April 2014

Cities taking the lead on climate change

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

Despite the denials of one party that climate change is happening, and their refusal to try to do something about it, a growing number of states and cities are enacting policies to deal with the challenge. It’s an aspect of sustainability policies that doesn’t get talked about as much as energy efficiency and environmental protection. But all three are interrelated, and public transportation is almost always front and center in their plans.

States addressing impacts
The State of Washington was the first to act on new U.S. Department of Transportation regulations to assess the impact of climate change in all states. In June 2011, then U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed all federal transportation agencies to consider climate change impacts on current systems and future investments as well as support state transportation agencies to do the same thing. The Washington State Department of Transportation issued the first statewide assessment in 2012 and a second study phase recommended policy changes to reduce the risks. Parts of those recommendations include more investment in new and existing public transportation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s database, “Climate Change Action Plans” are now underway in 21 states.

“Risky Business” policymaking
Cities are doing their part, too. Perhaps the most famous of these efforts is the C40 group, which has actually grown to more than 60 member cities, and includes members from states that traditionally vote Republican in presidential and congressional elections, including Salt Lake City; Houston; Austin, Texas; and New Orleans. In addition, a new group formed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that is funded by donations from several Wall Street executives, called “Risky Business,” is funding studies to measure the costs of our changing climate and recommend policies to respond to those risks.

The Risky Business group is a good example of the private sector’s collaboration, but also includes work by major consulting companies, insurance firms and other businesses. Public transportation is also ahead of the curve, funded by the Federal Transit Administration’s research and demonstration programs.

Despite conservatives’ reluctance to fund anything to do with climate change, another round of the Transportation Investments that Generate Economic Recovery (TIGER) program was part of December’s budget agreement and the recent authorization did call for clean energy funding. Hopefully, as the trust funds are going bankrupt, Congress will address not only that issue, but also, answer the call for a long-term policy on at least coping with the risks of climate change, something that even the military is doing. This is just one reason our industry needs to keep up the pressure for a long-term funding fix.


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