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Air Quality

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

In its second
Earth Day release, the U.S. DOT yesterday 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 avast network of transportation infrastructure and services to supportthe mobility and economic vitality of the Nation. However, our historicapproach to transportation and land use has created an energy-intensivesystem dependent on carbon-based fuels and automobiles.

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 did,
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 recession."

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
wrote:

Public resistance is likely to be high, andan aggressive education program and strong political leadership wouldbe required to gain broad support. Delay costs could be incurred ingoods movement and passenger travel. ... In addition, this strategywould require enhanced enforcement and could impose considerable costson 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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