by: Daniel Gatti
Over the past decade, the Northeast region of the United States has helped lead the country—and the world—in supporting and developing clean, renewable sources of electricity. Taken together, the policies of Northeast states, from Maine to Maryland, have generated billions of dollars in investment for solar, wind, and efficiency. One driving force behind this investment is a regional initiative that caps emissions from the electricity sector, charges power plants for the emissions they generate, and invests the funds generated by those fees into efficiency and clean energy programs. This initiative has helped fundamentally change the region’s electricity sector: we have achieved unprecedented penetration of renewables, nearly eliminated the use of coal, and reduced overall electricity use at a time of economic expansion.
The next big step for the states of the Northeast is to bring that same sense of commitment, ingenuity and purpose towards clean transportation.
Transportation is the largest source of pollution in the Northeast region, comprising more than 40 percent of total regional global warming emissions. In addition to the health impacts associated with rising temperatures, soot and ground-level ozone from the region’s cars and trucks are responsible for more than 50,000 asthma attacks, 1,000 deaths, and other pollution-related illnesses that incur approximately $27 billion in total health costs every year. The health impacts of transportation affect all of us, but especially vulnerable are children, the elderly, and people in low-income communities (who often live in or near freight corridors).
Our transportation system pollutes because it is dirty, wasteful and inefficient. It’s also expensive. 92 percent of all transportation is powered by oil. Every year Northeast drivers send billions of dollars out of state to purchase fuel, enriching oil companies at the expense of our economy. Congestion, a growing problem in every Northeast metro area, is a waste of our time and a source of endless aggravation for Northeast drivers. 4 of the 5 states with the longest commute times are located in the Northeast. At the same time, inadequate access to affordable transportation remains a major barrier to opportunity, particularly for poor and marginalized communities, rural residents, the disabled and the elderly.
We can create a better transportation system
The good news is that we have the tools and the technologies to build a better, cleaner transportation system in the Northeast. Exciting technologies such as electric vehicles offer the promise of cars and trucks and buses that can operate without tailpipe emissions and that can be powered by clean energy. Thanks to our relatively clean grid, in the Northeast EVs can get the emissions equivalent of a 100+ mpg vehicle.
New transportation modes such as ride-sharing and automated vehicles, if given the proper incentives, have the potential to challenge the dominance of personally owned, single-occupancy vehicles and open up new possibilities for greater system efficiency. Use of public transportation in the six largest transit systems in the Northeast has increased over 8% since 2008. And a younger generation is coming of age that shows ever greater interest in transit, cycling, and urban living.
Together, these present-day technologies and trends point towards a possible future still on the horizon. A transportation system that does more but costs less and pollutes less. Where a network of shared, electric vehicles, working in concert with a first-class public transportation system, gets everybody where they need to go without burning a gallon of gasoline or getting stuck for an hour in traffic.
A transportation system that doesn’t contribute to air pollution, doesn’t contribute to climate change, and doesn’t concern itself with the price of oil.