When federal action gets bogged down in the halls of Congress, the states often find ways to get things done on their own. Last week, 11 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia launched the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional effort aimed at reducing emissions from cars and trucks.
The TCI agreement was signed with senior federal officials on hand from both the EPA and the Department of Transportation. The effort is aiming to showcase some cutting edge methods for greenhouse gas emission reduction that the federal agencies could eventually adopt. In the short term it might just help some federal dollars flow to the participating East coast states.
"I think there will be a lot of opportunity for working jointly with the feds, but what form that takes is part of what we're trying to flesh out," said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, which facilitated the initial meeting between agency heads from the various states this week.
The specific projects the TCI will undertake are not yet clear, though staffs of the agencies will work on project ideas this summer before decisions can be made. David Littell, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection as well as chairman of the board of directors of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, said the projects could range from electric vehicle infrastructure along interstates to improvements in freight systems, among many other ideas.
Modeled on RGGI
Though the new TCI is not officially connected to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, Littell said it is modeled on that effort's success. RGGI was set up to form a cap-and-trade system to draw down carbon dioxide emissions from the power generation sector on a regional level when the states involved saw little in the way of progress toward a federal system.
"We've tackled the largest greenhouse gas emitting factor in the country, regionally; we're now working on the second largest factor in transportation," Littell said. The TCI incorporates all the RGGI states along with Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
The projects TCI will eventually undertake, though, will require money. Though no official partnerships with the EPA or DOT are forthcoming, some of the participants see a good chance to win federal grant money for the TCI's projects.
A similar partnership was formed on the federal level a year ago, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development, DOT and EPA formed the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This kind of inter-agency cooperation is a growing trend. RGGI was formed as a first-of-its-kind partnership between energy and environment officials, and now TCI brings in transportation officials as well, bringing expertise and potentially, dollars with them.
Arroyo said that DOT has a specific grant program that the TCI will target, called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program. In February DOT doled out $1.5 billion in TIGER grants, ranging in size from under $4 million to more than $100 million. The TCI will have to apply for these as any state or community would, but the regional nature could give them a leg up.
"One would think that when you're talking about a regional partnership, that might give some states an advantage because they could show that they'll leverage their own state resources and work across state lines," Arroyo said.
Philip Cherry, policy director for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, agreed that 11 states plus the District of Columbia carries more weight than any one state on its own.
"Acting as a region we would be much more effective, and hopefully cost effective, than we would be acting as individual states," he told SolveClimate.
The TCI effort might also serve as a model for other regions, or eventually for federal programs.
"RGGI was a novel approach in the northeast, and then look what happened with the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwestern Governors' [Greenhouse Gas Reduction] Accord," Cherry said of two subsequent greenhouse gas reduction programs that have since sprung up. "They didn't happen because of RGGI, but it couldn't hurt that RGGI had created itself as a regional entity. I'd like to think that what we've done with the TCI might spread to different regions."
And given that transportation accounts for about 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, there is ample reason for other parts of the country to copy this effort. Arroyo said the TCI is a solid first step to ensure that "greenhouse gas emissions are being taken into account in transportation decisions, whether that be about fuels, or vehicles or land use policy."