‘Green New Deal’ To Seek Transport Overhaul

Photo:  Kerri Evelyn Harris/Flickr/CC
Photo: Kerri Evelyn Harris/Flickr/CC

The Green New Deal will include a shift in transportation systems away from fossil fuels, according to a still-vague draft released to the press on Thursday.

The proposed resolution — H.R. 11, titled, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal” — was released to the press by freshman Rep. (and national celebrity) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). It offered few specifics, but did call for a new approach to infrastructure that would overhaul “transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; clean, affordable and accessible public transportation; and high-speed rail.”

The passage — the only one to address transportation — is part of a 14-page document that spends almost a third of its space just defining the magnitude of the climate crisis facing the nation, including the $500 trillion in lost economic output expected by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The resolution mentions a wide variety of issues worth tackling, such as decarbonizing buildings, deforestation and the need to “eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”

No specific legislation is proposed in the resolution, which focuses on the need for change rather than specific methods of achieving it. There is no mention of carbon pricing, for example, one possible strategy for combating global warming.

It’s a “slogan in search of specific policy solutions,” said Jeff Davis at the Eno Center for Transportation, while David Roberts at Vox noted that it’s disappointing the resolution doesn’t mention land use, which is deeply connected to transportation inefficiency.

Ocasio-Cortez was elected in November after defeating powerful incumbent Joe Crowley in a June Democratic primary. Crowley’s car-based politics was partly responsible for making him appear to be out of step with his transit-using constituents in the Bronx and Queens (he released a campaign ad featuring himself being driven around the neighborhood, while Ocasio-Cortez’s ads featured her using the subway). Crowley also opposed a protected bike lane project in his neighborhood days before the election. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez frequently touts walking, biking and transit, as she did this week in a tweet that reminded people to “walk, bike and use public transit” more often to reduce carbon emissions.

The bill will be sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the Senate. The lawmakers will hold a press conference in Washington today at 12:30 p.m.

It follows a similar call from new House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio to reduce the fossil fuel consumption of the nation’s transportation systems.

“Everything else we’ve done [past infrastructure bills] has really been iterations of what we’ve been doing since the ’60s, so I’m looking at major new policy initiatives as we go forward,” he told Streetsblog last month. “Transportation is, depending on what you read, the first or second largest [carbon] emitter. We need to move beyond the fossil fuel transportation system. If we’re going to electrify the system, we need a breakthrough in the battery technology to do it really efficiently, to begin to build the backbone for an electrified transportation system. I think we need to do a public infrastructure [adding electric vehicle charging stations across the country] or incentivizing the states to do electrification infrastructure.”

DeFazio has not announced a specific bill as yet.

15 thoughts on ‘Green New Deal’ To Seek Transport Overhaul

  1. The bill is disappointingly weak. And more so than not talking about transportation systems as part of this ‘deal’, what still does not even get mentioned is the physical form of our communities. Unless we build different spatial systems (less like suburbia and more like traditional urban communities) we will not be able to pivot away from our car orientation and resource wastefulness and become the country we all deserve to become.

  2. This is a promising start–simply to bring more legislative attention to the issues and possible solutions. We can look forward to a filling out of the details.

  3. Yes, but the Green New Deal has a 10-year timetable, so we have to start bulldozing all the houses now.

    A lot of people think that maybe the GND was written by Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and Sean Hannity as a way to completely discredit the idea by making it laughably absurd, such as getting rid of all airplanes and fossil fuel use. I guess Hawaii’s congressional delegation will have to commute by coach and sailboat because we don’t have a continental electric train system and modern commerical ships all run on diesel, jet fuel, or fuel oil.

  4. Here’s what the resolution actually states in regards to air transport and HSR:
    “…overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in—
    (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing;
    (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and
    (iii) high-speed rail; ”

    Doesn’t seem absurd to me, only absurd that Limbaugh and Hannity would write something so reasonable.

  5. all stuff we should have done decades ago, and can do in a few years if we put our efforts toward it. My home town of Vienna built four complete subway lines in very few years, about 3 decades ago, to start off a completely new transit system that by now has become one of the best in the world. Vienna then was a medium affluent city with less than 2 Million people. What excuse to we have to not be able to do this today?

  6. No mention of shared autonomous electric vehicles. The GND seems built around slogans rather than knowledge.

  7. Read Three Revolutions: essays edited by UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies about Shared/ Autonomous/Electric vehicles. They seem pretty confident that Autonomous or self driving vehicles are more than ten years off, other than in gated retirement communities in desert states

  8. I’ve been struck by the organized, coordinated right-wing opposition to the green new deal.

    First, there is nothing “conservative” about ignoring or denying the facts of climate change. Second, conservatives are acting like ignoring it makes it go away, when the exact opposite is true. The threat of climate change is akin to knowing with absolute certainty you have a lethal, treatable condition, and deciding whether to get treatment or to just blow it off and hope it goes away.

    Then, the timing. Rep AOC is 29, so she’s one year older than the single largest age cohort in the US, who are 28 in 2019. This peak millennial cohort, 28 today, is looking at a retirement age of 2055 or so. So all the scientifically accepted models for how much the planet will heat up, how many glaciers will melt and ice shelves will collapse and beach houses will wash away, they’ll see these play out while they’re in the workforce and will live through in their retirement.

    Finally, the challenge. The extreme weather we have today reflects +1 degree C of warming that’s already in place. This is the new normal. But whether we hit “catastrophic” tipping points around the 2040s depends entirely on what we do in the next twelve years. That’s from the IPCC report. We have 12 years to cut emissions with unprecedented action, or we will regret it.

    And while that’s scary, it isn’t scientifically disputed. It doesn’t matter what party you support. Doing nothing is an option, a catastrophically expensive one.

    So, the reality that an army of pundits has rapidly coordinated to mock the thought that Americans might be okay with taking Amtrak instead of schlepping to the airport and strapping in to cattle class: this is concerning. Dark money is coordinating this pushback. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Sen Inhofe will be impacted by the same science as everybody else. Some of the adjustments will be easy, some will take more getting used to, but if we don’t adjust, trust me, the reality is that we’ll regret it. Overland flights are substitutable by lower-emissions train travel, and we need to make changes like this or scientists are pounding the table and saying we’ll pay a huge price. Snickering at the idea of people changing their behavior is really not that useful.

  9. I have read Three Revolutions. There is active debate over how quickly AV vehicles will arrive — and where and how they might be used. Private firms (mostly non OEMs) have invested $90 billion or so in AV technology — I assume they expect markets to develop sooner than ten years. The market leader (Waymo) has plans to purchase 82,000 vehicles over the next two years and just announced that they will build an assembly plant in Michigan. It may be ten years (or more) before a vehicle that can travel on all roads, any where is practical, but it seems likely that significant markets (not retirement communities) will develop relatively soon. These will likely focus on certain communities (avoid snow, for example) so that a consistent, national network will take longer.

  10. Gerhard,

    Good comment. Would it be OK if I posted it as an article on my website WriterBeat com? I think the title “How to pivot away from our car orientation and resource wastefulness” would make for a good draw. Please note, I’ll be sure to give you credit and the the only thing I’m asking you to do is reply “sure.”

    Autumn (my email is in my profile)

  11. I would love a couple of federal standards – and I admit they would be hard to pass, but immensely valuable if they could be done. One is to impose/encourage communities to declare themselves, or areas of themselves to be ‘urban’. And then force them to pass a set of development guidelines that are very different from the ‘suburban’ development guidelines we currently use for everything.
    I would also like a national standard that communities have to impose urban growth boundaries, and declare the land outside of those boundaries mostly undevelopable.
    I would love it if we could change our corporate accounting rules and deal with real estate as an asset in a corporate balance sheet, rather than as a tax liability to write off. This would lead to companies building better, longer lasting structures.
    Lastly, I would like the creation of workplace quality standards similar to the ones active in the EU. They guarantee people access to natural ventilation and natural daylight. With that in force, all our buildings would start to look different very soon, and our cities would become better just because of that.
    As I said, not easy to do….

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