12/14/2010: California’s Transportation Policies Threaten Progress on Climate Change

New Report Highlights Opportunities and Shortcomings

Sacramento, CA– A new report ranks California as one of the top three states in the nation in the effort to fight climate change and reduce congestion.  But leading advocacy groups note that huge cuts to public transit threaten these gains and could lead to even more devastating consequences for California communities and the economy.

The report, released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Smart Growth America (SGA), is the latest evidence of the need to align transportation funding with overall climate and air quality policies.  “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy” examined transportation spending decisions and policies in all 50 states to determine what impact these decisions have on transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

With a comprehensive climate bill stalled at the federal level, attention is shifting to the states to make progress toward reducing carbon emissions.  This new report examines what all 50 states are doing to curb emissions caused by transportation.  This is the first report to look at state transportation policy as it affects greenhouse gas emissions and compare performance across all states.

State transportation policy and funding reforms have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also more efficiently meeting the nation’s transport needs.  Few studies have specifically sought to evaluate how states’ transportation policies impact greenhouse gas emissions.  The findings outlined in this new report show the tremendous potential for states to make progress on reducing transportation-related carbon emissions.  The report also recommends ways states can improve their climate performance and transport infrastructure and efficiency.

Innovations leading to more efficient vehicles and new, cleaner fuels could mean large reductions in emissions but a projected 50 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled by the year 2030 will undermine and eventually overwhelm the emissions reductions made possible by technological advances without major investments in real transportation options.  The key to real and sustained emissions reductions is dramatic improvements to transit as well as walking and biking facilities.  The benefits of such comprehensive reforms and new investments would include greenhouse gas reductions as well as an array of cost-savings and environmental returns.

In California, transportation policies and spending decisions are not in line with the state’s bold commitments to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other emissions being pumped into the air.  Adopting transportation strategies that increase investments in transit, road maintenance and walking and biking is what’s needed to achieve greenhouse gas and other air pollution reduction goals while attracting and retaining more businesses in existing communities and creating hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.

Smarter transportation investments would also save Californians billions of dollars.  “Residents of California cities who live in neighborhoods with the best access to public transportation drive much less.  This means greatly reduced greenhouse gas and other vehicular emissions as well as billions of dollars in annual transportation savings,” noted Graham Brownstein, State Policy Director with TransForm, the public transportation and smart growth advocacy group.  “But the only way to get the transit we need is to increase investments — and that’s a huge challenge.  The new NRDC and SGA report will perhaps help build momentum for needed reforms.”

In a report last year, “Windfall for All: How Connected, Convenient Neighborhoods Can Protect Our Climate and Safeguard California’s Economy,” TransForm found that if everyone living in a major metropolitan region in California had good access to transit, Californians would save $31 billion each year and emit 34% less greenhouse gases.  In addition to the huge household savings to be reaped by investing in transit and smarter transportation options, overall infrastructure maintenance costs would be greatly reduced over the long-term, saving governmental agencies and taxpayers many additional billions of dollars.  By failing to increase investments in transit — and worse, by drastically cutting transit in recent years — California is working against its own interests and missing key opportunities to save money, rebuild the economy, create jobs, and build the transportation system needed for the next hundred years.

Despite the policy and funding shortfalls in California, the new NRDC/SGA report features California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (Senate Bill 375) as a good model for other states to follow and as a law that holds great promise for framing needed reforms in California.  SB 375 was passed in 2008 and creates incentives for regions to link land use decisions to transportation funding with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“As a state that is trying to head in the right direction with landmark laws such as SB 375, California has the capacity to take the next step and bring a 21st century transportation system to our state while creating jobs for Californians and cleaning the air,” said Annie Pham, Legislative Aide with Sierra Club California. “It is possible to protect the environment and lower transportation costs for Californians at the same time but policies and funding priorities need to change in order for that to happen.”

Within the framework of this new approach to transportation and land use planning, a number of tools can be employed, including economic cost-benefit analysis tied to performance goals, deployment of intelligent transportation systems, and road pricing.  “None of these tools will work if we fail to adequately invest in transportation options — and that means transit combined with lots more walking and biking,” noted Pham.

California is not alone in needing to improve.  The NRDC/SGA report finds that changes to federal policy are called for as well.  "Better gas mileage and alternative fuels aren’t enough to stop carbon emissions at the rate they’re rising,” said Neha Bhatt, Deputy Policy Director at Smart Growth America. “It’s going to take policy changes at the state and federal levels to achieve the emissions reductions we need.  American households need the option to spend less money to get around, and low-carbon transportation options can help get us there.”

The full SGA/NRDC report, “Getting Back on Track,” is available at www.SmartGrowthAmerica.org

TransForm’s “Windfall for All” report is available here


Alex Goldschmidt, Smart Growth America, 202-207-3355 x112,[email protected]

Suzanne Struglinski, NRDC, 202-289-2387, [email protected]

Graham Brownstein, TransForm, 916-441-0204 x302, [email protected]

Annie Pham, Sierra Club California, 916-557-1100 x107, [email protected]

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Smart Growth America advocates for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods.  Smart growth solutions support thriving businesses and jobs, provide more options for how people get around, and make it more affordable to live near work and the grocery store.  The Smart Growth America coalition gives communities a fighting chance against sprawl.  Visit SmartGrowthAmerica.org to learn more.

Natural Resources Defense Council works to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends.  NRDC combines the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.  Visit NRDC.org for more information.

Sierra Club is California is a non-profit, member-supported environmental organization with 13 chapters and approximately 160,000 members statewide.  The mission of Sierra Club California is to promote the preservation, restoration, and enjoyment of California’s environment, and enable chapters and grassroots activists to speak as one voice to promote California conservation.  Visit SierraClubCalifornia.org to learn more.

TransForm promotes world-class public transportation and walkable communities across California.  TransForm builds diverse coalitions, influences policy, and develops innovative programs to improve the lives of all people and protect the environment.  TransForm has helped win billions of dollars and groundbreaking policies in support of public transportation, smart growth, affordable housing and bicycle/pedestrian safety.  Visit TransFormCA.org for more information.