Getting Back on Track
Climate Change and State Transportation Policy
With a comprehensive climate bill stalled at the federal level, many are turning to the states to make progress toward reducing carbon emissions. Are the states ready? To succeed, many sectors will need to reduce their carbon emissions. In Getting Back on Track, NRDC examines what states are doing to curb emissions caused by transportation. As such, it is the first report to compare state transportation policy as it affects greenhouse gas emissions and compare performance across the states.
State transportation policy has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also effectively meeting the nation's wide-ranging mobility needs. Few studies have specifically sought to evaluate how states' transportation policies impact greenhouse gas emissions. Here we evaluate how well state-level transportation decisions are aligned with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by examining a selection of key transportation policies currently in place in the 50 states. The findings suggest that there is tremendous potential to make progress on reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. The recommendations in this report suggest ways states can improve their climate performance while meeting their mobility needs.
Evaluating States' Policies to Curb Emissions from the Transportation Sector
This analysis evaluates each state based on 17 policy and spending criteria that have been compared by expert analysis to achieve transportation sector greenhouse gas reductions. States can also implement these criteria independent of local or federal action and each criterion has successfully been adopted in one or more states. The selected evaluation criteria fall into three categories:
- Infrastructure Policies -- These are policies that result in specific changes to transportation infrastructure projects and associated land use patterns, or that change the way people use infrastructure through pricing and other incentives. This category evaluates a state's overall policy framework, including how it uses innovative policy tools to improve transportation system efficiency while reducing its climate impact.
- Investments Decisions -- This category of evaluation criteria tests the degree to which states support their overall policy intentions with corresponding investment decisions. Do states direct their transportation dollars in ways that support and promote low-carbon transportation? The investment criteria look at such things as whether a state takes advantage of the programmatic flexibility of federal funds, uses state funds to invest in cleaner transportation projects, and maintains its existing assets in a state of good repair. These criteria are used to evaluate the state's overall performance in implementation and support of lower carbon transportation policies.
- Touchstone Policies -- These policies show the depth of a state's intention to reduce transportation sector emissions. Examples of touchstone policies include establishing a statewide VMT reduction target or adopting stringent carbon emission standards for vehicles. Having these policies on their own may not directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions or affect infrastructure decisions, but they are important indicators of the level of recognition by a state that transportation policies affect greenhouse gas emissions, and the commitment of the state to reducing emissions from transportation.
The total score and individual Policy, Investment, and Touchstone subtotals for each state can be found in the table. To give additional context to these numbers, each state is further categorized into three scoring tiers as defined below:
Tier 1 (75 - 100):
Most alignment between transportation policy with climate change goals. These states are leading the way in setting transportation policies that support greenhouse gas emissions reduction. However, even these states must strive to do more to support a truly sustainable transportation system.
Tier 2 (25 - 74):
Some alignment between transportation policy and climate change goals. These states are taking some actions that will support greenhouse gas reduction goals, but there are many actions they are not taking. They must do more to get on the right track.
Tier 3 (0 - 24):
Limited or no alignment between transportation policy and climate change goals. Though these states' transportation policies may support climate change goals in some very limited ways, this is countered by many of their other policy choices. Most of the potential to reduce emissions through transportation strategies remains underutilized.
Overall State by State Scores
|State||Policy Score||Spending Score||Touchstone Bonus||Final Grade||Tier|
last revised 12/14/2010
Get Updates and Alerts
Kaid Benfield's Blog
Kaid Benfield writes about development, community and the environment on Switchboard.
Kaid's Recent Posts
- New guide from ASLA highlights urban green, literally, in Portland
- posted by Kaid Benfield, 10/27/14
- Compact and connected communities improve public health, says new research
- posted by Kaid Benfield, 10/20/14
- For smart growth, not all urban density is created equal
- posted by Kaid Benfield, 10/6/14
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.