March 30, 2009
APTA: Working Toward a Greener Today—and Tomorrow
By WILLIAM W. MILLAR, President, APTA
Climate change. The need for green jobs. Carbon footprint.
Environmental challenges threaten the planet and contribute to the nation’s economic and security problems. We in our industry know that public transit is part of the solution. And at APTA, our members and staff are busy reminding the general public, environmental leaders, and our elected representatives that public transportation is the responsible environmental choice.
We’re cultivating relationships with environmental advocacy groups. On behalf of APTA members, I’ve spoken with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Alliance to Save Energy. I’ve also addressed the Green Group, which brings together many of the country’s environmental organizations. This month alone, I will have addressed three conferences on sustainable development, in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Montreal.
Many people know the transportation sector as a whole accounts for over one-third of U.S. carbon emissions and is the fastest growing contributor to new emissions. Environmentalists often look to improving automobile fuel efficiency and vehicle technology to reduce the transportation sector’s emissions. Yet public transit is the most sustainable form of transportation, saving 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year. That’s equal to what would be saved if New York City; Washington, DC; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles households all stopped using electricity.
You might encourage your local officials and your riders to look at this savings from a household perspective. People are often encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint by replacing old appliances, putting in energy-efficient light bulbs, or weatherizing the home. But if one person in a typical two-person, two-car household switches to public transportation for his or her 10-mile, one-way commute, the household reduces its carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent— more than all those other important measures combined. And if that household gets rid of one car altogether, it can reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent.
Even with public transit’s impressive carbon profile, APTA members and staff are helping our industry become even more green. Fully one-fourth of our bus fleet uses alternative fuels, compared with just over 4 percent of the auto fleet. In addition, APTA’s new Sustainability Commitment certification program for member public transit systems and business members is in its pilot phase. This voluntary program has five levels of achievement, similar to the LEED program for buildings. Participants conduct a sustainability inventory, commit to several base principles, and set goals for recycling, consumption, and carbon emissions. For more information, click here. We will also hold our fourth Sustainability Workshop in Salt Lake City this August.
On the legislative front, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law on Feb. 17 by President Obama, includes a new grant program to help transit systems reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. We also expect climate change and energy legislation in Congress this year. One recent bill to emerge is CLEAN-TEA, sponsored by Sens. Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and, on the House side, by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH). This bill calls for a portion of the proceeds from a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions to be used to fund public transportation and other green transportation investments.
To support those legislative efforts, APTA has created a new advocacy campaign, “Public Transportation Takes Us There.” It aims to build congressional support for increased investment in public transportation through the authorization of the transportation bill up for a vote next fall.
Finally, we’re walking the walk here at APTA. We’ve instituted new ways to “green” our meetings, and we have a new “Green Team” making our offices more sustainable. We already do a number of things: We recycle all office paper and beverage containers. Like many of you, we offer a transit commute benefit so our employees can take public transit to work. No doubt there are other things we can do to improve—but we’re taking a hard look at ourselves in an effort to do everything we’re encouraging our members to do.
As “green jobs” and “sustainability” become part of the mantra of economic recovery, APTA is making sure the American public and our elected officials know the unique benefits our industry offers.