Photo: Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

Clean and Modern Transportation in Maryland: Wishful Thinking or a Possibility?

, Sr. Vehicles Engineer | June 26, 2018, 4:13 pm EDT
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The Maryland transportation system faces a myriad of challenges. Poor air quality, rising global warming emissions, and a crumbling transportation infrastructure, to name a few. To address these issues, the state is considering strategies that would lower transportation-related emissions, bring in funding and enable the state to build a modern, clean and equitable transportation system.

Why does Maryland need to invest in a cleaner, more modern transportation system?

Transportation is the largest source of CO2 pollution in the state, responsible for almost half of statewide emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The state cannot achieve the long term goals under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) without making significant reductions in emissions from transportation

Figure 1 – Maryland CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion for all sectors of economy, 1990-2015

Transportation is also a leading source of local air pollution that has been shown to be the main cause of over 3,000 asthma attacks, 500 preventable deaths and $1.8 billion in combined health costs annually in the state. Communities surrounding the Port of Baltimore, such as Curtis Bay, are particularly vulnerable to the impact of transportation emissions and experience elevated  rates of respiratory illness, cancer and heart disease. A study shows that in 2010 Baltimore’s rate of asthma-related hospitalizations was almost three times higher than the U.S. average and recent data indicates that this trend has not changed.

In addition, climate change is exacerbating Maryland’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, especially along the state’s 3,000 miles of shoreline and in communities prone to flooding. Maryland is one of the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Climate change will exacerbate challenges to Maryland’s existing road and public transportation infrastructure, which already suffers from poor conditions and inadequate funding. One quarter of Maryland’s 32,037 miles of public roads are in poor condition. Creating a clean and modern transportation system is an opportunity to harden our critical infrastructure.

We can do better.

What do we need to do to get there?

The only way to meet the climate target by 2030 is to move away from fossil fuels, which means putting more electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads. A recent study estimates that EVs produce less than half the emissions of a comparable gasoline-powered car, even when the higher emissions associated with EV manufacturing is considered. Where you live determines the emissions from the electricity which powers your EV, but the study shows that in regions covering two-thirds of the U.S. population,  driving an EV emits less than a 50 mile-per-gallon gasoline car.

Electric buses and trucks can help relieve the burden of air pollution from diesel fuel. We can start by electrifying Maryland’s bus fleet, including at least 7,000 diesel school buses as well as light trucks, so pedestrians, bikers, 623,000 school children and people who live in low-income communities near highways will breathe cleaner air.

With electrification, more of the dollars spent on energy resources will remain in the region, helping to create jobs.  While much of the state’s electricity is still produced from fossil fuels, the cost per mile is much lower for EVs, and Maryland’s commitment to increasing renewable power means the share of fossil fuels used in the state will fall over time.

Not just that, but electrification will save drivers money on fuel and will insulate them from the fluctuating price of gasoline. In the last decade, the price of gasoline in the state has fluctuated between a low of $1.5 per gallon and a high of $4.10 per gallon. A difference of almost threefold in a household’s expenditure with gasoline is especially burdensome for low- and middle-income families.  A study shows that for the U.S., the cost of electricity to refuel an EV using the standard rate plan is often lower than the equivalent cost of gasoline and is always lower using a time-of-use rate. In Baltimore the average price of electricity as vehicle fuel is between 75 cents  and slightly over one dollar per gallon and is lower than the lowest electricity price in the last decade. The average fuel savings for a Baltimore EV driver was estimated to be over $600 per year.

It is also important to make investments in public transportation and in affordable housing near public transportation, so people can move around without driving a car, saving them money and easing the burden of traffic for all Maryland residents.

With the right investments, we can have a transportation system in Maryland that is cleaner and more resilient than our current system. A new proposal under consideration in Maryland can help the state fund some of these critical investments and reduce emissions at the same time.

Cap-and-invest

One policy mechanism under consideration for transportation in Maryland and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is known as cap-and-invest. This policy places a limit, or cap, on greenhouse gas emissions from polluters and requires them to purchase allowances – or rights to emit CO2 – from the state, based on how much they pollute. By limiting the number of allowances available, the state guarantees overall emission reductions.  The proceeds from the auctions are then invested by the state in clean energy and transportation projects. Cap-and-invest also gives regulated parties the incentive to switch to less polluting products and processes, often minimizing consumer costs while giving them the flexibility to comply in a manner that best suits their circumstances.

Cap-and-invest is already working for the power sector. In 2009, Maryland and eight other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states collaborated to implement a successful power sector cap-and-invest program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  Thanks in part to this program, Maryland’s electricity sector reduced emissions by a third between 2009 and 2015.

Up to 2017, the allowance proceeds from RGGI have brought in $2.8 billion for the region. By investing in efficiency, RGGI has contributed significantly to emissions reductions and economic growth while saving consumers money.  In 2015 alone, RGGI-funded projects in the region have been estimated to expect to return $2.31 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to at least 161,000 homes and 6,000 businesses. In Maryland, by September 2017, RGGI had generated $574 million in cumulative funds, which  has allowed the state to make significant investments in emissions reduction, energy efficiency programs, and in reducing electricity bill costs for residents, who have saved an estimated $457 million in lifetime electricity bills.

RGGI cleaned the air in the region. In the nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, RGGI helped avoid up to 830 premature deaths, averted up to 9,900 asthma attacks and saved an average of $5.7 billion in health costs between 2009 and 2014. Neighboring states, such as the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia also saw a decrease in mortality, respiratory and heart diseases. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the valuation of avoided health effects due to RGGI amounted to anywhere from $800 million to $1.8 billion dollars in the same period.

So far, cap-and-invest covers power plants, but not emissions from transportation. Other jurisdictions, however, including California and Quebec, have expanded cap-and-invest to transportation, resulting in billions in new funding for clean transportation. This year California will spend $695 million on clean vehicle incentives, $1.2 billion on public transportation and over $700 million on affordable housing and sustainable community programs thanks to their cap-and-invest program. It has been estimated that cap and invest for transportation in Maryland could be as high as $450 million per year.

Though RGGI has been successful in reducing emissions from the electricity sector, the transportation sector has been left trailing behind. In 1990, the state’s power sector was a larger emitter than the transportation sector. But roles were quickly reversed:  by 2015 transportation’s share had gone way up, while the electricity sector’s share had gone way down.

In 2009, Maryland’s General Assembly passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which mandates that by 2020 the state must reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions to a level equivalent to 25% below 2006 emissions levels. In 2016 the GGRA was reauthorized and its goal extended to a 40% reduction by 2030.

Without a cap on emissions from gasoline and diesel, reaching our economy-wide 2030 goal is not likely, regardless of the success of the cap on electricity emissions.

What’s next for transportation cap and invest in Maryland?

Discussions on transportation pricing policies are under way in Maryland and other states in the region.

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), a collaboration of eleven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, and the District of Columbia, works to promote clean and efficient transportation in the region while taking into account the importance of individual state priorities. TCI is hosting listening sessions in several states to bring in input on potential policy approaches, including cap-and-invest and other strategies, to reduce emissions and fund improvements in the region’s transportation system.

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) advises the Maryland Governor and General Assembly on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on adaptation to climate change. The Mitigation Working group of the Commission focuses on market-based and other programs to reduce emissions, and discussions on carbon pricing are under way.  The MCCC  holds meetings open to the public where time is set aside for public comment. Encouraging state leadership to hold listening sessions is a highly valuable initiative.

The Union of Concerned Scientists works with a broad coalition of community-based partners on emission-reduction strategies and strategies for obtaining funding for a clean, modern and equitable transportation system, and on how to best invest these funds.

State-based collaborative efforts have become imperative in this day and age, and Maryland has a significant role to play in these efforts. The state’s commitment to clean energy and its success in developing a clean power sector has led to Maryland becoming one of the most energy efficient states in the country. This commitment, together with an active participation in a regional collaboration, are a winning combination. Building a clean, modern and equitable transportation system in Maryland is within reach and is the next step.

Photo: Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

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