Senate Climate Bill Triples the House’s Investments in Clean Transport

The Senate environment committee released new details of its climate change legislation over the weekend, including the share of "emissions allowances" -- the revenue generated by regulating carbon in a cap-and-trade system -- that the bill would reserve for various sectors of the American economy.

boxer_kerry.jpgSens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the climate bill's authors. (Photo: Intercon)

And the release brought good news for clean transportation: The Senate has largely tripled the share of allowances set aside by the House for transit, inter-city rail, and other efforts to trim transport-based emissions.

While the lower chamber of Congress gave states the option of using 1 percent of climate revenue on transit, the Senate measure would set aside more than 3 percent of allowances in the first two years of the cap-and-trade system for limiting pollution from the transportation sector.

The Senate's beefed-up transportation language comes after a strong push by sponsors of the so-called "CLEAN TEA" bill, which set a high-water mark of a 10-percent climate set-aside for transit, local land-use planning, and other sustainable development projects. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), a chief author of the "CLEAN TEA" measure, hailed the Senate's move in a weekend statement.

My CLEAN TEA bill is a common-sense solution to the problem that we use a gas tax to fund our nation's transportation system. My language in the [Senate climate bill] directs cities and states to determine how much they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their transportation systems by investing in driving alternatives, public transit, intercity passenger rail, transit-oriented development, sidewalks and more. States and cities with more ambitious plans will receive more federal funds - finally rewarding local governments for doing the right thing.

According to the environment committee's weekend release, the share of Senate climate allowances reserved for clean transportation would total 3.21 percent in 2012 and 2013, before dipping to 2.35 percent in the two subsequent years and returning to a share that ranges between 1.9 percent and 3.5 percent in future years.

But not all emissions allowances are created equal; 1 percent of the total amount going to clean transportation would be reserved in the early stages of the program, thus increasing the value of those allowances relative to the ones distributed later on. These early set-aside allowances would also go towards reducing the federal deficit and supplementing other high-priority programs.

Though it falls short of the "CLEAN TEA" mark, the 3-percent set-aside represents a victory for clean transportation advocates as well as the nation's cities. The allowances would be split between grants to states for reducing transport-based emissions and transit grants -- with 80 percent of the latter going to urban areas, 10 percent going to rural areas, and 10 percent to growing states.

However, it's important to note that the transportation section of the Senate climate bill is not written in stone. The environment committee, chaired by climate bill co-author Barbara Boxer (D-MA), will begin holding a series of high-profile hearings on the legislation tomorrow, and months of intense horse-trading is sure to follow.

A final vote on the bill could come as soon as the winter, particularly with global climate talks in Copenhagen drawing near, but is likely to be pushed until next spring. In the interim, look for industries to lobby fiercely to protect their share of the climate pot -- and to try to siphon off the allowances set aside for other industries.