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Redefining Transportation Policies, State by State

Transportation is a leader in US greenhouse gas emissions. According to the 2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), transportation accounts for approximately 28 percent of overall energy consumption in the United States and is the biggest consumer of energy economy-wide.

Advances in efficiency are being threatened by a federal plan that would roll back a 2012 mandate that requires an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year. The plan also freezes requirements that automakers build cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars including hybrids and electric vehicles.

In light of these federal policy changes,  transportation policies on a state level are now more important than ever. The energy efficiency score for the transportation category indicates state actions that go beyond our federal policies to achieve a more robustly energy-efficient transportation sector. The measures vary from improving the efficiency of vehicles to providing low-income communities access to efficient transportation.

Here are some of the key areas at the core of transportation sector.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Since 1975, the US Department of Transportation has typically regulated the fuel economy oelectric-car-chargingf automobiles. As a result, states are not permitted to create their own fuel efficiency standards—with one exception. As a longtime leader in vehicle emissions reduction, California has the authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards, including those for greenhouse gas emissions. Other states may choose to follow either federal or California standards, which act as a proxy for the lack of federal energy efficiency policies for fuel emissions. Given that auto manufacturers prefer to offer identical vehicles in every state, California’s program has been instrumental for increasing the stringency of vehicle standards.

Lack of federal oversight means that the states that have adopted California’s standards are critical for moving the dial toward clean, fuel-efficient vehicles. With an eye toward further reducing greenhouse gas emissions, California has also updated its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. The new goal requires an increase in sales of plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell vehicles from 2018–2025. According to the ACEEE report, “manufacturers of passenger cars and light trucks (up to 8,500 pounds) must earn a certain number of ZEV credits by meeting state requirements regarding the number of ZEVs that they must produce and deliver for sale.”

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Electric vehicle registrations

To make electric cars and trucks more viable, states can provide incentives for expanding the fueling infrastructure. Non-financial benefits—such as emissions testing exemptions—are the perks that can make electric vehicles (EVs) a more attractive choice to potential buyers.

Incentives for high-efficiency vehicles

The high up-front cost of EVs is a barrier to purchase. States may offer a number of financial incentives, including tax credits, rebates and sales tax exemptions, to make buying an EV more compelling.

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) growth and VMT reduction targets
Rising incomes combined with population growth will contribute to an unsustainable increase in vehicle usage. The US Energy Information Administration predicts an 18 percent increase in light-duty VMT between now and 2050. A yearly increase of 1.2 percent over the next 20 years for all vehicle types is one of the biggest challenges facing each state. Several states have taken on this challenge by setting VMT reduction targets. For example, according to the report, Oregon “is one of the first states to pass legislation for a VMT fee program that gives drivers the option of paying a fee of 1.7 cents per mile instead of the state’s 30 cent-per-gallon gas tax.”

Equitable access to transportation
As suburbs have spread and the housing costs close to job centers have become prohibitive, many low-income communities have paid the price in individual transportation costs. Many low-income communities are geographically isolated and lack access to public transportation.

The ACEEE report states, “As a result, household transportation costs as a percentage of total income are higher than average for these communities as personal vehicles become the only option for travel (Pew Charitable Trusts 2016).” States can leverage policy to ensure equitable access to public transportation in a number of ways. In 2012, Washington provided grants to public transit agencies to preserve transit service in the state. A Californian program provides funding to incentivize the creation of low-income housing near transit facilities.

Although California, Massachusetts and New York are the clear leaders in transportation, many states are upping their transportation game. Twenty-four states have statutes in place that provide sustainable funding sources for transit-related capital and/or operating expenses. While there is much to be done on a state level, real improvement and foresight is beginning to make inroads across the country.

To learn more about where the transportation industry is headed, schedule a meeting with a Franklin Energy expert today!


Greg Wassel
Written by Greg Wassel

Greg Wassel understands that grid optimization is key to our industry’s future. He is responsible for identifying new and innovative approaches to integrated demand side management programs, forging partnerships with industry-leading companies to enhance operations and developing new products and services for clients. Greg also leads our grid optimization product line and monitors demand response and other distributed resources program performance, ensuring quality every time. Greg supports our existing clients and business development teams by conducting regular best practice and innovation meetings to ensure that each client is kept up to date regarding the rapidly changing demand side management industry. He has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Georgia and is a certified energy manager (CEM).


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