New Report: U.S. States Failing at Reducing Transportation Emissions
States should start thinking about leveraging federal transit dollars for infrastructure and policies that reduce GHG emissions. Photo by caribb.

States should start thinking about leveraging federal transit dollars for infrastructure and policies that reduce GHG emissions. Photo by caribb.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Smart Growth America released a report, “Getting Back on Track: Aligning State Transportation Policy with Climate Change Goals,” analyzing state-level policies to curb carbon emissions in the transportation sector.  With the absence of a comprehensive transportation bill at the federal level, many are looking to action from states, which have federal transport dollars at their disposal.

The report’s findings suggest that states are doing little to leverage policy tools to reduce transport-related carbon emissions. In most cases, states make policy decisions that “will likely increase emissions” due to a lack of alignment between transportation and emission reduction policies.

Image from the report, "Getting Back on Track."

Graphs from "Getting Back on Track."


In the U.S. nearly half of the net increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1990 has been from the transport sector and transport accounts for 32 percent of total carbon emissions in the country.Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) per person grew 151 percent between 1977 and 2001; this figure is expected to grow another 50 percent between 2005 and 2030, likely outpacing innovations in efficient vehicles and alternative fuels, the report says.

According to the study, “No state received a higher grade than ‘B-,’ and most states scored lower than ‘D,’ demonstrating a lack of alignment between transportation and climate policies.”  The analysis goes further: “Most states do not make any effort at all to connect transportation policy with climate change and energy goals, and some put in place systems that effectively sabotage these goals.”


Despite the lack of alignment, there’s “tremendous potential for states to make progress on reducing transportation-related carbon emissions.” The report suggests the following state-level actions to reposition transit policy to address emissions:

  • Use state and federal resources to support improvements in public transportation and to support non-motorized transportation, prioritize highway repair and safety as opposed to new capacity, and ensure state fuel taxes can support all transportation modes;
  • Develop comprehensive commuter programs to incentivize low-carbon modes and manage traffic through congestion pricing;
  • Link transportation and land use in transportation plans (i.e. smart growth and transit oriented development);
  • And reduce emissions by setting per capita transportation GHG or VMT reduction targets.

The report also outlines federal policy recommendations, and it ranked California, Maryland and New Jersey as implementing the best policies to curb emissions.  The lowest ranking states are rural areas without major cities.

Beyond failing to address GHG emissions, states are missing broader opportunities to improve public transport, spur economic growth, reduce disparities in transportation and address public health impacts the transport sector.

For the full report, go here.

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