Minnesota DOT Discusses Transportation Impact of Climate Change at Hearing

Climate change is causing “real, costly impacts” to the nation’s transportation infrastructure, according to Margaret Anderson Kelliher (seen above), commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

[Above image via Select Committee on Climate Crisis broadcast]

Anderson Kelliher – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on the Environment and Sustainability – made her comments June 30 in testimony before the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

“According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office, average temperatures have increased by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit statewide, with our winter temperatures are warming even faster, resulting in fewer nights of extreme cold,” she explained. “Extreme heat events are also a major safety problem – during the recent extreme heat just a few weeks ago, we saw at least 43 incidents of pavements buckling or exploding.”

Anderson Kelliher added that Minnesota is also experiencing more damaging rains due to climate change, including a 65 percent increase in the number of three-inch rain events and the frequency of “mega rain” events: widespread rains over six inches that she said “are now four times more frequent than” compared to the previous 30 years.

“Heavy precipitation directly causes flooding that closes and damages roads and bridges; disrupts travel and commerce; creates slope and embankments failures from saturated soils, and can lead to debris flows that block or damage culverts and bridges,” she said – literally in some cases “washing away” roads and bridges.

To counteract those issues, Anderson Kelliher said the Minnesota DOT is working to make the state’s transportation system more resilient.

In particular, the agency is developing a Statewide Extreme Flood Vulnerability Analysis tool to improve processes for evaluating future flood risks to bridges, large culverts, and pipes. That helps the Minnesota DOT make “better data-informed decisions” about roadway projects based on the likelihood and magnitude of climate risks, she said – managing factors such as evacuation routes, access to medical services, freight needs, and detour length.

To reduce the impact of vehicle emissions on the environment, Anderson Kelliher said her agency launched a project in 2019 called “Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation” to engage citizens and businesses in a variety of carbon reduction efforts.

“That resulted in the state pursuing low- and zero-emissions vehicle standards, creating incentives for electric vehicles [EVs], including climate change in the environmental review process, and supported development of low carbon biofuels,” she said.

The Minnesota DOT followed that up in 2020 with the creation of the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council – a group of public, private, nonprofit, and citizen leaders as well as elected officials to advise the agency on strategies to reduce carbon pollution, promote economic development, and support equity.

“We believe that this type of ongoing partnership between the public and private sector can be a model to help avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change,” she said. “This council is helping on several initiatives, including setting a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled, promoting electric vehicles and EV charging, re-evaluating our approaches to congestion, and de-prioritizing adding lane capacity, which can not only induce demand but also adds new costs to our woefully-underfunded system.”

Anderson Kelliher added that similar efforts at the federal level could help reduce climate change risks on a broader basis. To that end, she recommended the following during her testimony:

  • Modernizing federal climate risk standards and tools, including updates to the 100-year federal flood risk standard
  • Encouraging the construction of more EV recharging, transit, and pedestrian/bicycling infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions nationwide
  • Encouraging more federal investment in improving the accuracy of travel demand modeling to ensure more accurate travel forecasts and better understanding of investment impacts.

“Those tools will help projects achieve performance targets and make cost-effective, sustainable decisions in place of general-purpose lane expansion,” she said.

ETAP Podcast: State Agency Partnerships and Transportation Climate Initiatives

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast explores how state agency partnerships are helping Connecticut achieve climate goals while also implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program or TCI-P.

TCI-P is a multi-state effort to cap and reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from the transportation sector while at the same time generating revenues from carbon taxes to reinvest in cleaner transportation infrastructure.

In Connecticut, for example, TCI-P should generate roughly $1 billion in revenues from carbon taxes over the next decade, much of which will go towards supporting transportation systems.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) added in a December 2020 statement that the TCI-P should reduce transportation-related GHGs in his state by at least 26 percent from 2022 to 2032. Meanwhile, he plans to re-invest revenues generated through TCI-P carbon taxes in “equitable and cleaner transportation options,” creating an employment program across transit, construction, and green energy – efforts that should serve as a “catalyst” for infrastructure development through the next decade and beyond.

State departments of transportation will play a critical role in deciding how to re-invest revenue-generated caps on emissions, according to Connecticut agencies involved with implementing TCI-P protocols.

Katie Dykes, Connecticut’s commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or DEEP and Garrett Eucalitto, the deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, explain during this episode of the ETAP podcast how their ongoing collaboration will help implement the TCI-P agreement and how it will affect the state’s transportation sector and, ultimately, benefit the public.

Click here to listen to this podcast.

USDOT, Transport Canada Craft Plan to Battle Climate Change

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Transport Canada issued a joint statement on February 25 committing both agencies to “reinvigorate our bilateral cooperation” to fight climate change and limit the environmental impacts from their respective national transportation networks on land, air, and sea.

[Above photo: Transport Canada’s Omar Alghabra at left, USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg at right.]

The announcement supports the recent Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership cemented by President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and reinforces the bilateral Memorandum of Cooperation on “Transport Matters of Mutual Interest” signed in 2016.

“We will work together to accelerate policy actions that help our transport sectors grapple effectively with the climate challenge,” USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Omar Alghabra, Canada’s minister of transportation, in their joint statement.

“A healthy environment and economy support the goals of both countries to ‘build back better’ from the COVID-19 pandemic, and leverage actions at the state, provincial, territorial and local levels,” they said.

The broad based agreement covers a variety of modes and transportation activities:

  • On roads, the agreement commits both agencies to work toward a zero-emission vehicle future through “ambitious” vehicle standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases or GHGs from light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. That includes efforts to help accelerate the achievement of 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales for light-duty vehicles and increase the supply of and demand for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. 
  • Exploration of “best practices” on how to help incentivize the installation of electric charging stations, and refueling stations for clean fuels, including through the ongoing coordination of electric and alternative fuel corridors and the alignment of technical codes, standards, and regulations, to enable the seamless transportation of people and goods. This includes collaboration on new “innovative solutions” to decrease emissions and advance the use of cleaner fuels in rail transportation.
  • On aviation, the agencies plan to work towards reducing the sector’s emissions in a manner consistent with the goal of net-zero emissions for both the U.S. and Canadian economies by 2050. That includes advancing the development and deployment of high integrity sustainable aviation fuels and other clean technologies that meet rigorous international standards.  
  • Both agencies plan to forge new partnerships with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce GHG emissions. With ICAO, they plan to advance a new “long-term aspirational goal” for decarbonizing the aviation sector and continue participating in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation or CORSIA. With the IMO, the plan is to cut emissions from ships in half by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. That includes spurring the use of cleaner, sustainable, and renewable fuels in ocean shipping and banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil  as fuel in the Arctic
  • Supporting further development of “green transport infrastructure” along the U.S.-Canadian border, including management of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway for maritime navigation needs.
  • Exploring how both nations can address and support the transportation infrastructure needs of Arctic and Northern communities, such as safety, climate change, and fostering socio-economic opportunities.

“This new focus on climate will reinforce our already vast cooperation portfolio across all modes of transportation to ensure safe, secure, and efficient transportation networks of today while preparing for the innovations of tomorrow, and recovering our economies in a way that promotes employment, sustainability, and equity,” Buttigieg and Alghabra said.

New Report Outlines Transportation Impact of Nevada Climate Strategy

The new State Climate Strategy released by the Nevada Climate Initiative on December 1 outlines how the state plans to meet “aggressive” greenhouse gas or GHG emission reduction targets over the next three decades in three stages – 28 percent cut by 2025, 45 percent by 2030, and net-zero/near-zero by 2050.

[Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Transportation.]

That strategic report results from a sweeping Executive Order on Climate Change issued by Governor Steve Sisolak (D) in November 2019 that called for the evaluation, identification, and recommendation of the “most effective” climate policies and regulatory initiatives for Nevada.

“It’s a new era for climate action in Nevada,” the governor noted in a statement. “Nevada’s State Climate Strategy serves as the critical framework necessary to elevate climate action and foster a healthy, vibrant, climate-resilient future. As we continue our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic climate action must play a key role in rebuilding a stronger, more climate-friendly, and equitable economy for Nevada.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Governor’s Office.

The report noted that Nevada’s GHG emissions inventory mirrors trends occurring across the western United States, where transportation-sector emissions (35 percent) now exceed those from the energy sector (32 percent) – historically the largest source of GHG emissions. Industrial, residential, and commercial emissions are growing rapidly, while those associated with other sectors remain relatively consistent, it said.

Under current policies and based on the best available science, Nevada is currently on a path to reduce economy-wide GHG emissions 24 percent by 2025 and 26 percent by 2030 – 4 percent and 19 percent short of the respective emissions-reduction goals for those years.

The report noted that by meeting Nevada’s emission reduction targets, Nevada would prevent between $172 million and $786 million in economic damages by 2030 and up to $4 billion by 2050.

Consequently, the report said the state needs “new mitigation-focused policies, programs, investments, and regulations” to put Nevada on the path toward realizing net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 – with much of it geared towards the transportation sector.

The report recommends five transportation strategies for reducing GHG emissions going forward:

“As the transportation sector recently surpassed energy generation as the largest contributor of emissions in our state, we have been working hard to encourage alternative modes of transportation and carpooling to decrease the number of vehicles on our roads,” explained Kristina Swallow, director, Nevada Department of Transportation.

“Through the Nevada Electric Highway, HOV [High Occupancy Vehicle] lanes, Clean Cities, and other initiatives, we will continue to work collaboratively with our local, state, and federal partners on creative, data-driven strategies to reduce emissions across our vast transportation network,” she added.