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Deron Lovaas’s Blog

Moving Cooler: Solid Research, Right Direction

Deron Lovaas

Posted July 30, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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As analysts review this new analysis of transportation measures that can save fuel and cut greenhouse gases, they will be pleased to see that it is truly comprehensive and even-handed.

Highway capacity expansion? It examined that. Freight strategies? That too. Operational strategies to improve traffic flow? Yes. Regulatory strategies? Yes. Car- and ride-sharing? Yes. Public transportation? Yes. Bicycle and pedestrian projects? Yes. Land use policy? Yes. Pricing strategies? Yes.

Almost 50 measures, assessed for their potential effects independently, in three different implementation scenarios varying according to geographic coverage, time frame and intensity.

And then the measures were combined in different strategically targeted strategies to determine how they might complement or conflict with one another:

  • One focused on achieving early results;
  • One on maximum results over the long-term (sort of an "everything but the kitchen sink" package);
  • One on a combination of land use policy changes and investments in transit and nonmotorized ways of traveling (bicycle and pedestrian or what Transportation Committee Chairman Oberstar half-jokingly calls "the carbohydrate economy");
  • One on System and driver efficiency, focused on improving traffic speeds and driver habits;
  • One on facility pricing to gauge the effect of those signals and the infrastructure investments the revenue would fund; and
  • One on low-cost means for reducing emissions.

In addition to assessments of fuel savings and greenhouse gas emission cuts, the authors - a team of analysts at Cambridge Systematics -- examined issues such as costs of implementation, consumer savings due to reduced vehicle operating costs as well as economic equity considerations.

The quality of the report has drawn praise from a number of quarters, including state officials:

"State and local air agencies are committed to cutting global warming pollution from transportation, and Moving Cooler should be a useful resource as they develop strategies for getting the job done." - S. William Becker, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies

 "This groundbreaking assessment of strategies for cutting heatā€trapping pollution from transportation is a great guide for state legislators as we hammer out plans to tackle climate change." - Maryland Delegate James Hubbard, President, National Caucus of Environmental Legislators

Unfortunately, one dissenting bloviator - Alan Pisarski -- blogged about the report yesterday in a heated entry that betrays a misreading (or not-reading) of the report. He builds a straw man, claiming the report is anti-car. And then, paradoxically, after casting himself as a defender of the car he shows appalling ignorance about vehicle technology, claiming the study understates the potential of energy-efficiency of the vehicle fleet. And yet the baseline of the study assumes a tripling of new light-duty vehicle fuel economy by 2050, a decent-sized jump by anyone's standards. He also takes aim at the land use measures analyzed, shoving aside the fact that this is but one of nine categories of strategies examined. Would he not look at them at all? He also claims that carpooling was overlooked, when in fact it was treated quite seriously. In sum, this particular critic singled out some items he disliked in the report and then blew them out of all proportion. This yearlong endeavor spanning 200 pages deserves better, more informed treatment.

But what's really galling is his ad hominem attack on the report authors, specifically regarding their interest in energy security and climate change. As someone on the Steering Committee for the report I take offense. Along with many colleagues and friends I have been working on energy and climate issues for the better part of a decade, and poured heart and soul into advocacy for the long-sought boost in fuel economy standards Congress finally enacted in 2007 (which will save millions of barrels of oil daily). I can't help but wonder what if anything Mr. Pisarski has ever done to benefit either the climate or the nation's energy security.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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