New Regional Initiative — RGGI for Transportation Sector

Transportation is the biggest source of carbon emissions contributing to climate change, but will NJ sign on when it’s also poised to rejoin RGGI?

A new regional initiative is taking shape among Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to curb carbon pollution from the transportation sector, the largest source of emissions contributing to climate change.

The initiative aims to achieve for the transportation sector what many argue the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has succeeded in doing by curtailing emissions from power plants contributing to global warming.

With the bulk of greenhouse-gas emissions stemming from vehicles and other mobile sources in much of the region, including New Jersey, clean-energy advocates believe a similar model could reap steep reductions in pollution from the transportation system.

NJ — in or out?

The question is whether New Jersey, poised to rejoin RGGI with a new administration taking office in January, also will opt to participate in the new regional transportation effort.

Seven states — Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. — announced the initiative at the Bonn Climate Change Summit yesterday. All of the states are part of RGGI.

The plan is to explore developing a market-baseda regional, market-based approach to update and to modernize an aging transportation system, possibly using a cap-and-invest model similar to RGGI. Funding raised from putting a price on carbon pollution from the transportation sector would provide incentives to accelerate adoption of electric cars, trucks, and buses and expand public transit and ride-sharing.

Big push expected

In New Jersey, there is expected to be a big push by the new administration and Legislature to expand the infrastructure for electric vehicles, an important consideration given the state has opted to be part of the California zero-emission vehicle program. It requires states to sell an ever-increasing percentage of electric vehicles each year, a mandate that begins in 2018. Most of the states in the new regional initiative also have agreed to follow the California mandates.

The new regional approach adopted by the seven states won praise from environmentalists and clean-energy advocates as reducing climate impacts as well as creating jobs and a more equitable transportation system.

“Working together across state and party lines, states can improve their transportation systems, reduce pollution, and improve mobility and transportation choice for consumers,’’ said Daniel Sosland, president of the Acadia Center, a nonprofit working for clean energy.

The co-operation and regional commitment, advocates said, is crucial given the Trump administration’s pullback on climate-change initiatives.

“As the Trump administration continues its reckless climate denial, states are stepping up and doubling down on climate action,’’ said Jackson Morris, director of eastern energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In New Jersey, advocates said the state should waste no time in joining the new regional initiative. “Again, this is another case where New Jersey is running on empty when it comes to electric vehicles. We should be joining it on Day 1,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

A study by the Georgetown Climate Center for the states found investments in efforts to clean up the transportation sector could curtail carbon pollution by 39 percent.

Through the rest of the fall and into next year, the seven states and District of Columbia will seek public input on steps to take to move toward a cleaner transportation future.