Big Coal Dominates While Smart Growthers Snooze

 

Will transportation and land-use planning get its share of dough from federal climate change programs? Not if the coal industry has its way.

That was the message from a Capitol Hill staffer at a plenary session of the American Public Transit Association's annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday. To combat the coal industry, smart growth and public transit lobbyists will have to prove they have an important national asset that can help meet the climate change challenge.

Along with other panelists, Beth Osborne, an aide to Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., agreed that "smart growth" planning principles can help cut the growth in vehicle miles traveled and make a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But she warned that transportation and land use are unlikely to get much federal money for climate change because the electric utilities and coal companies are doing a better job of lobbying Congress.

The money will likely come from the provisions of the so-called Leiberman-Warner bill now pending in the Senate, which would generate funds by capping carbon emissions and auctioning off a portion of the "right to pollute".

"We are talking about as much as $4.5 trillion over 50 years, "Osborne said. "Right now the overwhelming majority is going to stationary sources, with about 1% going to transit."

She added: "Impacted industries such as utilities, coal, and manufacturing have been extremely aggressive about making their case to us about the help they need to meet these standards.We've provided funding support [in the proposed bill] to meet those standards. Noticeably absent from the debate is driving and transit alternatives – transportation interests have not been engaged in this climate change bill."

She predicted that planning and transportation interests could get more money if they link their lobbying on the federal transportation reauthorization next year to lobbying on the climate change bill – which she said would not pass this year anyway.

Steve Winkleman, a smart growth/climate change policy wonk with the Center for Clean Air Policy, said lobbyists in the transportation business are gradually coming around, but the public transit business has not been aggressive enough. He said, for example, that the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has recommended an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction target associated with public transit – but the transit lobbyists have not been at the table.

Winkleman – a co-author of "Growing Cooler," published by the Urban Land Institute – said that if market demand for smart growth were satisfied, the effect would be the same as a 35 mpg fuel efficiency standard.

– Bill Fulton