Kaid Benfield Archive


California, Maryland, New Jersey on the right track to curb transportation emissions; other states, not so much

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 15, 2010 at 9:31PM

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  light rail helps save carbon emissions from driving (photo (c) www.istockphoto.com/panolixxim, used with permission)

California, Maryland and New Jersey have the country’s best approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, according to a comprehensive report released yesterday by some of my colleagues at NRDC.  But most of the country has a lot of catching up to do.

The report, which was two years in the making and was cosponsored by Smart Growth America, studied the transportation programs of all fifty states.  It evaluates each state based on 17 policy and spending criteria that states have authority to implement independent of local or federal action:

  • Infrastructure Policies -- This category evaluates a state's overall policy framework, including how it uses innovative policy tools to improve transportation system efficiency while reducing its climate impact.
  • Investment Decisions -- This category looks at transportation spending.  Do states direct their investment dollars in ways that support and promote low-carbon transportation?  The criteria examine such things as whether a state takes advantage of the programmatic flexibility of federal funds, a familar sight (by: Nic Sedlock, creative commons license)uses state funds to invest in cleaner transportation projects, and maintains its existing assets in a state of good repair.
  • “Touchstone Policies” -- These policies can indicate the depth of a state's commitment to reducing transportation emissions.  For example, a state might establish a target for reducing vehicle miles traveled or adopt ambitious carbon emission standards for vehicles.  Such policies are important indicators of the seriousness of a state’s approach to the problem and, where present, added a bonus in the report’s scoring system.

None of these were pie-in-the-sky factors.  Each criterion considered in the evaluation has been adopted by one or more states.

Taking each of these into account, each state was scored on a 100-point scale.  The states were then grouped into three “tiers” based on the scores, with California, Maryland and New Jersey falling into the best-performing top tier with scores 75 and higher.  Twelve states fell into the bottom tier with scores of 2-24.  The worst-performing states overall were Arkansas (2 points), Mississippi (12), and West Virginia (13).  Arkansas, Nebraska and Wyoming failed to earn any points for policies that reduce transportation carbon emissions.

New Jersey earned the most points for emissions-reducing policies (93; overall score 75), while Rhode Island was the best performer for channeling state investment into projects consistent with reducing carbon.  Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, and Massachusetts were the best-scoring of the middle tier of states.

For more, please visit my colleague Colin Peppard’s blog post on the report.  Colin was a principal author of the study along with Neha Bhatt and Stephanie Potts of Smart Growth America.

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