The District, three states sign agreement to curb transportation emissions
After years of negotiations, the District of Columbia and three Northeastern states have signed a landmark agreement aimed at substantially curbing emissions from gasoline and diesel over the next decade, targeting the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases.Support our journalism. Subscribe today.
The District is joining Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in committing to cap and reduce transportation pollution by 26 percent by 2032 and promising to invest in clean transportation and public health in communities that have been disproportionately affected by climate change.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative is an ambitious effort to cut the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that pour from vehicles and contribute to global warming. Transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
“By working together across our borders at the state level, we can take on the greatest challenges posed by climate change,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement. “Through this multi-jurisdictional commitment, we will cut pollution, improve health outcomes, and deliver much-needed investments for our most vulnerable communities.”
Through the accord, the participating states will require large fuel distributors to pay an allowance for the pollution their fuel produces. The money will be used by the District and the states on green transportation initiatives such as electric buses. The number of allowances would decline each year, resulting in fewer emissions.
Initial annual proceeds from the so-called cap-and-invest plan would result in nearly $276 million for the four jurisdictions, and more than $3.2 billion between 2023 and 2032, organizers said.
Katie Scharf Dykes, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that because gasoline and diesel prices vary widely over time, it is difficult to predict the implications for consumers should fuel suppliers pass along costs.
“Our modeling estimates show a potential increase around 5 cents per gallon, which is far less than regular fluctuations the customers see in retail fuel prices,” she said.
Kirk McCauley — of the Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, which represents service stations and convenience stores in the Washington region — said the new policy amounts to a gas tax and that small businesses and consumers would pay the price. He estimates drivers would pay up to 17 cents more per gallon at the pump, much higher than what state officials are projecting.
“Moving forward with a new regional gas tax hike and the establishment of a regional compact up the Northeast makes no sense for the DMV area. Our customers will be left paying higher prices for gasoline,” McCauley said.
The American Petroleum Institute said in a statement it was reviewing the memorandum of understanding signed by the three states and D.C.
“Our focus remains on addressing the dual challenge of ensuring that American families have continued access to affordable, reliable energy while reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions through transparent, market-based solutions,” said Ron Chittim, an API vice president.
Environmental groups welcomed the news Monday.
“Efforts like the Transportation and Climate Initiative will help to not only curb transportation emissions, but revitalize state economies and create new jobs at a time when states need the relief the most,” said Alli Gold Roberts, director of state policy at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres.
Roberts praised the equity provisions in the program, calling them “essential” to its success and adding that policies “such as mandatory emission reductions, equitable electric-vehicle deployment and transit funding will also be needed to close the gap on persistent inequalities tied to transportation pollution.”
States would independently decide how to spend the money on cleaner transportation options, such as buying electric vehicles, expanding transit, and investing in biking and walking infrastructure. Projects could also include development of interstate electric-vehicle charging corridors and improved high-speed wireless Internet in rural and low-income areas to allow for teleworking, officials said.
Under the agreement, the states and the District will allocate at least 35 percent of their proceeds to underserved communities known to experience disproportionately high levels of pollution. That could mean up to $100 million in annual investments to those communities at the onset of the program, and up to $130 million by 2032.
Backers of the program cite health and economic analyses projecting broad benefits. Improved air quality would result in fewer cases of lung and heart ailments and other serious health conditionslinked topollution, they said. A recent Harvard School of Public Health report found that prolonged exposure to air pollution may make it more difficult to recover from covid-19.
“We believe that a responsible climate action strengthens our economy, protects our communities and residents, and improves public health impacts,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts. “We know that local air pollution that disproportionately affects communities of color and low income communities also makes covid-19 outcomes worse.”
Black people and Hispanics are at a higher risk of becoming ill from covid-19 and are dying at higher rates.
Eight other states — Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and North Carolina — have been involved in the planning of the program in recent years, and could join the agreement in the future, organizers said. The eight states issued a statement Monday signaling plans to continue to work with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District on the regional effort.
If all of the jurisdictions join the initiative, total proceeds available for investment in clean transportation could exceed $2 billion annually.
“This process was designed to be flexible so states could join at a time that works best for them,” said Jeff Marootian, the District’s director of transportation. “The District of Columbia has ambitious goals, including to be carbon neutral by 2050. So we need to start now.”
The District in recent years has doubled efforts to discourage car travel and promote alternative modes of transportation, adding protected bike lanes and pushing greener modes of transportation including e-scooters and e-bikes.
This year, the city launched new bus lanes, created a “slow streets” program to promote walking and biking, and reduced the default speed limit to 20 mph — all efforts to change the way people travel. The D.C. Council recently mandated that future private developments include electric-vehicle charging stationsand gave officialsmore flexibility to increase parking rates in high-demand areas to discourage driving — two measures that city leaders say will help the District meet its climate goals.
But officials said that meeting the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 will require more collaborative action. Marootian said the city plans to work with Maryland and Virginia, which haven’t yet signed onto the pact.
The participating jurisdictions say the program is designed to encourage distributors to use cleaner-burning biofuels or new technologies and the alliance will enable the jurisdictions to work together on policies to reduce pollution and advance shared goals of equity and environmental justice.
“Transportation and climate change transcend state borders, and that’s why we are tackling these challenges together,” Theoharides said.