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Behind the Transport Industry’s Lament About the Senate Climate Bill

While transport reform advocates hailed last week’s long-awaited Senate
climate bill for
an estimated $6 billion-plus towards local land use
planning and green infrastructure, state DOTs and construction interests
criticized the legislation — suggesting that the measure’s sponsors
could face stiff resistance from the transportation industry’s
mainstream despite making concessions to win over all sides.

gas_tax.jpgDoes the
Senate climate bill include a user fee? That depends on how the term is
defined. (Photo: Pop
and Politics

The central complaint raised by
mainstream transport players boils down to, as American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) executive director
John Horsley put it in
a statement
, the Senate bill’s "preemption" of user-fee revenue
that historically has gone into the nation’s dwindling highway trust

"Congress can ill-afford to consider any legislation that" siphons
off money from the trust fund, which has required more than $30 billion
in replenishment from the general Treasury over the past 18 months,
Horsley said.

Stephen Sandherr, chief of the Associated General Contractors — a
backer of the
Senate effort
to bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from
regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of congressional
action — echoed that sentiment in his
own statement
on the upper-chamber climate proposal.

"[B]y taking funds raised through the proposal’s new transportation
and committing all but a small percentage to unrelated spending, the
legislation leaves our aging and inefficient roads, airways and transit
systems vastly underfunded," Sandherr said.

But does the Senate climate bill impose a user fee on
transportation fuel consumers? The text of the measure specifically
requires "each refined [fuel] product provider" to purchase emissions
permits from the EPA on a quarterly basis at a fixed price, with no
permit trading allowed. Horsley’s depiction of those charges as a "user
fee" relies on the considerable likelihood that oil companies and
refiners would pass on the cost of those emissions permits to consumers
in the form of higher gas prices.

In the meantime, how much of the revenue raised by the bill’s new
fuel permits would infrastructure receive?

Read more…

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Obama Energy Aide: ‘We Probably Saw Peak Demand for Gas … in 2007′

The decline in American driving that began at the start of the recession, fueled by record-high gas prices, came to an end late last year. But the Obama administration believes that its transport and energy policies have ushered in a long-term shift, "changing the fuel mix in ways that will drive down gasoline demand," according to a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

webrogers_33498b.jpgMatt Rogers, a senior adviser to the Energy Secretary. (Photo: Recharge News)

The Chu adviser, Matt Rogers, made his comments on gas demand during a House hearing last week.

His remarks appeared to reflect a high degree of confidence within the administration that even if the nation's vehicle miles traveled continue to increase, the total energy consumption of U.S. transportation would decrease thanks to the rise of alternative-fuel vehicles such as hybrids and plug-in electric cars.

One of the most remarkable changes that has already occurred is we probably saw the peak demand for gasoline in the United States in 2007. And since then, the demand for gasoline has been going down in the United States and will continue to go down for more than the next decade as a result of a combination of renewable fuels, CAFE standards, and an increasing electrification of the transportation fleets.

So, we are seeing in front of us right now, a restructuring of the transportation sector to allow it to require substantially less fossil fuel ... you can actually see demand going down even as the economy continues to grow.

Rogers' remarks track with the conclusions of the Energy Information Administration, which predicted last year that the growing popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles would make 2007 the peak of demand, and the U.S. DOT's research arm, where the most recent available data shows a drop in demand for refined petroleum products in 2008.

The total energy consumption of the transport sector also fell in 2008 by more than 1 quadrillion Btus (British thermal units). Government energy data from last year, when the downturn in nationwide driving began to reverse itself, is not yet available.

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Two Troubling Transportation Numbers for the Obama Administration

Today brought news of two grim transportation numbers from the Obama administration: 2 and $53 million.

marta15.jpgAtlanta’s Metro won a share of the emissions-cutting transit grants that the White House proposes to cut next year. (Photo: Atlanta Metblogs)

first figure is the percentage of federal transport stimulus contracts
that have gone to disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses,
according to the U.S. DOT. The 2-percent figure was released this
afternoon by the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), which included
government emails verifying its data.

In real dollar terms, that 2 percent comes out to $986 million
of the stimulus law’s $48 billion in total transportation spending. The
low total for disadvantaged and minority firms, known by the shorthand
of DBEs, comes five months after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a $20 million bonding program aimed at helping less well-connected companies compete for federal business.

"This number is absolutely shocking," TEN executive director Laura Barrett said in a statement. "Secretary LaHood is
encouraging state DOTs to increase allocations to minority and disadvantaged
contractors, but this number proves that encouragement is not enough. The old
boys network that locks out minority contractors was built on the state and
local level, and it needs to be fought at that level to reverse this outrageous

Anecdotal reports of minority contractors getting shortchanged by transportation stimulus spending have emerged in Illinois, Minnesota, and California, among other states. The 2005 federal transportation law states that
at least 10 percent of federal roads and transit spending should be
routed through DBEs, unless the Transport Secretary determines

The second not-so-great transportation number, $53
million, reflects the total spending on pollution-reducing transit
grants that the White House included in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2011.

administration hopes to steer nearly 10 times that amount, or nearly
$530 million, to its new three-agency partnership for sustainable
communities. Still, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI)
pulled out the $53 million number today to note that the White House
had proposed $22 million more for the same type of transit grants last year (and ended up spending $100 million).

From the EESI’s budget statement (emphasis theirs):

Read more…

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EPA Strengthens Nitrogen Dioxide Rules for First Time in 35 Years

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced
a new "one-hour standard" aimed at limiting Americans’ short-term
exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant created by cars, power
plants, and other industrial sources.

US_regulate_national_auto_emissions.jpg(Photo: TreeHugger)

a main ingredient in smog, is linked to adverse
respiratory health effects such as chronic asthma. In creating a new
one-hour NO2 exposure limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA
noted that the risk of short-term NOX exposure is particularly acute
near major highways.

As EPA chief Lisa Jackson said in a statement:

This new one-hour standard is designed to
protect the air we breathe and reduce health threats for millions of
Americans. For the first time ever, we are working to prevent
short-term exposures in high risk NO2 zones like urban communities and
areas near roadways. Improving air quality is a top priority for this
EPA. We’re moving
into the clean, sustainable economy of the 21st century, defined by
expanded innovation, stronger pollution standards and healthier

The rule will be enforced by setting up monitors near roads in areas
with more than 500,000 residents, according to the agency, with a
deadline of 2013 for the beginning of pollutant tracking. The EPA said
it plans to work directly on 40 new monitors for cities and towns with
the most significant NO2 exposure.

It’s worth noting, however, that major cities have remained out of
compliance with EPA air-quality standards for years without
significant amounts of federal highway money, as the federal
government often threatens. Moreover, the EPA has not changed the
current annual NO2 standard of 53 ppb.

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CBO Echoes Obama’s Candor on the Pitfalls of ‘Shovel-Readiness’

During last month’s White House jobs summit, President Obama carved out
some common ground with critics of his first stimulus law’s $47 billion
in infrastructure spending — which was distributed mainly by the book
through state DOTs. "The term "shovel-ready," let’s be honest here,
doesn’t always live up to its billing," he acknowledged.

website_graphic.pngThe CBO modeled the job-creation power of various policy options, including infrastructure investments.

Now, as the Senate mulls its response to the House jobs bill that included
$27.5 billion for highways and $8.4 billion for transit, the
independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is echoing some of
Obama’s concerns.

In a report released Thursday, the Capitol budgeteers concluded
that most of the economic benefits of sending more transportation aid
to states would not be felt until 2011 at the earliest.

"large-scale construction projects" that could fundamentally reshape
local infrastructure tend to take years before their impact is felt on
the economy, the CBO noted:

[F]or example,
building new transportation infrastructure that requires establishing
new rights-of-way and developing and implementing alternative energy
sources would probably have their biggest effects on output and
employment after the recovery was well along. As a practical matter,
the experience with [the first stimulus] suggests that fewer projects
are “shovel ready” than one might expect …

Moreover, given the substantial increase in infrastructure
funding provided by [the first stimulus], achieving significant
increases in outlays above the amounts funded by [the first stimulus]
would probably take even longer. Thus, most of the increases in output
and employment from this option would probably occur after 2011.

Read more…

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Could a Green Bank Hitch a Ride on the Jobs Bill?

Fans of a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) that would help leverage private-sector funding for transportation projects are still hoping
for Hill action after the House declined to add the idea to its $154
billion jobs bill. But the NIB isn’t the only new financing strategy on
the table, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) reminded President Obama

6a00d8341c67ce53ef0115714afc0a970c_500wi.jpgA solar bus stop in San Francisco. (Photo: JetsonGreen)

In a letter calling for a Green Bank to be part of the White House’s coming job-creation push, Van Hollen wrote:

[A]ccelerating America’s transformation to a clean energy economy
is imperative for reasons of energy independence, national security,
international competitiveness and climate change.

However, for an
underemployed America, these imperatives also give rise to a new
opportunity and national mission of unsurpassed importance: the
construction of a clean domestic energy industry that gives America a
competitive advantage in our export markets while providing low-priced,
abundant clean energy for our heating, cooling, lighting,
transportation and industrial needs at home.

The House climate bill creates a Clean Energy Deployment Administration
that fulfills much of the same mission as Van Hollen’s Green Bank, but
the Maryland lawmaker envisions speeding up its creation by emphasizing
the employment potential of clean energy investment, rather than its
environmental benefits.

What does this mean for
infrastructure? To get an idea of the potential projects that could be
funded by Van Hollen’s proposed bank, take a look at the winners of the U.S. DOT’s $100 million in stimulus grants for green transportation.

Angeles’ transit authority is working on a system to capture the energy
generated by braking trains and store it to reduce power use during
peak travel hours. Atlanta transit officials are developing bus-stop
canopies with photovoltaic cells that can trap solar power and transfer
it to the city’s grid. San Antonio got money to replace some of its
diesel buses with electric models.

There are a lot more green
transportation investment ideas where those came from, and many of them
stand to give a huge boost to the companies that developed the
technology in question. Capitalizing a Green Bank through the jobs bill
could help spur new transit projects that otherwise would have had to
wait for climate legislation or a new long-term transportation bill to
become law.

But there’s a sticking point that, as in the NIB’s case,
could make the difference between a Green Bank constrained by parochial
politics and one that’s free to fund whatever projects make the best
business sense.

Read more…


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.

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."

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.

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."

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."

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Should a Climate Bill Even <i>Try</i> to Fight Sprawl?

The potential for a cap-and-trade climate bill to set aside significant
amounts of money for reforming local land use and transportation
planning is often touted by Democrats, environmental groups, and this particular Streetsblogger.

the approach California used in SB 375 (being signed into law above) be
applied to a congressional cap-and-trade climate bill? (Photo: EcoVote)

But what does Mary Nichols,
chair of the California Air Resources Board and administrator of the
state’s landmark effort to cut emissions by changing development
patterns, think of the idea of tackling sprawl via climate legislation?

"I don’t necessarily think SB 375
[the California land-use bill] should be in a cap-and-trade bill,"
Nichols said today during a session of today’s Transportation Research
Board (TRB) conference devoted to climate change.

provocative question of how important a congressional climate bill
would be to transportation was first raised by EMBARQ program director Nancy Kete, a veteran sustainability advocate.

the TRB audience to consider that "whatever happens on climate change
really is not going to have much impact on transportation," Kete
praised the climate bill’s grants for transit and land-use planning but described them as unsuitable for achieving "significant, short-term" pollution reduction.

uncertain perspective on the path to addressing transportation — which
produces 40 percent of California’s emissions and 30 percent of total
U.S. CO2 — through climate legislation may surprise some, but it
tracks with what she described as an "unsettled" political climate
surrounding the issue of pollution limits.

Indeed, Nichols’
remarks today emphasized the importance of a federal climate plan that
did not attempt to preempt the regulations of individual states, and
California is one of several seeking a go-slow approach to greenhouse gas restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So if climate change legislation, which faces
considerable resistance from Senate Democrats, isn’t the vehicle to
begin remodeling the nation’s transportation planning system, what is?
Kete proposed a shift in focus to the six-year federal transport bill
— though its political future is as murky as the climate measure’s.

Yet Kete’s suggestion brought a telling remark from John Stoody, an aide to conservative GOP senator Kit Bond (MO).

Read more…


Transport Economist Challenges Claim That ‘VMT Causes Growth’

The claim to a link between economic growth and vehicle mileage —
that, in other words, auto travel is essential to keeping U.S.
productivity high — remains controversial and much-debated in
transportation policy circles.

One notable recent flare-up in that debate took place on National Journal’s blog after road lobbyist Greg Cohen, referring to an October paper [PDF]
released by the Cascade Policy Institute, contended that "it’s not
simply a correlation but VMT actually causes economic growth."

Now economist Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, has taken direct aim at the mileage-growth arguments made by Cascade’s Randall Pozdena. In a paper [PDF]
prepared for next week’s Transportation Research Board conference in
D.C., Litman charges that Pozdena’s research "misrepesents" the
relationship between prosperity and VMT "in important ways."

questions Pozdena’s conclusion, based on the below chart, that
"increasing a country’s income by 10 percent appears to increase its
use of energy by the same percentage."

vtpi_2.png(Chart: VTPI/Litman)

that Pozdena equates a per-capita mileage in poorer nations with a
per-capita mileage increase in richer ones, despite data showing that
growth in car travel slows markedly once individuals reach a certain
income level. Moreover, Litman notes, America and Norway end up close
together on Pozdena’s graph even though "Norwegians actually consume
about half as much fuel per capita as U.S. residents."

exclusively at developed nations — specifically, the United States —
Litman found that per-capita productivity and VMT were negatively
correlated. Check out his graph of the state-by-state trend below:

Read more…

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A Step Towards Pricing of Pollution? 11 States Back Low-Carbon Fuel Rules

While many in Washington spent their holiday breaks wondering if Senate Democratic opposition would deal a major blow to progress on a climate change bill, 11 northeastern governors were agreeing on a deal that suggests otherwise.

11 governors vowed to develop a shared low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS)
that would cut the total "life-cycle" emissions from transportation
fuels.  That measure would include the indirect environmental harm
caused by biofuels’ adverse land-use effects as well as the direct consequences of burning conventional gas.

The process is not going to be easy, or quick — the states’ pact
mentions only that a "regional framework" for the standard would be
established by 2011. But the governors’ deal is a sign that amid
uncertain prospects for congressional action on carbon emissions caps,
states are emerging as laboratories for new approaches to curbing

Even an LCFS that allows fuel producers to select
their own method of pollution reduction and measures emissions on a
per-gallon basis, as recommended
by the Union of Concerned Scientists, would not be a substitute for
climate legislation that seeks to put a fair price on carbon.

an LCFS can do is put electrified rail and other forms of transit on a
more competitive footing by encouraging gas and diesel prices that
reflect the full environmental toll taken by the burning of fossil
fuels. As the California High Speed Rail Blog observed in its analysis of that state’s LCFS — which is expected to serve as a model for the 11 northeastern states:

Read more…