Federal highway dollars will reduce emissions through better planning, encouraging public transit


Washington (June 10, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) today introduced legislation to reduce carbon pollution from the national highway system. The Generating Resilient, Environmentally Exceptional National (GREEN) Streets Act would establish national goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help states adapt to the adverse effects of climate change for the federal highway program. In 2016, the transportation sector became the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States at 28 percent total emissions, surpassing electricity generation. Driving currently represents 83 percent of all transportation emissions and are rising – despite more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels – because people are making more frequent and longer trips. 


In the Senate, the legislation is also co-sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).


“To combat climate change, we must reduce emissions and build safer, healthier and more resilient communities,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution. “That means advancing the goals of clean energy, climate progress, and healthy communities, as well as fortifying ourselves against the adverse impacts of climate change. An essential component of that effort is to re-envision how we plan for, construct, and maintain our federal highway transportation system, using climate measures that matter and hold systems accountable.”


“Building the highways of the future should support our fight against climate change, not exacerbate this growing crisis,” said Senator Carper, Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “The incentives in this bill will encourage states to reduce transportation-related emissions - improving community health and helping to reduce congestion in the process. Really, any ambitious plans to construct new highways are incomplete or unrealistic without ensuring they are resilient to withstand the impacts of climate change.”


A copy of the GREEN Streets Act can be found HERE


Even with the interstate highway system completed, the federal transportation program has a singular focus on highway expansion, rewarding states that expand highways the most with more federal funding. With roads subsidized by the federal government, localities struggle to stay ahead of development that spreads further from the center of metro areas, forcing people to travel further to access jobs and services. The resulting growth in driving and congestion leads to demand for more roads, which induces even more driving, and even more emissions.


Specifically, the GREEN Streets Act:

  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum standards for states to use to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the national highway system
  • Directs the Transportation Secretary to establish measures that states can use to assess and reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions on the national highway system
  • Requires states that have fallen out of compliance with the per capita VMT standards or carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emission measures to dedicate federal highway funding to come into compliance
  • Requires states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to consider projects and strategies that reduce per capita VMT and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector
  • Requires states and MPOs to publish an analysis of the impact on per capita VMTs and mobile source greenhouse gas emissions for each project that adds new lanes or otherwise increases traffic capacity and costs more than $25 million


“For decades our federal transportation program has been full of incentives that encourage more driving, longer trips, and more congestion. It’s high time for us to reduce all three of those things as a unifying purpose for the program. Doing so will help give Americans more freedom to choose how to get around, save them money, and also reduce the harmful emissions wreaking havoc on our climate,” said Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America. “We are hopeful that the GREEN Streets Act will help kickstart an important conversation about finding a new, more productive purpose for the federal transportation program and we are pleased to support it.” 


“Transportation has become the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., making it an urgent priority to track and reduce those emissions while improving the efficiency and resiliency of our transportation system,” said Ann Shikany, Federal Policy Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This legislation is a crucial first step toward a progressive, clean transportation future.”