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States would set lower highway emissions goals under proposed rule

Proposal, included in bipartisan infrastructure law, includes support for EV charging stations

According to EPA data, the transportation sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, mostly from light-duty vehicles.
According to EPA data, the transportation sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, mostly from light-duty vehicles. (Getty Images)

The Federal Highway Administration on Thursday proposed a rule to require states and municipalities to set targets for reducing roadway greenhouse gas emissions as part of a $27 billion effort to cut emissions from motor vehicles.

The rule would require state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to establish declining carbon dioxide emissions targets from transportation sources and establish a method for measuring and reporting the emissions to the FHWA.

It would not mandate specific targets, giving states and municipalities “flexibility to set targets that are appropriate for their communities and that work for their respective climate change and other policy priorities.” States would be required to establish two- and four-year targets and report on the progress biennially.

The FHWA said that move would help the federal government meet climate goals, including reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050.

“Our approach gives states the flexibility they need to set their own emission reduction targets, while providing them with resources from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to meet those targets and protect their communities,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a news release.

The law signed last November included more than $27 billion to help states and municipalities meet their emissions reduction targets. This includes $6.4 billion for the Carbon Reduction Program, which would provide funding to help states and municipalities develop strategies and fund projects to reduce emissions from on-highway sources.

Other programs

The Transportation Department also highlighted other programs, including $5 billion to build out a national electric vehicle charging network, $7.2 billion for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and $250 million to reduce congestion in metropolitan areas.

Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have already set greenhouse gas reduction targets under state law. Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said the rule intends to “bring this locally proven approach to scale nationwide.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper said the proposed rule would “fulfill the original congressional intent of performance management and improve the functioning of our highway programs.”

However, the committee’s ranking member, West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito, said that while the bill included provisions to address climate, it did not give the executive branch the authority to establish this reporting requirement. 

“Unfortunately, this action follows a common theme by both DOT and the administration, which is implementing partisan policy priorities they wish had been included in the bipartisan bill that the president signed into law.”

According to EPA data, the transportation sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, mostly from light-duty vehicles. The EPA is currently developing more stringent vehicle emissions standards through model year 2030, with a proposal due in March and a final rule expected a year later.

Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group, applauded the announcement and said the climate funds distributed through the infrastructure law “can and must be allocated to support ambitious emission reduction strategies.”

“This kind of rulemaking, paired with investments from Congress to support state climate leadership, is exactly what we should be seeing from an administration that promised whole-of-government action on climate,” said Lena Moffitt, the group’s chief of staff. 

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