The Transportation Climate Initiative Gets Off the Ground: Kinda, Sorta, A Little

Today, three of the states participating in the Transportation Climate Initiative – Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island – and the District of Columbia released a Memorandum of Understanding describing a “cap and invest” program intended to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels and raise money “to accelerate the transition to an equitable, safe, and affordable low-carbon transportation sector.” Here are the big takeaways:

  • The four participating states are eight short of full participation among the TCI states.  Optimists will note that we have to start somewhere.  Pessimists will argue this failure demonstrates that, even in some very blue states, reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector isn’t going to be easy.
  • All twelve states did join in a statement on “Next Steps for the Transportation and Climate Initiative.”  It’s clear that everyone is trying to maintain harmony and hoping that momentum will build that will allow the other states to join.
  • Using 2023 as the base emissions year, the TCI Program, dubbed “TCI-P”, will reduce emissions in equal annual increments of 3%, resulting in 2032 GHG emissions 30% below 2023 emissions.
  • The MOU creates the framework for TCI-P, but each state will establish its own program.  Those programs will include:
    • A cost-containment reserve
    • An emissions containment reserve
    • A minimum auction price
    • Three-year compliance periods
    • Unlimited banking of allowances
    • Limited use of offsets
  • The MOU emphasizes that environmental justice will be a major focus of TCI-P implementation.  This emphasis is demonstrated by the following requirements:
    • 35% of auction revenue must be spent on projects “to ensure that overburdened and underserved communities benefit equitably from clean transportation projects and programs.”
    • Each Signatory Jurisdiction must establish an “Equity Advisory Body … to advise on decision making and equitable outcomes for TCI-P.”

Overall, it’s a reasonable program and a reasonable start.  I’m hopeful that most or all of the eight TCI members that did not sign on to the MOU will do so before the first compliance period, but no one should minimize the enormity of the task.  Given the urgency of the problem, the failure to get greater participation just shows that the political obstacles remain significant.

One step at a time.

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