elected officials see the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative as essential to curb emissions and bring back economy By Ramona du Houx December, 2020 During the pandemic, economic recession, and climate crisis elected officials from across New York State and New Jersey are insisting on regional climate action to help the health and economic well-being of the millions of souls […]
elected officials see the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative as essential to curb emissions and bring back economy
By Ramona du Houx
During the pandemic, economic recession, and climate crisis elected officials from across New York State and New Jersey are insisting on regional climate action to help the health and economic well-being of the millions of souls they represent. Specifically, these elected officials are urging Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Phil Murphy, respectively, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will commit New York and New Jersey to the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), by the end of the year. TCI’s main tenant is to curb pollution from cars and trucks, the greatest source of human-made greenhouse gasses.
The TCI consortium, of twelve states and the District of Columbia, will be able to invest in a modernized clean, resilient transportation infrastructure regional system that will improve health outcomes. These Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states along with the District of Columbia have been collaborating on TCI for years. Now the MOU is almost ready for the governors to sign.
The transportation sector is responsible for more than 40 percent of New York’s greenhouse gas pollution and 42 percent of New Jersey’s. This airborne pollution jeopardizes human health and drives the climate crisis. It can kill. 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 inCardiovascular Research,estimated that about 17 percent of COVID-19 deaths, in North America, could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
Transportation pollution doesn’t stop at state lines, that’s another major reason why TCI participants have been developing the program regionally. Millions travel the Tri-State area to commute to and from work.
“Making our cities better places to live and work will create more vibrant healthier local economies and inclusive communities,” said Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill, Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect America – New Jersey Leadership Council. “With a smarter cleaner transportation infrastructure everyone’s quality of life will improve. Working regionally will help streamline projects, improve the efficiency of our transportation systems, and reduce congestion hassles stemming from having to switch trains, busses, or traffic lanes while traveling and commuting to work. We need our governors to sign the MOU. It’s an opportunity our region can’t miss out on.”
“This year the Atlantic coastline was raked by hurricane-force winds because fossil fuels have increased our ocean temperatures birthing more storms. Working together gives us more power to tackle regional climate issues, as the proceeds generated from TCI don’t rely on the federal government. With this needed injection of funds into our transportation infrastructure, the region will become healthier, more livable, more equitable and more sustainable,” said Albany County Legislator William Reinhardt, EOPA – New York Leadership Council Member. “We can’t miss this chance to reduce our carbon footprint while growing jobs.”
With mounting unfunded mandates for local governments that are already struggling because of COVID-19 expenditures the revenue could help save and create jobs.
“For every town that wants to take steps to solve climate issues, we realize very quickly that the resources and issues extend too widely and involve too many substantial costs for any of us to make a dent in the issues. We keep trying, but the best path forward is through a regional alliance that gives us resources to begin to make a difference. Our families are depending on us to get real progress on pulling our world back from the edge,” said Collingswood Mayor James Maley, Jr., EOPA – New Jersey Leadership Council.
The TRECH Project Research study of TCI, found that the initiative will cut carbon-dioxide emissions from transportation by as much as a quarter by 2032, thereby leading to much cleaner air and healthier communities, especially in the Tri-State area. TCI could see a reduction of as many as 1,100 pollution-related deaths and 4,700 childhood asthma cases annually up and down the East Coast, as well as provide $11.1 billion in health benefits.
The TRECH researchers at Columbia, Harvard and some other universities, concluded that TCI could save more than 500 lives and prevent 1,700 childhood asthma cases annually in New York alone. Those benefits would especially accrue in communities of color — which disproportionately suffer from the worst air pollution.
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.
“TCI will create a more equitable region by helping to address environmental injustice pollution burdens faced by communities of color and low-income communities. Poor air quality is a medical and financial emergency in these communities. The TCI program will save lives by decreasing dangerous air pollutants from transportation vehicles,” said New York Assistant Assemblyman Speaker Félix W. Ortiz, EOPA National Leadership Council Member, Army Veteran (Ret). “People need reliable, convenient, and affordable transportation to access work, healthcare, and social services. Additionally, opportunities will open up for communities burdened by inadequate transportation as they will be able to travel further and safer with ease. We urge Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Murphy to sign the MOU.”
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) according to the study.
In addition to the health benefits from less pollution 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 bikeable communities; less congestion, and increased investments in projects that connect everyone, including those in underserved urban, suburban, and rural areas.
“People will be able to breathe cleaner air throughout the region as we transfer to a clean energy economy. TCI will move the region forward by investing billions in clean equitable transportation, while creating good clean-energy based jobs,” said Manlius Councilor and EOPA – New York Leadership Council Member Katelyn M. Kriesel. “At long last, we will be able to hold the oil industry accountable with a legally binding limit on transportation carbon pollution.”
The program enables participating states to choose where proceeds are allocated, thereby allowing communities to tailor programs to specific needs.
The TCI plan was inspired by and complements the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-n-trade program that has been reducing carbon emissions in the power sector since 2008. Over $1,368,299,061 billion in proceeds have been generated from RGGI for New York to date from 49 auctions. 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.
New York joined RGGI, banned fracking, and established the Clean Energy Standard that mandated 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. While these measures help improve the health outcomes for millions, lawmakers realized more needs to be done for communities of color that suffer from environmental injustice. Then New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) became law. Its implementation requires a comprehensive approach to the number one source of climate pollution — the state’s decaying, failing transportation system and the harmful emissions that come with it.
“We know a substantial portion of TCI proceeds is destined to go to underserved communities as it is required by the CLCPA,” said Mary Lupien, Rochester, New York City Councilmember. “Investing in a clean energy economy creates opportunities as we will be able to spur investments in environmental justice initiatives, have good-paying clean energy sector jobs, and accelerate our economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic induced recession.”
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.