We all want clean, affordable, accessible, safe and efficient ways to get around. Our transportation system is a crucial part of everyone’s life, enabling or restricting us from accessing essential services, job opportunities, or helping break the cycle of poverty.
We all rely on our transportation system, yet transportation fuels are responsible for nearly half of our climate and harmful air pollution in the Pacific Northwest: 46% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions and 39% of Oregon’s. Health professionals link this air pollution directly to asthma, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. Due to racist public policies like redlining, and inner-city highway construction, toxic concentrations of diesel pollution like the high amounts found in busy trucking corridors, bus depots, distribution hubs, and seaports disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color. Cleaning up transportation pollution will help cut climate pollution, improve public health while addressing environmental racism in our transportation system.
Transitioning to electricity as a fuel
Shifting to zero-emission vehicles that get their power from clean energy is one of the fastest ways we can clean our air and our transportation system. Achieving this vision means electrifying vehicles economy-wide including but not limited to; personal vehicles, medium and heavy duty trucks, construction and agriculture equipment, buses and more.
Although heavy duty vehicles comprise 10 percent of all vehicles on the road, they account for nearly 25 percent of total U.S. climate pollution from transportation, and 45 percent of NOx emissions (nitrous oxide; a greenhouse gas roughly 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide). This is why we need to prioritize every tool to clean up the delivery trucks, transit and school buses, big rigs and other vehicles that make up the medium and heavy-duty transportation sector. Getting zero-emission trucks on the road is a public health imperative and has been a decades-long priority of environmental justice advocates. Replacing dirty diesel-powered trucks with their zero-emission counterparts can clean the air we breathe, reduce climate emissions, and create green jobs.
Commercial aviation accounts for two percent of global carbon pollution, a figure projected to grow to between three and 4.7 percent by 2050 without concerted action to curb emissions. Accordingly, a comprehensive solution to the world’s climate predicament requires a strategy to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint. Industry leaders recognize this imperative and accordingly have set a goal of reducing the sector’s carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. In 2011, Climate Solutions facilitated the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN), a process created by The Boeing Company, Alaska Airlines, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport, Washington State University, and Climate Solutions to develop sustainable and economically viable aviation biofuels in the Northwest.
Marine vessels, long-haul trucks, and airplanes will likely need to rely on lower carbon liquid fuels for the foreseeable future to reduce their carbon pollution. Just as we are expanding our ability to produce clean electricity, we can source our biofuels from sustainable feedstocks, including used cooking oil, dairy manure, sewage treatment and other waste streams that would otherwise only increase our emissions.
Reducing How Much We Have to Travel, Increasing the Ways to Get Around
While shifting to electricity as a fuel is part of our solution, it doesn’t solve all of our other transportation related problems. For example, if all of our vehicles became electric overnight, we would still be stuck in traffic jams and we would continue to have a unacceptably high number of vehicle related deaths. While we need electric cars, trucks and buses, we also need to make it possible to get around safely, accessibly, affordably, and efficiently by walking, rolling, and taking transit. Reducing the amount we need to drive to access our daily commutes and essential services like visiting the doctor or going to the grocery store not only reduces our carbon pollution, but also increases safety, cuts congestion, and increases our quality of life.
Needed Solutions for Clean Transportation
There are many policy pathways to accelerate the transition to clean transportation, including changing how to fund transportation investments and shifting away from fossil fuels. One key solution Climate Solutions has championed is a Clean Fuel Standard as it would require low carbon fuels including electricity. West coast jurisdictions of California, Oregon and British Columbia already have Clean Fuel Standard policies to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation pollution. Clean Fuel Standards work by requiring oil refineries and importers to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels, providing more low-carbon fuels and electricity to fuel our transportation system. Leading public health organizations like the American Lung Association see a Clean Fuel Standard as one of the most important ways to improve public health and transition our transportation to cleaner sources. A recent study found that California’s Clean Fuel Standard could save $8.3 billion in avoided public health costs by 2025 because of fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations, lower rates of lung cancer and heart attacks, and thousands of fewer lost workdays. Governor Brown recently doubled the Clean Fuel Standard in Oregon. Washington does not have a Clean Fuel Standard, and a similar policy in Washington could lead to the same public health benefits by cleaning up our air.
In addition to statewide policy solutions, we are working with local governments, transit districts, and utility providers to equitably accelerate transportation electrification by adopting medium and heavy duty zero-emission regulations, building more publicly accessible and affordable charging stations, promoting financial incentives for individual and fleet EV purchases, supporting transportation options and programs that are inclusive to community needs, encouraging transit agencies to buy zero-emission electric buses, and working in coalition to advocate for a clean and just transportation system.
We are seeing the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants commissioned in the United States and green diesel is emerging as a key biofuel, potentially a game-changer for sustainable advanced fuels.
This is the week of sleepy (read: grumpy) kids in my house, due to the return of daylight savings time. But even a household disrupted doesn’t squelch my love of the lost hour. It’s the signal of longer, warmer – sunnier! -- days to come, the most hopeful time of the year for me. A time to look forward. We’re doing a lot of that around Climate Solutions these days.
We’re looking forward to Harvesting Clean Energy in Helena, MT next week! Clean energy practitioners and rural economic development advocates will gather to talk about opportunities for clean energy to benefit Northwest farms, ranches, forests, and rural businesses.
In the short time since we formally launched our SAF program, we have had the opportunity to drive good policy and increase understanding of the opportunities, needs and specific actions required to support sustainable fuels in our region and around the world.
Fossil fuel companies are trotting out another round of warmed over allegations that climate policy, in particular a clean fuels standard, is unworkable and will crash the economy. They’re running up against a difficult opponent: reality.