By Ken Locklin
Transportation is a key part of our everyday lives—from commuting to work and school, to running errands and shipping goods across the country. It is also a major contributor to climate change.
In fact, in Virginia transportation is responsible for nearly half (46 percent) of our total greenhouse gas emissions. If Virginians want to do our part to slow climate change, we definitely need to tackle transportation emissions.
In many ways, transportation presents one of the greatest obstacles to tackling climate change, as well as one of the biggest opportunities to address some of Virginia’s challenges.
As a resident of Northern Virginia, I am all too familiar with the intensity of the traffic on our roads, as many of us spend far too long getting from point A to point B.
According to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, traffic congestion costs an average of $2,000 per household annually from wasted gasoline and lost productivity. For the sake of Virginia’s residents and the success of our business community, we must prioritize smart planning and investments in our transportation system so that we are able to move goods and people around our region more efficiently, and in a way that considers the long-term health of people and the planet.
State leaders throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast have begun to explore a solution to our region’s transportation challenges through the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
TCI is a policy proposal from 12 states (including Virginia) and the District of Columbia to curb emissions from the transportation sector by establishing a regional cap on carbon emissions, and requiring gasoline and diesel wholesalers to purchase allowances for the emissions content of their fuel. Proceeds from the TCI allowance sales would be funneled back to participating states to invest in a cleaner, more efficient transportation system.
The proposed structure of TCI is called cap-and-invest, a policy design that has proven successful in efforts such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-invest program designed to curb carbon pollution from the power sector.
Since it began in 2009, RGGI has helped to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in participating states over 47 percent while electricity prices decreased despite an increase in average national electricity prices.
I was proud to participate in one of the many public TCI workshops last year, where states solicited recommendations from stakeholders and technical experts. The final proposal is strong because it does not mandate one specific technology or emissions reduction solution.
Instead, it creates an incentive for the market to work toward the desired outcome. We can employ investments in mass transit, transportation electrification, biofuels and myriad other innovations that can help reduce transportation emissions.
TCI is focused on an essential outcome: reducing pollution from the transportation sector. The revenue generated from TCI allowance sales would go toward programs that allow consumers to avoid paying higher fees at the gas pump—electric vehicle incentives, public transit, rural broadband to support telecommuting and telemedicine, and more.
Eventually, TCI investments could eliminate the need for allowance sales. In contrast, a gas tax would raise revenue with no connection to decreasing GHG emissions and traffic congestion, or to ensuring access to cleaner, more affordable transportation alternatives.
The other great advantage of TCI is its regional approach. Virginia’s transportation systems are intimately connected to Washington, D.C., Maryland and the entire region, so a real solution to transportation challenges must be regional as well.
TCI has broad support from the general public as well as members of the private sector. More than 50 companies have shared their support for TCI and the importance of a regional approach to tackling transportation emissions. And recent polling shows strong public support for TCI, with 60 percent of respondents in favor of their state joining the program.
As a coastal state, Virginia is already experiencing the threats of climate change more than most—and scientists have made it clear that we must dramatically scale up efforts to reduce GHG emissions if we are to mitigate the worst impacts of a warming world.
We must act now to implement thoughtful and collaborative solutions like TCI that will help address the climate challenge while also driving investments in a clean transportation future. Virginia’s state leaders should seize this opportunity to join with our neighbors and build a clean and efficient transportation system that we can all benefit from.
Ken Locklin is a director of Impax Asset Management, which specializes in the transition to a more sustainable economy. He is a resident of Reston.