Originally published on DailyKos.
After several delays, the Trump regime Thursday surrendered in the face of an eight-state lawsuit demanding that it implement an Obama administration rule requiring hundreds of transportation agencies to measure and compare the impacts of proposed projects on vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases.
The idea behind the rule is that these carbon pollution measurements would go far toward changing thinking about the efficacy of transportation projects and spur fresh thinking to reduce their climatic impacts.
Getting the rule implemented is a major victory for environmental advocates. But it comes with a big caveat. In announcing the reversal, the Federal Highway Administration also stated that it “has initiated additional rule-making procedures proposing to repeal the measure.” Michael Laris reports:
“Today, the Trump Administration backed down and will now implement the measure as is legally required,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a statement. “Climate change is real. If President Trump is not prepared to admit it or to do his job of protecting our families by enforcing our environmental rules, then I’m prepared as Attorney General to call his bluff.”
California and the other states — Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon and Vermont — alleged in the suit, filed last week, that the administration had intentionally, and unlawfully, failed to give people the required opportunity to comment on the indefinite delay. Environmental groups had sued over the issue earlier, as well.
Various industry groups have opposed the rule, and the Trump regime has become notorious in some circles for working to cut federal environmental regulations, including this one.
In February 2016, the Obama administration announced a $320 billion plan to build a “21st century clean transportation system” to be funded with a $10-a-barrel tax on oil. Naturally, given the makeup of Congress, the proposal got nowhere. But environmental advocates and transportation officials pushed the White House at the time to take executive action, specifically to mandate that transportation agencies receiving federal funds take steps to measure and compare how proposed major transportation projects that receive federal money increase or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Federal funds for state and local projects amount to about $50 billion annually.
Out of discussions on how to accomplish this assessment emerged the rule to gauge, report on, and set performance targets for several categories contained in the 2012 transportation bill. Greenhouse gas emissions weren’t included by Congress in that bill. These were added by the White House and announced on Earth Day (April 22) last year. As an unnamed senior Department of Transportation official told Mike Grunwald at POLITICO: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is groundbreaking stuff.”
The TrumpKochians, of course, don’t want greenhouse gas emissions managed, whether from smokestacks or tailpipes. But, temporarily, at least, they’ve had to give in.
One-fifth to one-fourth of all US greenhouse gas emissions now come from vehicles, and any serious effort to address climate change means boosting fuel-efficiency and pollution standards for vehicles, which the Obama administration undertook to achieve soon after taking over the reins in Washington. But future efforts depend on having good measurements in order to understand how each major transportation project affects those emissions.
Last year, Shelly Poticha at the Natural Resources Defense Council explained the impact of what was then just the proposed rule:
This is a crucial new chance to tackle climate change. Even as vehicles become cleaner, total car and truck traffic has doubled since the 1970s, jeopardizing progress toward slowing and reversing climate change over the long term. The president and secretary of transportation have the means and the duty to require about 350 state transportation agencies and little-known important local agencies called “metropolitan planning organizations” to specifically track carbon pollution—the key driver of climate change—in their transportation plans and systems, and seek ways to reduce it.
This is revolutionary because states and local jurisdictions have never been called on to take carbon pollution into account when building roads or other transportation infrastructure. Think about it: We set standards and pass laws to require that carmakers produce fuel efficient vehicles, and then we build bigger highways and roads to accommodate endless numbers of those vehicles. Having a larger volume of fuel-efficient cars—in most cases, one for every person on the road—won’t solve our carbon pollution problem. We have to offer policy frameworks to help states and cities reduce overall traffic by asking them to at least measure how much more carbon pollution a new road is likely to generate.
The Trump regime knows full well that information is power that makes disinformation more difficult. That’s why it has worked to eliminate climate change references on government websites, eliminate science advisers who aren’t scientific illiterates, and warn both federal employees and federal grant-seekers to avoid the use of “climate change” in what they say and write. The emissions measuring rule will be an informational weapon damaging to the the White House’s anti-environmental agenda, which is why we can expect a hard fight next year to keep that rule in place.
Reprinted with permission.
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