Numerous news stories have documented how the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have reduced air pollution around the world , bringing emissions down globally by 17%. As Americans have been forced to shelter in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, the air around us has become noticeably cleaner and climate pollution has fallen. While no one would seek to lower emissions in this way, a recent article in the Boston Globe explored the extent of the pandemic-induced pollution reduction while highlighting opportunities to rebuild a cleaner, more equitable economy.
“[E]missions from cars, trucks, and airplanes have declined in metropolitan Boston by about 30 percent, while overall carbon emissions have fallen by an estimated 15 percent,” writes David Abel, the author of the article. That level of pollution reduction is unprecedented but offers a challenge to better envision and implement an economic recovery pathway that delivers a just transition to a sustainable future.
That’s why Acadia Center is pushing harder than ever for policies that will make that transition possible. One of the efforts discussed in the article is the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). Through TCI, 11 states from Maine to Virginia are working to develop a regional program to reduce vehicle pollution and spur investment in a cleaner, modern, more equitable transportation future. In the Boston Globe, Acadia Center’s Jordan Stutt described it as “a public health program and an economic stimulus program wrapped in one.” The program would generate billions of dollars each year for investment in transportation infrastructure, helping the local workforce rebound while delivering better transportation options and cleaner air to communities across the region.
Acadia Center has long championed the point – supported by data and research — that well-designed efforts to reduce climate pollution provide many benefits for all citizens: improved public health, greater economic opportunity, safer, more efficient buildings, lower energy bills, and more accessible, less-polluting ways to get around. Those benefits are more important now than ever before, particularly in the communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Those communities must be front of mind and at the head of the table as we look to build a resilient, sustainable economy. Acadia Center is committed to doing the research, providing the data and making the case for the large-scale reforms and investment in a cleaner future that will improve the quality of life, health and economies of this region.
TCI is a cap-and-invest program similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Vermont participates in to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation. In 2005, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas signed on together with six other Northeast states. Vermont is still a part of it today, and it has been successful in multiple ways. Analysis from Acadia Center shows that since 2008:
GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47%, outpacing growth in the rest of the country by 31%;
Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%;
RGGI states have generated $3.4 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including incentives for advanced wood heat and solar panels;
CO2 emissions from RGGI power plants have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%.
“We were expecting action on TCI soon, but at this point, given that governors’ attention is elsewhere, I think we’re unlikely to have an announcement this spring,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director for the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group in Boston.
Stutt remained optimistic that states will ultimately look to TCI with a “renewed sense of urgency,” as the program could serve as a source of much-needed revenue and jobs to a region with surging unemployment claims and depleted financial reserves.
“It’s a public health program and an economic stimulus program wrapped in one,” he said. “The billions of dollars generated could be invested in infrastructure programs and high quality jobs.”
Speaking on behalf of OTF, Jordan Stutt, carbon program director, Acadia Center said: “For elected officials who have been waiting on the close of the comment period to gauge public sentiment, the outcome could not be clearer: Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Americans want to fix our dirty and broken transportation system. No amount of oil industry-funded propaganda will change the fact that there is overwhelming public support for the important goals of the Transportation & Climate Initiative. It’s a big hit.”
Read the full press release from Our Transportation Future here.
“Usually, the bigger the problem, the more attention you need to pay to get to solutions,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director at the Acadia Center, a regional group working on climate change issues. “And transportation is it.”
Acadia Center supports the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration of states from Maine to Virginia working to reduce carbon emissions on the road. But part of that effort envisions raising money through a surcharge on gasoline and diesel fuel, with some of it going to EV rebates and new charging stations. That’s a non-starter for opponents such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which said the tax would hurt low-income residents.
Read the full article from Portland Press Herald here.
Jordan Stutt, the carbon programs director of the Acadia Center, an environmental research and advocacy nonprofit, said states understand the need to address transport emissions. The initiative could also help improve air quality, boost economies and improve transport, especially in rural areas, he said.
According to information on the TCI website, modeling has showing public health benefits of as much as $10 billion annually by 2032, including over 1,000 fewer premature deaths. It would also generate up to $7 billion annually that could be invested into expanding transport choices for rural, urban and suburban communities.
“Without any viable alternative to this program, the states will not be able to achieve their climate goals,” Stutt said.
Read the full article from Adirondack Daily Enterprise here.
A recent Acadia Center report shows that by capping transportation carbon dioxide emissions, auctioning allowances, and investing proceeds — much like Connecticut already does for power plants emissions — the state could generate $2.7 billion in auction proceeds through 2030. Reinvesting these funds across the state’s transportation system would generate 23,000 long-term jobs; $2.2 billion in new wages; $7 billion in new business sales; and $4.3 billion in other benefits, including reduced air pollution.
Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative will deliver economic, health and environmental benefits.
As Mainers take to the roads, skies and tracks for the holidays, ‘tis the season to contemplate resolutions for the New Year and beyond. While most envision exercising more, quitting smoking or spending more time with loved ones, Gov. Mills, the Maine Legislature and the Maine Climate Council are grappling with how to reduce the state’s climate pollution and transportation costs in an economical, efficient and equitable manner.
Read the full article from the Portland Press Herald here.
The transportation program is based on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 2009 agreement to cap and trade power plant carbon emissions in nine Northeast states including Maine. Since its inception, CO2 emissions from power plants fell 47 percent, according to an analysis by the Acadia Center, a clean energy research group.
“The poll shows that people across the region want proactive leadership to address our transportation and climate challenges. We need bold solutions to make the shift to a clean transportation future, and an ambitious TCI program can jumpstart that transition.” — Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director, Acadia Center.