Feds weigh whether carbon pollution should be measured in highway performance

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The Department of Transportation is weighing whether it should move ahead with new performance standards that would require transportation projects to track, measure and reduce carbon pollution.

In tens of thousands of public comments delivered last week, environmental groups, business organizations and local transportation departments argued that the proposal could curb climate change and modernize the nation’s transportation systems.

{mosads}A 2012 transportation law established performance measures for roads and bridges in the areas of safety, infrastructure condition, system reliability and freight movement.

But in April, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) signaled it would measure greenhouse gas emissions from new transportation projects in the performance standards.

The public comment period on the proposal closed on Aug. 20 and the agency has been flooded with feedback.

“The administration has a golden opportunity to clean up transportation and curb climate change,” said Deron Lovaas, senior policy adviser in the urban solutions program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Cutting harmful transportation carbon pollution while creating smarter travel options that improve our health, neighborhoods and cities — that’s an opportunity not to be missed.”

But whether greenhouse gas emissions should be used to measure highway and bridge performance has been a point of contention.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) joined nearly two dozen other groups in submitting comments in fierce opposition to the proposal.

The groups maintain that the proposal could lead to a cumbersome regulatory process that would slow down transportation projects and delay infrastructure improvements.

“It is hard to see this proposal as anything other than a maneuver to achieve a policy objective the administration failed to initiate during the MAP-21 and FAST Act deliberations,” ARTBA said.

Not surprisingly, support for taking climate change into account when planning transportation projects varies by party affiliation. About 92 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 64 percent of Republicans support that view, according to a recent Hart Research poll.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe argues that the FHWA simply lacks the authority to establish a greenhouse gas standard in the final performance measures.

“The Obama administration appears to be diverting FHWA’s time and resources away from achieving the performance goals set forth in law — a law that was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress,” the Oklahoma Republican wrote in an op-ed for Eno Center for Transportation.

“FHWA has no authority to establish a GHG measure.”

But the ranking member on the Energy panel, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said transportation planners have long been required to “develop plans that achieve national objectives, including improving the environment, sustaining the quality of life, as well as minimizing fuel consumption and air pollution.”

“To achieve the environmental goals established by Congress, carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases must be part of the transportation planning process,” Boxer wrote in an Eno op-ed.

Tags Barbara Boxer Jim Inhofe
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