Report: Boxer ‘Sympathetic to’ Backers of More Climate Money for Transit

As Barbara Boxer (D-CA) works on her upcoming climate change bill, the Senate environment committee chairman is "definitely looking at" a plan to give green transport 10 percent of the revenue generated from carbon emissions caps, according to a new report from BNA’s Transportation Watch.

barbaraboxer_2.jpgSenate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: Politics Now)

Boxer told BNA last week that she is "very sympathetic" to Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) push for a 10-percent climate set-aside for transit and other sustainable modes.

"We’re definitely looking at" Carper’s legislation, Boxer is quoted as saying. "I definitely fall into that camp that thinks we need to do more."

Carper told Streetsblog Capitol Hill last month that Boxer "fully understands" the need to tackle transportation emissions more directly than the climate change bill passed by the House in June, which sent 1 percent of its revenue to transit.

Boxer’s climate measure is currently expected to come before the environment panel ahead of a September 28 deadline set by Democratic leaders. If the 10-percent bill — also known as "CLEAN TEA" — is not included in the bill, Carper said he plans to offer it as an amendment during committee debate.

That move could end up putting pressure on the six committee Democrats who have yet to sign on as sponsors of Carper’s bill: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Tom Udall (NM), Max Baucus (MT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT, but caucuses as a Democrat), and Boxer herself.

Even if Boxer opts for middle ground between the 10 percent level of "CLEAN TEA" and the House’s 1 percent, as she did to a certain extent in her 2008 climate legislation, rural-state senators are likely to mount dogged opposition.

Four rural Democrats called yesterday for the entire bill to be shelved, and a transportation field hearing held Monday by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) saw the South Dakota DOT secretary testify that in a rural state such as his, "there is only so much we can do" to promote transit.

The DOT official, Darin Bergquist, added that his state should work towards limiting emissions outside of the transport sector:

[Requiring states to limit transport emissions] may be viable … in metropolitan areas, but due to our low population density,
great distances, and harsh winters, they are not practical … for rural states like ours. We believe that the
proper, national interest approach is to ensure that any such statute
would not force, or allow an agency to force a state like ours to
undertake unrealistic efforts to reduce transportation-related GHG
emissions. We generate very little GHG from transportation compared to
other states and we will do our part to remove GHG emissions using
modern, no-till agricultural practices.

  • An observer near the Hill

    The DOT secretary said “there is only so much we can do to promote transit” but the 10% would not just go to transit – it would go to reducing transportation GHG emissions. This could include land use changes, congestion pricing, miles-based fees, pedestrian and bike improvements, telecommuting, and 4 day work weeks, all of which can reduce the need to drive and/or reduce the distances needed to reach services.

    This is such a big bill – and such a big deal – we need to make sure to accurately represent what would be eligible for the funding, so people know that it is not strictly “transit.” The strategies included in the CLEAN TEA bill will improve our lives in other ways – improve our access to services, save us money on transportation, make our streets safer for kids – so let’s talk about them holistically instead of as “transit.”

    If you frame as transit, rural states can push back, but if you frame as transportation options and safety, it’s a lot harder to make the case against. And then we can talk to those same states about rural transit options (like paratransit.)

    Good luck!

  • Robin Phillips

    The challenges of providing rural transportation will only increase due to several long term demographic and fiscal issues. First, small cities and towns have higher concentrations of older Americans and families in poverty who absolutely benefit from more affordable transportation options, beyond just driving. Non-metro areas have a larger share of people over age 65 (15 percent) than the country as a whole (12 percent) particularly across the middle of the country. (2004 US Census numbers.)

    Second, many essential services are relocating from rural communities to larger and hub cities. The availability of health care, employment and education opportunities is consolidating into fewer places. County access is becoming regional access, and without reasonable, reliable and efficient transportation, citizens of rural communities are disadvantaged.

    Third, consolidation of essential services also requires rural citizens to move longer distances to access services. As a result of demographics, income, and distance the costs associated with citizens accessing such services continue to rise along with the demand for services. The graying of America is more pronounced in rural America and therefore fact that 20% of people over the age of 65% do not drive has a greater impact on rural areas. (Stranded Without Options, AARP 2004)

    I work with the bus industry and the benefits of Clean TEA are multiple to our industry. Right now we are not in the planning database and so cannot be used in the environmental and transportation modeling nationally or in a given area or state. Our vehicles are the cleanest per passenger of any ground transportation http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/solutions/cleaner_cars_pickups_and_suvs/greentravel/getting-there-greener.html Clean TEA with Passenger language for the SmartWay program would track our emissions and support data collection that could improve our transportation options urban or rural.

    Global Warming is a problem that needs a many solutions not one. Increasing the connectivity of our existing system, access to information about it, improving engines and fuels are opportunities to participate in the solution.

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