Transit and the Climate Bill

Photo by Extra Medium, <a href="">via Flickr</a>.

If a gas tax is included in a climate and energy bill, will it actually achieve the desired goals of reducing emissions and oil use? From what the three senators devising the plan have said, probably not. Now eight senators are calling for the revenues from a tax to be invested in programs that do much more to cut planet-warming emissions.

Lead author Tom Carper (D-Del.) in a letter sent to Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Monday caling for the revenue to be “reinvested into infrastructure strategies that will reduce transportation emissions and oil consumption,” they write. The bill should send the money to transportation projects, both for roads and public transit, and require the states and city planning organizations who receive funds to set goals for both greenhouse gas emissions and oil reduction. And in doling out the funds, the government should evaluate whether projects demonstrate savings in both areas.

The senators cite a recent study from the University of Massachusetts that found that every $1 billion of investment in transportation can create 23,000 jobs — a job-creation rate 36 percent higher than investments in things like incentive programs for renewable energy production. It could also save consumers significant amounts of money, the senators write. The Department of Transportation currently needs another $30 billion just to maintain current systems; a real improvement in our infrastructure would require another $75 billion in investment, they write.

Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-Col.) also signed the letter.

The Obama administration’s plan to reduce automobile emissions, issued last week, is a good start. But unless the climate bill triggers other meaningful reductions in transportation-related pollution, it will miss a huge opportunity to address the linked problem of emissions and oil dependence.