Sustainable Transportation

For the past one hundred years, the United States has relied heavily on one source of fuel to move passengers and vehicle freight: petroleum.  Petroleum was cheap, it was plentiful, and it fueled our industrial revolution. However our reliance on petroleum is now causing significant costs to consumers, our economy, our national security, the health of our air and water, and to the livability of our planet. It is imperative that we find a way to reduce -- and eventually replace -- our overreliance on petroleum, while still ensuring viable transportation options upon which our society depends.

The transportation sector contributes 35% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast, and emissions from this sector are growing more rapidly than any other.  More than half of these emissions come from light-duty motor vehicles.  Commercial vehicles consume twenty percent of the fuel, even though they make up only four percent of the vehicle fleet. Our region’s greenhouse gas reduction goals will not be met without addressing the transportation sector.

The vast majority of fossil fuel use for transportation comes from gasoline and diesel, which are vulnerable to price spikes that harm consumers and impede economic growth. Tremendous opportunities exist with new vehicle technologies and fuel blends to provide consumers with wider choices for moving people and freight in ways that do not damage the economy or our environment.

ENE’s Sustainable Transportation Project focuses on solutions that will move our transportation system to a cleaner, more diversified and economically viable future.    By cutting back on oil imports and replacing them with lower carbon, domestically-produced alternative fuels such as electricity, we can obtain significant economic benefits, increase consumer choice and reduce the global warming pollution that is already causing climate disruptions.  ENE envisions a near future in which:

  • Cars and trucks will run more on electricity, biofuels and natural gas, and less on gasoline and diesel.
  • Municipal and regional planners will take carbon emissions into account to help design smarter, less polluting and more livable developments.  
  • Our state transportation agencies will rely more on road use fees rather than gasoline and diesel taxes, which merely incent DOTs to promote more use of those fuels.  
  • More freight will be delivered via rail and shipping rather than trucks, and of the trucks still in use, a higher proportion will be hybrid electric, battery electric, and CNG and LNG.

ENE’s Sustainable Transportation Project team includes researchers, analysts, lawyers and advocates who work with state and federal policy makers, industry, community action groups, and other environmental groups to achieve this vision.  ENE's transportation initiatives include:

Vehicle Electrification

 The New England electricity grid is powered by a mixture of natural gas, some remaining coal, and a mixture of lower carbon sources including increasing amounts of renewable power.  As a result cars, trucks and buses that are powered by electricity are not emissions free, but they are cleaner than conventional internal combustion engines which emit  carbon dioxide and other  pollutants such as hydrocarbons, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Over time as the electric grid is powered increasingly by carbon-free renewables, electric vehicles will represent an ever-cleaner transportation option.

Advancing this vision will help the states and the region meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, dramatically reduce air pollution and its harmful health effects, and gain meaningful energy independence.Increased electrification will require not only more market penetration and continued improvements in technology, but utility planning for impacts on the electric generation system and power grid, rate design and other elements.  ENE is identifying how these complex regulatory and market challenges can be addressed in order to promote a consumer friendly, cleaner transportation future. We are working with state policymakers, industry and utilities to develop policies that speed the adoption of electric vehicles in a way that is consistent with modernizing and cleaning up our electricity grid.

Clean Fuels Standard

The Clean Fuels Standard (CFS) is an market-based policy that sets a target for lowering the carbon intensity of fuels and allows the market to determine the most cost effective fuels and strategies for achieving that target. In 2009, eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors signed a Memorandum of Understanding to consider how to implement a CFS and recommend how to move it forward. ENE is working with state policymakers, industry representatives and advocacy groups to urge the launch of this sensible, market-based approach to reducing carbon from transportation fuels.

Increased Reliance on Rail

A ten percent increase in the number of people and amount of goods being transported via rail rather than truck or car would bring about a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. ENE is working with stakeholders from industry, government and other environmental advocates to identify and implement enhanced regional interconnectivity and efficiency of freight networks, and to invest in public transit.

Transportation Funding Mechanism Reform

Many state Departments of Transportation rely primarily on federal and state gasoline and fuel tax revenues. This funding mechanism has two key limitations: 1) a lack of funding consistency, due to the volatility of gasoline purchases from year to year;  2) because fuel taxes grow as gasoline and diesel use increases, the agencies best equipped to implement transportation-related carbon reduction strategies are placed in a revenue bind when cleaner vehicles and fuel reduction strategies are successful in reducing petroleum consumption. ENE is working with state policymakers to devise alternative means of funding state transportation agencies so that their mission to green up their operations is not at odds with their own budgets.

Emissions and Municipal & Regional Planning

State, municipal and regional planning organizations have long taken environmental considerations into account when considering economic development projects, such as impacts on wetlands, water quality, and air quality. However, these planning and permitting processes do not generally take into account the greenhouse gas implications of development, zoning and planning.  In 2007, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate that certain projects requiring an environmental impact report under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act must also account for their greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate alternatives and mitigation measures.  This approach should be strengthened and extended at the state and municipal levels. ENE is collaborating with additional states and municipalities to add a GHG overlay to the environmental standards they already require economic development projects to meet and to provide the technical tools necessary for this review.

ENE's Sustainable Transportation Projects