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Recap: The Transportation and Climate Initiative: Multi-State Collaboration to Advance Equitable Low-Carbon Transportation

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Georgetown Climate Center’s James Bradbury, PhD, Offers Perspective at U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 Thought Leadership Series

On August 3, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) welcomed Georgetown University Climate Center’s James Bradbury, PhD, to its 2021 thought leadership speaker series, Innovation for a Sustainable, Equitable Transportation System.

Bradbury is the Mitigation Program Director for the Georgetown Climate Center at the Georgetown University Law Center. He oversees the Climate Center’s work in support of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manages the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration among 13 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

The session was hosted by U.S. DOT Volpe Center Deputy Director for Research and Technology Stephen Popkin.

This post provides a recap of Dr. Bradbury’s talk. You can also watch video highlights from the event.

Centering Equity in a Low-Carbon Transportation Initiative

When Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg kicked off the Innovation for a Sustainable, Equitable Transportation System thought leadership series in May, he acknowledged the inequities built into our domestic transportation system and the need to reverse the environmental injustices that exist across the U.S.

Dr. James Bradbury echoed the Secretary’s point and highlighted the importance of federal leadership in building momentum to mitigate climate change impacts, particularly in overburdened communities. Bradbury’s work with the Georgetown Climate Center builds on climate-related federal policies and investments, working at the nexus of federal and state policy and serving as a resource to states and jurisdictions. He noted that today the U.S. has a “historic opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration is taking historic steps to center environmental justice.”
-    Dr. James Bradbury, Georgetown Climate Center 

Bradbury’s team manages and facilitates the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional collaboration of 13 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast jurisdictions designed to create equitable and just low-carbon transportation policies and programs. TCI’s goals are to:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transportation sources;
  • Improve air quality and public health, increase resilience to the impacts of climate change, and provide more affordable access to clean transportation choices;
  • Promote local economic opportunity and create high quality jobs;
  • Maximize the efficiency of this multijurisdictional program to ensure greater benefits; and
  • Advance equity for communities overburdened by pollution and underserved by the transportation system.

Exploring Innovative Solutions Such as “Cap-and-Invest”

One of the innovative low-carbon solutions modeled by TCI is a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional “cap-and-invest” program. Unlike cap-and-trade approaches, a cap-and-invest approach establishes an emissions cap for regulated fuel suppliers and a marketplace for auctioning unused CO2 emissions credits. Participating jurisdictions then invest the proceeds from those auctions in low-carbon strategies that create clean, safe, and affordable transportation options.

As the cap declines over time, CO2 emissions are reduced, and remaining emissions credits can potentially generate more value at auction. Each participating state has sole discretion for investment decisions within the framework of reducing pollution, advancing equity, and providing expanded and diversified transportation choices.

Equity goals can be realized by defining, for example, a floor or minimum share of proceeds that must benefit underserved and overburdened communities (the proposed floor in the TCI program is 35 percent). Other ideas developed by participating TCI jurisdictions include a lockbox provision (where cap-and-invest funds are set apart from other state revenues), equitable public engagement processes like citizen advisory bodies, transparency initiatives (such as air quality monitoring and emissions reporting, and additional policies like clean car and clean truck standards.

The Power and Potential of a Regional Approach

In June 2021, four TCI jurisdictions that signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) released a model rule and draft plans for public engagement and program implementation. Modeling facilitated by the Georgetown Climate Center on behalf of participating jurisdictions shows that the cap-and-invest program can reduce CO2 emissions by 26 percent between 2022 and 2032. Continued progress will happen with complementary policies at the federal level. 

To assess the impact of investments, the Georgetown Climate Center helped develop an investment strategy tool that features 26 different strategies, from EV incentives and non-motorized transportation infrastructure to investments in transit systems and efficient fleet vehicles. Modest but net positive impacts on income, jobs, and the regional economy outweigh initial costs of program implementation. Monetized co-benefits to public health in the form of fewer cases of childhood asthma and avoidance of premature deaths are modeled at up to $3.6 billion by 2032—a staggering effect.

Working across state and district boundaries can be challenging, but TCI offers a roadmap for jurisdictions to leverage standardized regulatory language, a common CO2 emissions auction market, and shared best practices. TCI’s MOU provides a solid foundation to support future state-level enabling legislation for low-carbon transportation initiatives.

Video Highlights

Highlights from "The Transportation and Climate Initiative: Multi-State Collaboration to Advance Equitable Low-Carbon Transportation"

Dr. James Bradbury on Federal Leadership's Opportunity to Help Communities Tackle Climate Change

Dr. James Bradbury on Tools Needed to Help Local and Tribal Governments Address Climate Change

Dr. James Bradbury on the Status Quo of Addressing Climate Change

Dr. James Bradbury on Local and Tribal Government Collaboration Needed for Improved Mapping Tools

The views of the speaker do not represent the views of U.S. DOT.

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to improve the nation's transportation system by anticipating emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovations for the public good.