According to the Energy Information Agency, a higher percentage of Georgia’s CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector than the national average and thirty three other states.
These percentages in part reflect the degree to which the states rely on fossil fuels for electrical generation. States that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels will emit more GHGs through electrical generation, meaning a lower percentage of the state’s total emissions from transportation. But even in coal-fired states like Georgia, driving long distances and heavy reliance on the automobile result in a significant share of GHG emissions from transportation.
ARC has been leader among Georgia’s administrative agencies in studying and addressing GHG emissions. ARC released a white paper examining regional trends in GHG emissions in early 2010 and later that year hosted a workshop on climate change and transportation planning. Plan 2040, adopted in 2011, incorporates GHG emissions into the region’s transportation planning process as a “cost” to be considered in a project’s cost/benefit analysis.
Each of these was an important step forward, particularly in the Southeast, but best practices for climate change planning have evolved and developed since that time. As ARC updates Plan2040 and begins looking toward the next long range plan, here are four things it should do to keep pace with best practices on climate change planning.
First, ARC should update its March 2010 GHG white paper. In the four years since this paper was released ARC has adopted a new regional transportation plan (Plan2040) and is now substantively updating that plan. The Obama Administration has adopted new CAFE standards that will dramatically improve fuel economy and reduce emissions over the coming years. The region has seen important demographic changes in where development is occurring, where Atlantans want to live, and how they choose to travel. Updating the white paper to reflect these changes will give a current view of the regional trend in GHG emissions.
Second, ARC should prepare a regional inventory of transportation-related GHG emissions. States and MPOs around the country have prepared such inventories to clarify the sources and quantities of GHGs emitted by different transportation-related sectors, including not only automobile travel but also trucking, air, and rail. This information would build on the GHG white paper, which focuses on automobile travel, and will help identify the low-hanging fruit for emission reductions.
Third, ARC should initiate a climate vulnerability and mitigation study. Climate change will impact metro Atlanta in a myriad of ways including changing historical precipitation patterns, accelerating ozone formation, increasing the number of severe weather events, and diminishing the performance of existing transportation assets. Unless the region identifies these potential risks it cannot begin planning to address them. FHWA initiated a climate resilience pilot program and released a Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework document for State DOTs and MPOs to use. ARC should follow the lead of its peers around the country and prepare a climate resilience study for metro Atlanta.
Fourth, ARC should adopt a GHG reduction goal. Just as the region’s motor vehicle emission budget caps the amount of ozone and particulate matter that can be emitted, ARC should establish a regional GHG emission target. The region’s short term and long term plans could be modeled against this target to ensure that its climate change reduction goals are achieved.
Forward-looking MPOs and State DOTs have already begun implementing each of these steps and they are quickly becoming best practices in the industry. These steps will continuing aligning the region with the federal policy trend toward performance-based planning and position the region for future regulations on transportation-related GHG emissions. ARC should use this update to Plan2040 to evaluate how industry practices around GHG planning have changed since the plan was adopted and ensure that the next plan stays on the cutting edge.
SELC’s complete comments on the Plan 2040 Update can be found here.