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Climate Change

Senate Climate Bill Leaks: The Good News and Bad News for Transport

3:37 PM EDT on September 29, 2009

The Senate's climate change legislation will finally make its debut tomorrow, courtesy of environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and foreign relations committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). But the Washington Post has already obtained a "close-to-final" version of the bill [PDF], which provides some details but leaves unanswered the key question of how much aid will go towards clean transport.

2549087853_62635f6261.jpgSens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), center, and John Kerry (D-MA), left, at a 2008 rally. (Photo: NWF via Flickr)

Like the House climate bill, Boxer and Kerry's bill requires states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to devise long-term plans for reducing transportation-based pollution. To help localities meet those emissions reduction targets, the Senate bill specifically encourages the use of transit-oriented development, rail, buses, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, carpooling, telecommuting, and other strategies.

What's more, the Senate draft bill includes a grant program aimed at providing federal help for the states and MPOs that take the most ambitious and innovative approaches to cutting transport emissions. However, it's important to note that the House had a similar concept in an early version of its climate bill, only to see the program removed before a final vote -- the same thing could happen in the upper chamber.

The Senate climate draft also features a "green taxis" provision that allows states to set higher fuel-efficiency rules for taxicabs than the national standard, which will hit an average of 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016. The taxis language would allow New York City, represented by environment committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), to press on with plans to transition to an all-hybrid taxi fleet.

But what about the No. 1 climate issue for transit advocates: the share of climate-change revenue that would go to clean transport? Boxer and Kerry are not expected to release hard numbers tomorrow on how much would be set aside for various sectors of the economy; those details will be filled in before a markup of the bill that's slated for next month, and they're likely to change as amendments are considered.

Still, sources on and off the Hill are expecting transit and other environmentally friendly transport modes to get barely more than the 1 percent of climate revenue allocated by the House -- in other words, a far cry from the legislation known as "CLEAN TEA," which would guarantee 10 percent of climate revenue for clean transport.

Half of the environment committee is already on record backing a 10 percent set-aside for clean transport (Gillibrand signed on to "CLEAN TEA" in late July), meaning that transit's share of the climate pot could well grow larger as the Senate debate continues, likely into next year.

Even so, transportation reformers -- whom Boxer advised to "work with me on my global warming bill" after she postponed consideration of a long-term transport bill earlier this year -- may not be pleased with what they see from the Senate in the early going.

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