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U.S. DOT Admits Status Quo Untenable, Vows to Cut Transport Emissions

In its
Earth Day release, the U.S. DOT today unveiled a 600-page
analysis of transportation emissions mandated by Congress in the 2007
energy bill. In addition to weighing in on many potential tactics for
limiting transport's contribution to the changing climate, the document
notably recommits the Obama administration to that goal at a time when
Democrats are weighing
a delay
in the energy debate.

Indeed, the analysis concludes with a candid assessment that the
nation's existing methods of transportation and land use planning have
generated an unsustainable reliance on fossil fuel consumption:

The ingenuity of transportation planners and engineers
has produced a vast network of transportation infrastructure and
services to support the mobility and economic vitality of the Nation.
However, our historic approach to transportation and land use has
created an energy-intensive system dependent on carbon-based fuels and

The authors, including three dozen aides at the U.S. DOT's Center for
Climate Change and more than a dozen private consultants, also take a
direct tone in evaluating the various emissions-cutting policy proposals
that are available to the Obama administration.

For instance, the analysis identifies several upsides to increasing
the gas tax, which has "a strong precedent for [its proceeds] being
dedicated to transportation investments," as opposed to a broader carbon
tax or cap-and-trade system, where multiple competing interests would
-- and
, as the House climate bill shows -- lay claim to a share of the
resulting government revenue to help finance efficiency upgrades.

The major downside of a gas tax hike to spur emissions cuts,
according to the analysis, would be its risk of exacerbating economic
inequity for businesses and lower-income workers dependent on auto
travel. But the debate is moot, as the U.S. DOT authors remind their
congressional audience, because "an increase in the federal motor fuel
tax is not proposed by the current Administration, given the economic

The analysis is also open about the unnavigable politics of setting
lower speed limits, despite their potential to yield "an immediate and
significant impact on [greenhouse gas] reductions as well as yield
substantial safety and air quality co-benefits." The U.S. DOT authors

Public resistance is likely to be high, and an aggressive
education program and strong political leadership would be required to
gain broad support. Delay costs could be incurred in goods movement and
passenger travel. ... In addition, this strategy would require enhanced
enforcement and could impose considerable costs on States to pay for
increased traffic monitoring and enforcement.

A complete copy of the U.S. DOT analysis, including its comparison
of the emissions-reducing benefits of better land use planning (minor to
moderate) and fuel-efficiency improvements (moderate to high) is
available for download here.

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