The U.S. Transportation Dept. said July 7 it will propose regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in an effort to address climate change. Under the proposal, similar to one released late in the Obama term but dropped by the Trump administration in 2018, state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations would be required to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to highway and road driving. 

A draft of the proposal was released by DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which already has a framework to track national emissions performance measures to help states assess their own controls and to inform decisions about infrastructure and other investments. The new rule would add a greenhouse gas performance measure to the existing framework. 

Transportation officials say the sector is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and that the proposed rule will help reduce a key factor  in the climate crisis. 

State and local governments can access $27 billion in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding for reducing emissions, through a variety of programs and mechanism. Officials say state DOTs and planning organizarion will have flexibility in solutions they adopt to meet reduction targets. The Congestion Reduction program, for instance, will provide $6.4 billion in formula funding through the law to help states and local governments fund a wide range of projects designed to reduce carbon emissions from on-road highway sources. 

“Every state and local government in this country is seeing the impacts of climate change on their communities and infrastructure,” said FHWA Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack in a statement. “State laws already require 24 states and the District of Columbia to set targets and track their greenhouse gas emissions, and this proposed rule would bring the locally proven approach to scale nationwide.”

Many environmental groups quickly praised the DOT action, but other stakeholders contend the proposal won’t fly. Shortly after the DOT announcement, US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), issued a statement criticizing the proposal. She noted that under the infrastructure act, "Congress included provisions to address climate change and the resiliency of transportation infrastructure in a bipartisan way. This greenhouse gas performance measure … was not part of the legislation.” 

Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory affairs and legal issues for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association said the June 30 Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA codified the idea that agencies cannot issue regulations on issues that do not fall within their jurisdiction. “FHWA doesn’t have the authority to do this,” he told ENR. “There are constitutional and congressional limits on agency authority. Congress can change those if they want, but they haven’t.” 

Deron Lovaas , a senior policy advisor for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that there is a “feast” of authorities within federal transportation laws, dating to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) in 2012. Under that law, states were directed to measure environmental sustainability performance. “Environmental sustainability includes climate … They are required to address risks and transportation assets, and climate poses risks,” Lovaas said in an interview.  

The proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register within the next week.