In Letters to Governors, Climate and Transportation Orgs Call for Strong Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets

States lead on climate by building transportation systems that provide better choices. To get us there, a coalition of national and state climate and transportation organizations sent letters today to governors in 22 states who are on the record supporting climate action, urging them to set ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets under the Department of Transportation’s recently finalized performance measure rule. These targets are a historic national opportunity to build transportation systems that work for everyone—turning a corner from endlessly widening big highways that just fill up with traffic again.

The letters come ahead of the February 1 deadline for the first round of state targets to be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and as states continue to implement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

“Climate leaders can cut emissions while helping us all get around. And with transportation accounting for more than half of total greenhouse gas emissions in some states, it’s clear we need more options. Right now, governors who are on the record supporting climate action have an opportunity to tackle these emissions and stake out a path towards a cleaner transportation future with environmental justice at its center,” said Evergreen Action State Program Director Justin Balik. “But we can’t fix what we don’t measure. Our recommendations call for common-sense steps to bolster transparency and accountability and ensure taxpayer money isn’t spent to further accelerate the climate crisis. With unprecedented federal funding available, governors finally have the tools to align their climate commitments with their transportation investments. They can’t miss this chance to set their states up for success.” 

The letters include six common-sense recommendations for governors to incorporate in implementation of the measure, including: 

  1. Aggressive initial targets consistent with each state’s climate commitments
  2. Specific goals for reducing pollution in environmental justice communities
  3. Consideration of both electrification and vehicle mile reduction strategies while setting targets 
  4. Efforts to set additional, longer-term 8- and 20-year reduction targets
  5. A transparent methodology for target setting and easily digestible reporting platforms for greater accountability
  6. Revising state transportation investment plans to ensure project selection accounts for these new targets 

“The climate crisis is not coming; it is here now. We’ve seen it all around us this year on a near-daily basis. It is impacting our economy and nearly every aspect of our daily lives. And while Congress has passed and the president has signed into law historic climate crisis legislation, we need governors to lead and implement strong greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets,” said Just Strategy Executive Director LeeAnn Hall. “The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—and with record amounts of federal funds already flowing to states thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there is no time to waste to ensure that the projects being built reduce harmful carbon emissions, rather than increase them.”

It's time for state Departments of Transportation to increase transparency and accountability on greenhouse gases,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Director of Transportation Shruti Vaidyanathan. “With historic levels of transportation infrastructure funding flowing to states and the effects of the climate crisis becoming more obvious every day, States can set common-sense targets to make progress on reducing transportation emissions and improving mobility for their residents.”

“USDOT’s GHG performance measure rule is a crucial first step toward climate accountability in transportation, but only if states set ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. We need strong data to reach our goal of building a more environmentally sound transportation system,” said Benito Pérez, policy director of Transportation for America. “Now is the time to put word to action, so that we can move toward an inclusive transportation system that allows Americans the option to get around without a car—reducing emissions, enhancing safety, and improving economic mobility.”

Recent analysis from RMI and Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) shows that success in lowering transportation emissions over the next decade hinges on how states direct their share of federal transportation investment now—with some scenarios even resulting in an increase of 2 percent in emissions by 2032. Implementing intentional and ambitious goals from the beginning will help ensure the historic share of federal highway funding doesn’t worsen the climate crisis. This measure can guide state investment decisions that effectively and equitably decrease emissions while also setting states up to be more competitive for federal discretionary grants and tax credits through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and IIJA. State departments of transportation already report several other performance metrics to the federal government and this rule builds on the work several states are already doing to account for greenhouse gas emissions.

The letters were sent to the governors and state transportation departments of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.