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Barbara Boxer

EPA Drops Data Before GOP Forces Shutdown of Transportation Hearing

The Senate environment panel today was forced to prematurely shutter
its latest hearing on the next long-term federal transportation bill
after Republicans invoked a rarely-used right to close down committee
work as part of their broader protest against the majority party's health care legislation.

2549087853_62635f6261.jpgSen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), center, with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) at right. (Photo: NWF via Flickr)

The
abbreviated hearing gave senators little time to discuss the next
transportation measure's impact on energy and the environment, a
significant issue for members of both parties. "It's a shame,"
committee chief Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, "but we're caught up with
something that has to do with health care."

Gina McCarthy,
the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) senior air-quality
official, did get to outline the results of an report her agency
released last month [PDF]
at the request of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). The senator had asked the EPA
to determine the maximum achievable reduction in pollution from the
transportation sector -- which currently accounts for about 30 percent
of total U.S. emissions -- by the year 2030.

For its
emissions model, the EPA assumed that auto fuel-efficiency standards
would continue rising in concert with the Obama administration's plan to reach
an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Other assumptions included
a 60-percent improvement in the fuel efficiency of new freight trucks
and the transit and land use reforms outlined in last year's Moving Cooler report.

What did the EPA find? Per McCarthy's testimony:

[B]y2030, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector could bereduced by 600 to 1000 million metric tons annually, which would be theequivalent of taking 120 to 200 million cars off the road. Theprojected oil savings are 4 to 7 million barrels per day, representingone-third to over one-half of our current oil imports. These greenhousegas emissions and oil savings represent a 25 to 40 percent reduction inthe transportation sector relative to the Energy InformationAdministration’s 2009 Annual Energy Outlook baseline.

McCarthy
emphasized that the report does not represent an official EPA
recommendation on transport emissions cuts, but its release comes at an
auspicious time, as Kerry bids to revive the prospects for a Senate
climate bill by partnering with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) on a new approach to curbing pollution.

That
Senate trio reportedly plans to make a revenue-neutral fuel tax part of
its climate proposal, a concept that could hinder lawmakers' ability to
use the existing federal gas tax as a tool to raise revenue for the
next transportation bill. The stated goal on all sides is the same --
bringing America towards "energy independence" -- but major questions
remain over how to define that state.

NGV America president Richard Kolodziej, who leads a coalition of
energy firms and utilities seeking more support for natural gas-powered
autos, told senators that "we will not be independent" of foreign oil
within the next two decades. "But we will be much less dependent if we
can have a system where our commercial infrastructure cannot be
affected because of an embargo" by oil-exporting nations, he added.

Deron
Lovaas, transport policy director at the Natural Resources Defense
Council, countered that a better term to define the national ideal
should be "energy-secure." That state would be possible by 2030, he
said, by combining policies that decrease demand (e.g. more investment
in transit) with more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Lovaas also cited his membership in the new Mobility Choice lobbying alliance, members of which include conservatives Clifford May and Kenneth Green.
lllustrating the competing political interest in new fuel fees, Lovaas
said the new group "favors an oil security fee to pay for inter-city
passenger rail."

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