TCI is essential to curb emissions and bring back economy
By Ramona du Houx
December 21, 2020
Twelve Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states along with the District of Columbia have been collaborating on the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), for years. On December 21, 2020 the Memorandum of Understanding became ready for the governors to sign.
New Jersey has the goal of an 80 percent carbon emission reduction by 2050, for the health and well-being of all citizens. TCI will help the state get there. TCI’s main tenant is to curb pollution from cars and trucks, the greatest source of human-made greenhouse gasses. Not only will the TCI program reduce pollution while improving public health, it will bring in revenue to New Jersey communities struggling to recover from the pandemic. TCI is projected to generate $750 million annually for New Jersey.
More than 115 elected officials have already signed an Elected Officials to Protect America – New Jersey letter to Governor Phil Murphy urging him to sign the MOU. The TCI consortium will be able to invest in modernized resilient transportation infrastructure regional systems that will improve health outcomes.
While Governor Murphy has not signed yet, his administration should move forward with haste to establish the community-based air monitoring noted in the MOU, and encourage data collection to begin.
“New Jersey has a tremendous opportunity to lead our region and our nation in transitioning to clean, environmentally friendly transportation systems. Our communities are in dire need of transportation infrastructure improvements, but this requires a financial commitment from the public sector that – currently – is not in place. That’s why Governor Murphy signing the MOU, and having New Jersey officially join TCI is imperative. It will provide a sustainable revenue stream for initiatives that will make a tangible difference to the environment, and to our communities,” said Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill, Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect America – New Jersey Leadership Council. “By joining TCI and improving our transportation infrastructure – we will boost our economy, improve the efficiency of our transportation systems, and create new opportunities for local businesses – all while implementing measures to ensure underserved communities and their residents take part in the process and receive its benefits.”
New Jersey has an opening to really lead the TCI effort, if the Governor signs soon. The sooner it happens, the sooner better health outcomes are possible for all our communities.
The transportation sector is responsible for more 42 percent of New Jersey’s greenhouse gasses. This airborne pollution jeopardizes human health and drives the climate crisis. It kills. It also causes asthma, premature deaths, heart and lung disease, and has increased mortality rates from COVID-19, especially in communities of color suffering from environmental injustice. In October a study, published in Cardiovascular Research, estimated that about 17 percent of COVID-19 deaths, in North America, could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
According to the Georgetown Climate Center, TCI New Jersey can help reduce regional pollution by 25 percent, prevent more than 1,000 pollution-related deaths, and generate $10 billion in reduced health costs.
TCI is committed to prioritize and dedicate at least 35 percent from the proceeds to address the needs of communities suffering from environmental injustice, ensure strong labor and workforce development standards, and provide a just transition.
“The health, prosperity, and resiliency in communities of color and economically marginalized communities must be central to any transportation investment program. TCI makes equity a priority by encouraging participating states to allocate a portion of revenues toward projects that benefit low-income and historically disadvantaged groups. It’s everyone’s right to breathe fresh air, with TCI we will be actively working towards that goal,” said Atlantic City Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick, EOPA – New Jersey Leadership Council.
A 2019 Union of Concerned Scientists study found on average, communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than White residents. The study found on-road emissions in the region contributing to an estimated 10,000 premature deaths from air pollution in 2016 in the region. The largest number of estimated premature deaths occurred in New York (2,930), Pennsylvania (1,760), and New Jersey (1,640).
With mounting unfunded mandates for local governments that are already struggling because of COVID-19 expenditures the revenue could help save and create jobs.
“I’ve been honored to serve my community for 30 years, as Collingswood Mayor for the past 25. We’ve done the research of what would be best for our community in regards to more open spaces, transportation infrastructure, electric vehicles, railways, walking and bike paths and so much more. We have the plans. We lack the funds,” said Mayor James Maley, Jr., EOPA – New Jersey Leadership Council. “Now, with COVID we’re all feeling crippling financial constraints. That’s why it’s not surprising that a recent study conducted by Yale University found that 71 percent of NJ voters support utilizing TCI as a method of recovery from the pandemic. The people of NJ know a good thing when they see it. We’ll be able to stimulate our economy with good-paying jobs. The initiative is slated to earn up to $750 million in revenue for New Jersey.”
In order to mitigate the harms of a warming climate New Jersey has already taken major steps to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, acknowledging that it’s the source of 42 percent of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions. The state’s plan involves the deployment of electric cars, buses, and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as the charging infrastructure needed to fuel them. Last July, New Jersey joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia to amplify its commitment to clean transportation by accelerating bus and truck electrification. All these efforts will need a steady revenue stream. That’s where TCI comes in.
TCI would provide an improved regional transportation system means more reliable and accessible mass transit; more electric buses, cars and trucks with charging infrastructure; more walkable and bike-able communities; less congestion, and increased investments in projects that connect everyone, including those in underserved urban, suburban, and rural areas.
The overall goal of TCI is to put transportation-related carbon emissions on a downward trajectory, limiting them to 20 – 25 percent below their current level by 2032.
The TCI plan was inspired by and complements the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that has been reducing carbon emissions in the power sector since 2008. Since RGGI began, it has helped cut carbon pollution from power plants by more than half. Due to this reduction, the region avoided an estimated 537 cases of child asthma, 112 preterm births, 98 cases of autism spectrum disorder, and 56 cases of low birthweight from 2009 to 2014, according to an Acadia Center study. TCI will increase these health benefits.
TCI will utilize a cap-and-invest approach. Participating states would set a regional limit, or cap, on the amount of carbon pollution that can be emitted by transportation fuels. Oil companies that supply these fuels would be required to comply with the cap by purchasing carbon allowances, each equal to one ton of carbon dioxide emitted when the fuels they sell are burned in vehicle engines. These allowances would be sold at auction, thereby generating funds for the states. The total number of allowances made available each year would be limited to the level of the pollution cap, and decline over time, to ensure pollution reductions.