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March 16, 2009

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LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE COVERAGE

Environmental Concerns Include Cap-and-Trade, FTA Green Grants
By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications

A large consensus on Capitol Hill realizes that public transit use reduces the nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases. However, as demonstrated at a March 9 session during the APTA Legislative Conference, there is debate over how best to regulate those emissions.

David Gardiner, a sustainability consultant and former director of President Clinton’s Climate Change Task Force, noted that the Obama Administration has estimated that such a system would raise $80 billion between 2012 and 2019. “There’s going to be a big tussle over what to do with this money,” he said.

Several prominent members and supporters of public transit advocate a cap for greenhouse gas emissions and the trade, via sale and/or auction, of those caps among entities subject to emissions limits, including public transit systems, fuel producers, and other suppliers of the industry. For example, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has cosponsored the Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act (CLEAN-TEA), which calls for cap and trade (via auction) of greenhouse gas emissions. Ten percent of the resulting revenues would be devoted to “greening” public transportation.

A co-sponsor of CLEAN-TEA on the Senate side is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). A member of his legislative staff, Matthew Kelly, said Specter expects the bill might come up for a vote before surface transportation authorization does and, according to Kelly, might “possibly be the only transportation revenue-raiser to come this year.”

FTA Preparing Grant Notices
Matt Welbes, executive director of the Federal Transit Administration, announced March 9 that FTA planned to have grant notices “in a few days” regarding the ARRA law’s $100 million in grants for greenhouse gas emission reduction. Such grants could be used for hybrid vehicle purchases, energy recapture, green buildings, renewable energy generation and other green investment, he noted, and applications will likely be due in mid-May.

Welbes, as part of the panel of experts discussing climate change and sustainability issues, also shared his general views. “I think we all know that we are in the sustainability business,” he said, noting that fully one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas and 10 percent of global emissions are from the transportation sector.

Advocating for Urban Development
Blair Anderson, legislative director for Rep.  John Olver (D-MA), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD), said Olver has been advocating greater involvement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in planning transit-oriented communities, working with U.S. DOT.

In addition, according to Anderson, Olver believes that federally funded projects, including some transportation structures, should meet basic requirements for green buildings. He noted that the federal government spends billions of dollars to subsidize utilities for grantees, so green buildings would in the long run save taxpayer money.

The Green Transit Act, H.R. 803, would require any transit facility or maintenance facility receiving money through FTA Sections 5407, 5409, or 5411, to meet minimum green-building standards. This requirement would be similar to the language passed in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Successful adoption of these practices would lead a grantee to basic LEED standard certification, Anderson said. He emphasized that the green standards are minimum standards.

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