Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Priorities in Mitigating Emissions from the Transportation Sector and in Adapting Transportation Facilities to Climate Change

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Priorities in Mitigating Emissions from the Transportation Sector and in Adapting Transportation Facilities to Climate Change

Article excerpt

Introduction                                            1115 I. Climate Change, Transportation, and Fuel Efficiency  1116 II. Fuel Efficiency Standards and Pricing               1119 III. Climate Change and Transportation Planning         1124 IV. Transportation and Resiliency                       1127 Conclusion                                              1129 


This is a response to the Article by Vicki Arroyo, the founder and Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, and her colleagues on new strategies by federal, state, and local governments to achieve a low-carbon and resilient transportation system (the "Article"). Both the Article and this response recognize that the most significant progress made in reducing the transportation sector's oil dependence and in mitigating greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions has resulted from the adoption and implementation by the federal government, beginning in the 1970s, of fuel efficiency standards under the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency ("CAFE)" program. While federal fuel efficiency standards remained largely unchanged through the 1980s and 1990s, activity resumed during the administration of George W. Bush, and fuel efficiency standards were greatly strengthened and expanded under President Barack Obama. With the change of administrations, however, future progress in improving fuel efficiency and in reducing GHG emissions under this program is now uncertain.

Despite the demonstrated effectiveness of fuel efficiency standards, this response emphasizes that pricing also plays an important role in the effort to mitigate GHG emissions and to reduce oil dependence in the transportation sector. Higher fuel prices, particularly, when combined with more rigorous fuel efficiency standards, are the most effective tool to reduce the use of liquid petroleum in transportation and to incentivize technological innovations to improve fuel efficiency. Higher prices reinforce public support for, and acceptance of, increased regulatory requirements for fuel efficiency. Unlike the Article, this response views pricing as a more significant way to achieve these public purposes than the dissemination of zero-emission vehicles.

Further, this response, like the Article, regards the incorporation of GHG emission goals in state and metropolitan transportation planning processes as an important element of a program to reduce those impacts, but calls for specific federal incentives and requirements to achieve these changes. Finally, both the Article and this response acknowledge the growing importance of introducing resilience as an element of transportation planning and investment in light of the impacts of climate change on these facilities that are already occurring and that are likely to grow in the next few years.


As the Article notes, addressing GHG emissions from the transportation sector is critically important to achieving overall national emission reduction goals now contained in the Paris Agreement. (1) Emissions from the transportation sector are now the largest of any sector of the American economy. (2) However, reducing GHG emissions in transportation has been, and will continue to be, particularly difficult and complicated.

Over the last century, particularly since the end of the Second World War, America has become a society almost totally dependent on the automobile and on the liquid petroleum that enables our auto-mobility.(3) Oil dependency carries with it serious risks for economic stability, national security, and environmental sustainability. (4)

For all intents and purposes, transportation is the only major sector of the American economy that remains almost totally dependent on oil. (5) Approximately two-thirds of the liquid petroleum used annually in the United States is used in transportation. (6) The result is that, without oil, America's transportation system and its economy would come to a halt. …

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