Loebsack gets the connection between transportation and global warming

As I’ve written before, any serious effort to combat global warming will have to include policies that give Americans more accessible alternatives to driving.

Otherwise continued increases in vehicle miles traveled by car and truck could cancel out reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to cleaner fuel sources and greater fuel efficiency.

Last week 41 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging Congress to address transportation issues in forthcoming legislation on climate change.

Representative Dave Loebsack was the only Iowan to sign this letter, which was drafted by Ellen Tauscher (D, CA-10) and Earl “the Bike” Blumenauer (D, OR-03).

I received a copy of the letter from a Smart Growth America e-mail list and am reproducing it here. I couldn’t find the text anywhere online, so there’s no link:

July 14, 2008

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker

H-232, The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

We thank you for your continued work to address climate change through federal legislation. As you have previously noted, Congress has a historic opportunity to provide leadership on one of the defining issues of this era. As Congress begins work on comprehensive climate change legislation, we ask that this legislation address the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions: surface transportation.

As you know, surface transportation produces one-third of the United States’ greenhouse gases, and sixty percent of these emissions come from personal vehicle use. Last year, Congress demonstrated leadership on climate change by raising CAFE standards to thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020. However, recent studies suggest that the expected increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) will negate both higher CAFE standards and a reduction of carbon content in fuel. If VMTs are not reduced, transportation sector emissions will rise forty percent above 1990 levels by 2030.

Through climate change legislation, we believe that Congress should encourage greater use of VMT-reducing strategies, especially public transportation. Significant funds should be dedicated to increase public transit, intercity passenger rail, freight rail capacity, intelligent transportation systems, and bicycle and pedestrian alternatives. In addition, the legislation should encourage smart growth and transit-oriented development.

We believe that climate change legislation should allocate a portion of funds to all sectors that generate greenhouse gases, including transportation. Supporting VMT-reduction strategies will lower greenhouse gas emissions, decrease transportation costs for Americans, and relieve pressure on other sectors to meet an overall emissions cap. Without such efforts, other industries will have to overcompensate to offset the transportation sector’s emissions. In addition, these policies will have the added benefits of providing consumers with increased transportation choices, improved accessibility, a greater range of housing choices, improved personal health and fitness, decreased air pollution, and reduced traffic congestion and commute times.

In the coming months, we look forward to supporting legislation that will reduce the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrate the United States’ commitment to addressing climate change.

Sincerely,

Ellen O. Tauscher

Earl Blumenauer

(and 39 other members of Congress)

This letter explains concisely why transportation has to be part of our conversation on global warming.

I also like the way it makes clear that dealing with transportation issues in the climate change bill will create more flexibility in setting the emissions caps for other sectors.

The road-building lobbies will vigorously oppose the changes this letter advocates. But perhaps they can be pitted against the powerful corporate interests that will oppose sharp reductions in industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is some background on smart growth and transit-oriented development, in case you are wondering what those terms in the third paragraph mean.

Tauscher and Blumenauer deserve credit for leading on this issue. It will take a huge effort by many people to make good changes in federal transportation policies.

All the representatives who signed this letter are listed after the jump. After Tauscher and Blumenauer, they appear in alphabetical order, as they did on the letter to Pelosi. Chris Shays of Connecticut is the only Republican in the group.

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Bipartisan caucus to push for new transportation policies

Representatives Ellen Tauscher (D, CA-10) and Tom Petri (R, WI-06), both members of the House Transportation Committee, are forming a “Metropolitan Mobility Caucus” to revamp federal transportation policy.

Here is the “Dear colleague” letter they are circulating among members of Congress:

Dear Colleague,

We invite you to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus.

Transportation congestion is a major economic and environmental problem in metropolitan areas. Although the top 100 metropolitan areas represent only 12% of the land in the United States, they contain 65% of our nation’s population. They account for more than 90% of traffic congestion, transit ridership, and population exposure to autorelated air pollution. Urban areas handle 95% of the nation’s trade, 96% of rail passengers, and 75% of seaport tonnage. Congestion has never been worse. In 2005, urban congestion cost $78.2 billion in wasted time and fuel, which equates to $707 annually per traveler.

We believe that federal transportation policy should take a fresh approach to solving the various metropolitan infrastructure problems. As we continue to examine the structure of the next highway bill, our caucus will advocate for stronger partnerships between federal, state, and local transportation officials; greater use of public transportation, including intercity passenger rail; regional mobility goals; and performance standards.

In the coming months, we plan to hold staff briefings to examine these and other issues. The first briefing will take place on Monday, July 21st at 4:30 PM in 2253 RHOB. Cohosted by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the American Planning Association, this briefing will focus on the role of MPOs in the transportation planning process. If you would like to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus, please contact Paul Schmid (Tauscher) or Tyler Schwartz (Petri).

Sincerely,  

Ellen O. Tauscher

Tom E. Petri

I hope some of Iowa’s representatives in Congress will join this caucus. It’s a natural fit for Leonard Boswell and Bruce Braley, who serve on the House Transportation Committee, but others could get behind this initiative as well. The number of Iowans who do not drive or cannot afford a car will grow as our population ages and gasoline becomes more expensive.

We don’t think of Iowa as having major metropolitan areas, but most of our medium-sized and larger cities would benefit from better public transit options and intercity rail. Even small towns would benefit from express bus service or vanpools that could get people to jobs, shops, doctors or other facilities in larger cities nearby.

Bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly roads provide alternatives to driving and improve the quality of life in cities and towns of all sizes.  

The Smart Growth America website has lots of information on how federal policies could improve our transportation system.

By the way, of all the presidential candidates, Bill Richardson had the best vision on transportation policy. It wasn’t just talk, either–as governor, Richardson spent political capital to make intercity rail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe a reality.

People often mention Richardson as a possible vice-president or secretary of state, but in my fantasy cabinet he would be secretary of transportation.

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