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U.S. Senate Climate Hearings – Will Washington Champion Sustainable Transportation?
"Cool Globes" - 2007 Chicago Art Displat. Flickr photo from JohnLeGear.

"Cool Globes" - 2007 Chicago Art Display. Flickr photo from JohnLeGear.

“the science is screaming at us to take action” ~Senator John Kerry

Today is the second installment of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee‘s three-day legislative hearing on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (see archived webcasts: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3). EPW is one of six Senate committees that will mold climate legislation, but EPW’s “Boxer-Kerry bill,” as it’s called, is considered a “starting point” from which other committees will help craft a bill that is expected to reach the Senate floor early next year if not late this year.

The bill’s sponsors face an uphill battle in winning over conservative Republicans and even some moderate Democrats from rural and coal states. Transit proponents, disappointed by the lack of sustainable transportation funds from the economic stimulus bill ($8.4 out of $48 billion went to transit), are hopeful that a climate bill with a focus on transportation could infuse a windfall of federal funding into the nation’s transit systems.

The House Waxman-Markey bill passed in June provides a disappointing 1  percent of revenues (or roughly $537 million a year) from a proposed emissions cap-and-trade scheme to mass transportation. Meanwhile 15% of revenues would go initially to industries like steel and paper, 5% to coal-burning power plants, 4% to oil refineries and electric utilities, and 3% to the auto industry to help them adjust to the new pollution caps. The bill envisions a 17% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions below 2005 levels by the year 2020 and an 83% reduction by mid-century.

The Boxer-Kerry bill, as proposed, is significantly more ambitious in terms of transit investment and emissions reductions, but also will likely face substantial changes if it has any hope of getting a filibuster-proof 60 votes on the Senate floor. The bill currently proposes that about 3% of revenues from cap-and-trade go towards green transportation. That is shy of the 10% called for in “CLEAN TEA” proposals, which set aside climate money for transit, local land-use planning, and other sustainable development projects, but still a victory for U.S. transit advocates nonetheless. The bill sets a 20% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions below 2005 levels by the year 2020 and an 80% reduction by mid-century. Streetsblog points out that beyond transit, the new Senate bill goes further than the House in providing sensible planning policies in conjunction with transit:

the Senate draft bill includes a grant program aimed at providing federal help for the states and MPOs that take the most ambitious and innovative approaches to cutting transport emissions. However, it’s important to note that the House had a similar concept in an early version of its climate bill, only to see the program removed before a final vote — the same thing could happen in the upper chamber.

All this comes just weeks before the December 12th Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The United States, which represents roughly 5% of the world’s population, emits more than one-fifth of its greenhouse gases — with 28% of that emissions coming from transportation.  These numbers are leading some observers to question why there is so little focus on transportation in the bill. Many were hoping to have the bill ready before the international conference, but that is looking increasingly unlikely given the domestic health care agenda in Washington.

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