From the Beacon, November 2019

In 2010, a dozen states from New England and the Mid-Atlantic region (including Washington, D.C.) joined to form a new regional partnership called the “Transportation and Climate Initiative.” Key leaders, including governors and cabinet secretaries and senior advisors on energy, transportation and the environment from across these jurisdictions have been working hard since then to develop one of the most impressive examples of regional collaboration in the nation.

TCI’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the transportation system’s reliance on high-carbon fuels, promote sustainable growth, and address the challenges of vehicle-miles traveled and congestion. This is a coalition that has continued to move forward because it is bipartisan and fact-based in its approach, built on the common understanding that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for any one state to act alone and have true impact on this enormous issue.

Last December, Massachusetts joined with Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in announcing the intent to build a new regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal. The centerpiece of this policy would be a collaborative program to cap carbon emissions from gasoline and other transportation fuels, and use the revenues generated by a “cap and allowance” system for fuels to invest in each state’s transportation needs. These investments would be particularly focused on addressing the equity gaps that exist in underserved regions of each state, and in populations and neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by transportation-related pollution.

The general approach is roughly based on the “cap and trade” framework to limit carbon emissions from the commercial power generation sector in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Why should our region move beyond the power sector to link transportation and climate change? Well, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Union of Concerned Scientists, personal and commercial cars and trucks account for nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And the broader transportation sector (which adds in marine, rail and air travel) accounts for nearly 30% of all carbon emissions, generating more carbon dioxide than power plants!

In other words, transportation and global warming are clearly linked, and developing policies that simultaneously reduce the climate change threat and improve our transportation systems is a common-sense course of action. This is why rural and urban states, jurisdictions led by Republicans and Democrats, can and should join together in common cause.

Because the policy issues, challenges, concerns and stakeholders vary so much, each state has been moving through a methodical process to present the TCI proposal – originally presented in December 2018 as a “Framework for a Draft Regional Policy Proposal” – and invite significant feedback before making a final decision.

The agreement among the parties is that each state would announce its intent to “design a regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal that would cap and reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels through a cap-and-invest program or other pricing mechanism,” with the goal of completing “the policy development process within one year, after which each jurisdiction will decide whether to adopt and implement the policy.”

Between the summer and Nov. 4, the Baker-Polito administration will have held 11 regional workshops open to the public and stakeholders to explain the concept and receive comments. This information can be found on the TCI’s online portal on mass.gov at www.mass.gov/info-details/transportation-and-climate-initiative-tci, which provides a link for comments and ideas.

Based on all of this feedback, Massachusetts will work with all participating states to draft a proposed memorandum of understanding by the end of the year. After another round of public input and dialogue, a final agreement is expected in the spring of 2020.

Don’t let “TCI,” “cap-and-invest,” “pricing mechanism,” “MOU,” and other jargon and wonkish terms lull you into thinking that this effort is more for show than impact. The opposite is true.

This entire initiative has operated mostly below the daily radar because it is so complex, and because our newspapers and media outlets have been preoccupied with headline-grabbing and head-spinning issues and controversies in our nation’s capital.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is a remarkable example of regional collaboration at its highest level, focused on the most challenging issues of our generation – the stewardship of our world, and sustainability and equity in our communities.

Take a moment to download the draft proposal and framework (with the link above) to learn more about the details. In addition, please resist the temptation to see TCI as an opportunity to avoid difficult discussions about taxes with voters. Yes, TCI could generate important revenue, yet its primary goals are to reduce carbon emissions and generate revenue that can address inequities within our states. We will need additional revenue to truly modernize our roadways and public transit systems, and those discussions must continue in earnest.

In recent public opinion surveys, Massachusetts residents have expressed extreme frustration with the condition of our roads and transit infrastructure, and with the congestion that is visible every day. Climate change is a more distant worry, unfortunately. We’ll need to protect TCI’s founding goals to ensure that the program is truly impactful in reducing the long-term consequences of global warming. And let’s continue to explore additional steps to secure the revenue we need for vital short- and medium-term investments to rebuild our transportation system now.

Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO