called for federal agencies to work together on a coordinated approach
to transportation policy that makes economic and environmental factors
an essential part of the mix.

"When we say transportation, everybody thinks ‘car’,"
McCarthy said. "That’s a challenge for us as individuals, as a society
— and clearly it’s a challenge for me, as someone who’s supposed to
deliver clean air to breathe."

McCarthy
described lowering VMT as the third leg of the EPA’s transport stool.
The other two, she explained, are encouraging vehicle technology to
reduce emissions and promoting cleaner-burning fuels.

But
that third leg drew the bulk of McCarthy’s attention, as she echoed the
mission statement of the White House’s inter-agency "livable
communities" effort.

"Transportation, above all else, needs to be looked at through a series of complementary
measures, beyond cap-and-trade, in order to drive the types of reductions we need in order
to live in a sustainable world," said McCarthy, a veteran environmental regulator in Connecticut.

And McCarthy appeared to recognize the existing federal
system’s built-in bias toward transportation projects that make life
difficult for air-quality regulators. "The easiest way to spend large
hunks of money is to widen a road," she said. "The worst way to spend
large hunks of money is to widen a road."

As
for the cap-and-trade bill, which faces an uncertain future thanks to
resistance from red-state Senate Democrats, McCarthy warned Congress
that her agency is acting under a Supreme Court mandate to curb greenhouse gases: "Though we support cap-and-trade … EPA is going to do what the law says and what the science says."

  • Clutch J

    This is excellent news. The air quality regulatory community needs to balance its enthusiasm for so-called “green cars” with support for VMT reduction strategies.

  • As an occasional reader and non transpo wonk, it took me a while to figure out that VMT means “vehicle miles traveled”.

    I think that when gas costs $10/gal, VMT will go way down, and everyone will clamor, “Why are our transit systems in such a sorry state?”

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