Over the past decade, Massachusetts has helped lead the nation towards clean and renewable sources of electricity.
Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts established the strongest legally binding limits on global warming pollution in the country. Massachusetts leadership helped establish the first regional limits on pollution from power plants through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We have the most efficient economy in the country, saving consumers millions on our energy bills. We have abolished the use of coal, we have created over 100,000 clean energy jobs, and last year Massachusetts made an investment in offshore wind that will make us a national leader in that technology.
But most of the progress that we have made is in the electricity sector. When it comes to transportation, we have tried but struggled to make overall progress.
Our cars and trucks, rather than our power plants, are now the largest sources of pollution in Massachusetts. Every year, pollution from transportation causes over 3,000 asthma attacks, 500 preventable deaths and $1.8 billion in combined health costs in the state. While emissions from electricity are overall down by 58%, in transportation emissions are about the same as they were in 1990.
To their credit, the Baker administration has recognized that meeting our long-term climate mandates requires more ambitious action to control transportation emissions. The Baker administration has announced four listening sessions to solicit ideas for how to address pollution from transportation. According to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, “Our next target for new policies that will lead to further reductions is the transportation sector and we’re looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and finding solutions.”
Massachusetts needs a better, cleaner transportation system
Of course, pollution is one of many challenges facing Massachusetts’ transportation system these days.
You can’t pick up a newspaper today without reading about some of the challenges affecting transportation in the state: our public transportation services are underfunded and overcrowded, our roads are among the most congested in the country, our transportation agencies are broke, low income communities are poorly served by transit, communities near public transportation are increasingly unaffordable.
Here are just a few articles that have been written about some of the challenges affecting transportation and housing in Massachusetts over the past month:
- Report highlights commuter frustration. According to statewide focus groups, more than 80 percent of Massachusetts residents express dissatisfaction with the current transportation system.
- State transportation finance problems could be worsened by climate change, electric cars. The report by Mass Taxpayers Foundation finds that “Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing problems [to our transportation system] as both a long-term trend and a short-term shock.”
- Boston’s electric vehicle effort needs a jolt. According to Professor Joan Fitzgerald at Northeastern University, our efforts to promote electric vehicles “pale in comparison to those of Los Angeles, Portland, and other US cities, and we lag far behind Europe.”
- Debate over development at center of Boston mayor campaigns. Boston mayoral candidate Tito Jackson says that from Mattapan to East Boston, the city is facing a level of displacement it’s never seen before.
What these stories have in common is that they all show the critical role that the inter-related issues of transportation, housing and climate change will play in the future of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts needs a public transportation system that businesses and workers can rely on to connect people to jobs and opportunities. We need to be able to provide enough affordable housing near transit to retain talented young professionals and protect low-income residents from displacement and gentrification. As recent storms have demonstrated, we need to protect our transportation system from the impacts of a changing climate by keeping our infrastructure in good repair. And to achieve our climate goals, we need to transition virtually our entire vehicle fleet to cars and trucks that do not pollute.
We need, in short, dramatic and transformative change in our transportation system.
We can do better
The good news is that today we have more tools at our disposal to address transportation challenges than ever before. 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 Massachusetts EVs can get the emissions equivalent of a 100 mpg vehicle.
New transportation modes such as ride-sharing and automated vehicles open up new possibilities for greater system efficiency – as well as potential new challenges that will need to be addressed through smart policy. Transit ridership is growing faster in Boston than any other major transit system. 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, if we make the right investments today in clean transportation. 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.
So how do we get there from here?
Obviously no single policy has the ability to address all the challenges facing our transportation sector. Creating a better, cleaner transportation system will require multiple policies and coordination between state and local government and key stakeholders in the private sector.
But one great place to start would be to join with the other states in the Northeast in launching a cap and invest program modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) covering transportation emissions.
RGGI is a program with a track record of success in reducing emissions while growing the economy and saving consumers money. Under RGGI, the Northeast region has established limits on emissions from power plants, limits that must decline every year. These limits are enforced through a requirement that power generators purchase allowances from within a limited pool. The funds generated by these allowance sales are then invested in clean energy and efficiency programs.
RGGI is a funding source for a variety of programs that have saved money and improved lives in Massachusetts.
Funding from RGGI is used to support the MassSave program, which has provided home energy audits and rebates for home retrofits and energy efficient appliances for thousands of households across the Commonwealth. Through the Green Communities Act, RGGI helps engage local government and local grassroots activists around concrete local energy projects in 155 communities across Massachusetts, such as upgrading the boiler at the local school or putting in LED streetlights.
By investing in efficiency, RGGI has saved consumers over $600 million on their energy bills – with billions in additional savings expected in years to come. Overall, RGGI has helped cut emissions in the Northeast region by over 37 percent, while expanding the Northeast economy by $2.9 billion. In Massachusetts, RGGI has produced over $1 billion in health benefits and created over 2,000 jobs.
What would cap and invest mean for Massachusetts?
The biggest limitation of the RGGI program is that it only applies to power plants. But other jurisdictions, including California, Ontario and Quebec, have successfully expanded the cap and invest program model to include transportation fuels, and the result has been billions of dollars in new investments in clean transportation.
California, for example, is projected to spend over $2 billion on clean transportation and affordable housing investments over the next year. These investments will go to a variety of programs designed to increase access to clean mobility solutions for California residents, including:
- Expansion of light rail service in every major metropolitan area.
- Improved bus service, including zero-emission bus service, in dozens of cities, towns and rural counties.
- Aggressive incentive programs to make it easier for low-income residents to trade in inefficient vehicles for hybrids or electric vehicles.
- Investments in affordable housing near public transportation.
A cap and invest program covering transportation emissions could potentially raise up to $4.7 billion in funding for similar programs in the Northeast. For Massachusetts, that could mean over $120 million per year in dedicated funding for clean vehicle incentives, $120 million in affordable housing initiatives, and $225 million to improve public transportation.
Lets make it happen
We can have a cleaner and more efficient transportation system in Massachusetts and other Northeast states – and with policy leaders looking closely at bringing cap and invest into transportation, now is the time to engage in this effort.
Massachusetts will conduct four listening sessions over the next few weeks to generate feedback from the public on clean transportation. These sessions will be held:
- Tuesday, October 31, 9:00am, State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA
- Thursday, November 2, 6:00pm, MassDEP Central Region Office, 8 New Bond Street, Worcester, MA
- Monday, November 6, 11:00am, UMass-Amherst, Student Union – Cape Cod Lounge, 280 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA
- Thursday, November 9, 6:00pm, West Middle School, 271 West Street, Brockton, MA
Advocates will also be hosting a webinar to talk in more detail about the proposed policy.
We encourage everyone with a stake in a better transportation system in Massachusetts – which is to say, everyone in Massachusetts – to come to these events and make their voices heard.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.