Oped by Emily Norton, Newton Ward 2 City Councilor

The latest IPCC report was a stark and terrifying reminder that climate change grinds on unabated – as if we needed any more reminders after this summer of heat waves, fires, drought and flooding, here in the United States and across the globe. Consider that this summer is the coolest today’s children will ever know.

Emily Norton, Newton Ward 2 City Councilor, Massachusetts

We know the solution to climate change requires reducing and then eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, as quickly as possible, from all sectors: buildings, transportation, land use, food production and more.

Northeastern states including Massachusetts are working together on one bold transportation solution in particular that is not well known or understood, but is worthy of support.

Transportation is the single-largest source of carbon emissions in the Commonwealth producing 43 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. To get that down to zero will require incentivizing walking, cycling and public transportation, and when it is necessary to use a vehicle, we must move to electricity as a fuel instead of gasoline, natural gas, diesel or any other fossil fuel. Why? Because under state law every year our electric grid is required to be powered by increasing amounts of renewable energy. As we green our grid, we green the electric vehicles powered by it.

Helping people make the switch to cleaner mobility will cost money. The Northeastern states have formed the “Transportation and Climate Initiative” to marshal the necessary funds. This initiative has two key pieces. First, it sets a cap on the amount of transportation emissions permitted in our region, and that cap declines over time. Second, it requires transportation fuel wholesalers to purchase allowances to sell their fossil fuel products, with the price of the allowance based on the pollution level of the fuel. For example, those selling oil generated from Canadian tar sands would pay a higher allowance than those selling Saudi Arabian oil, because tar sands require so much more energy to extract from the ground and convert to gasoline. In this way TCI puts a price on carbon, which is a solution supported by politicians and economists across the political spectrum.

The funds generated by the sale of these allowances are then redistributed back to consumers to help pay for improvements to pedestrian and cycling networks, public transit, rebates for EVs and EV charging network, and rebates for medium and heavy-duty trucks that run on electricity as well, for the commercial sector. To ensure an equitable transition, 35 percent of the annual proceeds committed to communities hardest hit by decades of environmental injustices and overburdened by air pollution. Importantly, TCI lets local communities decide where their portion of yearly funding will be invested, including transit, local bicycle and walkway projects, electric vehicle infrastructure, Safe Routes to SchoolSafe Routes to Transit and more.

TCI would be a boon for public health. Keep in mind that air pollution from cars and trucks burning diesel and gasoline cause dangerous particulate pollution that exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions among our residents. (Springfield and Chinatown have among the highest asthma rates in the country.) TCI is also an economic boon, estimated to generate as much as $3 billion over the next decade for participating states across our region.

According to a Harvard study, if all participating jurisdictions implement the program, the region can reduce transportation emissions by 25 percent, prevent more than 1,360 pollution-related deaths, and generate up to $13.5 billion in savings from avoided health costs by 2032.

To his credit, Governor Baker was one of the first to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which committed the state to TCI and a set of principles for implementing it. But the legislature has yet to approve it.

As we build back better from the pandemic and economic crisis, investing in a clean, affordable, and efficient transportation sector will reduce pollution, increase economic opportunity, and help drive our recovery.