February 25, 2022
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package is now law, and other climate-fighting options available to Biden are either threatened or stuck in limbo. [...] Perhaps the biggest area for potential emission reduction is in transportation. Nearly a third of all American greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, more than any other segment of the economy. The infrastructure law will pump $600 billion into the sector. Again, the spending approach matters. A strategy that directs more than a quarter of the money to highway expansion could increase transportation emissions by 21 million tons in 2030, according to an analysis by the Georgetown Climate Center. That is the equivalent of what 4.5 million cars currently emit in a year. Conversely, an approach that focuses on maintenance for existing roads, transit and alternative transportation could reduce emissions by 14 million tons.
“There are a ton of good programs in this bill with the real potential to bend the curve,” said James Bradbury, mitigation program director at the Georgetown Climate Center. “But there is always a risk — and always has been a risk — of putting upward pressure on transportation emissions if there is a lot of investment in highway expansion.” But the mere fact that there is a debate over the emissions impact of highway spending shows how politics have changed in recent years, he noted. Transportation spending has seldom been considered in climate terms, he said. There is a strong interest among many states in greening their transportation systems, whether it is investing in electric vehicle infrastructure, transit, or alternative forms of transportation such as walking or biking. Developing a tool to measure the emissions impact of transportation projects could go a long way to helping states make the most of the money, Bradbury said.