Carper: "Providing people with an alternative to driving"

In regards to the news stories about people adjusting their behaviour in light of high gas prices, we’ve been wondering: What will people in metro areas do when they’ve squeezed all the efficiency they can out of their car, combined all the trips they can, and elminated as much driving as they can, but still have no alternative for transportation other than to get in a car and drive? Why do we have such poor alternatives for transportation and what can we do about it?

Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware spoke on the floor of the Senate this week on the pending climate bill, and discussed the importance of using money generated by cap-and-trade to invest in transportation alternatives so that we cut emissions while also getting where we need to go — without being held hostage by high gas prices and foreign oil-rich countries.

And finally I would like to discuss a very important provision in the Boxer Substitute [to Lieberman-Warner] that funds transportation alternatives.

The transportation sector is responsible for 30% of our country’s CO2 emissions. That is why Congress passed legislation that I coauthored with a number of my colleagues last year to increase auto fuel economy from an average 25mpg to 35 mpg in 2020.

In closing, I appreciate the significant progress that has been made already to improve this legislation. The authors of this bill should be proud and their staffs are to be commended.

The bill before us today also includes a low carbon fuel standard and funding for developing alternative fuels.

However, most of the benefits from making cars and fuels cleaner would be lost if we don’t address how far people drive.

As the only member of the Senate who serves on all three transportation-related communities, I look forward to attempting to bring those three committees together to create a comprehensive approach to reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector before we address climate change next year.

Since 1970, overall energy consumption has grown by 41 percent, in spite of the establishment of the first fuel efficiency standards in cars in 1975. This is mostly because people are driving 148 percent more. In other words, Americans are spending 24 more hours in traffic a year, since 1982.

Living in sprawling areas without transit can double a family’s greenhouse gas emissions. The negative consequences go beyond impacting the environment. With gas approaching $4 a gallon longer commutes and increased distances required for errands costs money.

Public transportation has saved Americans from an additional 286 million hours of sitting in traffic.

So we included a provision in this bill to use some of the auction proceeds to provide people with an alternative to driving.

This provision would provide transit to more communities and to expand transit where it already exists. This is good for our environment, our pocketbooks and our piece of mind.

While this provision is important, we need to find a way to give communities a greater say in how they can spend their transit dollars.

Transit is needed across the nation. However, many communities would benefit from improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure – sidewalks, cross-walks, traffic calming, bike lanes, etc. In rural areas, increasing freight rail capacity might be the most effective way to reduce vehicle pollution.

Ideally, we would leave it to local communities to determine which strategy would work best for them and, therefore, allow all communities to make steps to address this portion of transportation pollution. Nonetheless, the provision in this bill is a good first attempt to address this problem.

Read his full comments here.