Without Changes, NJ Carbon Plan Could Go Up in Smoke

As reported in MTR, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection recently released some inspired yet ominously vague recommendations for how to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, spelled out in the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA). Under the Act, NJ must reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and cut emissions to 80% below the 2006 level by 2050. Overall, the report presents a comprehensive approach toward reducing NJ’s carbon footprint that includes progressive solutions aimed at shifting travel patterns, such as an expanded transit network including bus rapid transit, transit-oriented development, complete streets, and zoning and planning reforms that link transportation and land use. However, an overall lack of specificity and prioritization are discouraging, and what few deadlines and concrete goals it proffers will require heavy lifts from state agencies and the legislature, and hard shoves from advocates. Below are summaries of TSTC’s comments on the plan:

Lay off the tailpipe, speed up the land use

Of the “core” items which the plan relies on to meet its 2020 goals, the only transportation-related ones are a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) program that will call for automakers to reduce fleetwide emissions from vehicles sold in NJ by 30%, and for all new vehicles sold in NJ to meet California-level emissions standards. While these efforts are laudable, the LEV program relies on the state’s ability to shift consumer behavior during a recession.  It is imperative that other measures, such as reduction in VMT statewide, accompany the 2020 tailpipe measures from the start if the benchmark goals are to be achieved.

Zero Emission Vehicles and “ecodriving” should not be emphasized as integral components of the 2020 recommendations. One recommendation in the plan is to implement the American Association of State Transportation and Highway Officials-supported “ecodriving” program, which teaches people to save fuel by changing their driving habits. Fine, but the report suggests that the program could reduce the state’s carbon footprint by up to 22%. Such a large reduction would require every driver in the state to embrace the program, a massive shift in individual behavior that can’t be assumed.  Recommendations to promote Zero Emission Vehicles are equally aspirational for reduction calculations, since they rely on uncertain alternative fuel and electric car technologies.

Could you be a little more specific?

Many of the other transportation recommendations are well intentioned, but lack concrete details needed to measure their efficacy. Without binding interim goals and indicators, NJ could easily go off track.

The state needs to elucidate specific measures necessary to achieve its goal of capping vehicle miles traveled at 1% annually, and include these measures in 2020 goals. As part of the near-term goals, NJDEP must determine how to quantify the impacts of its VMT reduction measures. It also must establish targets and an action plan to reduce VMT growth to 1% or less annually.  Similarly, NJ should define target levels of greenhouse gas output and VMT growth in a way that is sensitive to the context of the state’s varying corridors and neighborhoods. This will help avoid “one size fits all” projects that do not accomodate all road users or reflect surrounding land uses.

Although Tri-State was pleased to see demand management strategies included in the report, the report needs to provide next steps and a timeframe for evaluating pricing mechanisms such as HOT lanes, congestion pricing and pay-as-you-drive insurance. Tactics like HOT lanes promote carpooling and transit use, and provide a viable revenue source for the state. However, simply assessing the strategy will not produce results.

Similarly, targets and timeframes are needed for NJDOT’s work with Transit Villages, NJFIT and other land use programs. The report refers to NJDOT’s Transit Village program, but does not define specific actions.  The report should include targets, including number of municipalities to be designated and specific timelines for implementation.

 

Freight received only small mention in the report, and a more detailed examination of expansion of freight rail is necessary to meet GWRA goals. Compared to interstate trucking, rail uses about one-third the amount of fuel to accomplish the same transportation activity and a single freight train can carry the equivalent of over 250 individual trucks. The three major freight rail providers in NJ – Conrail, Norfolk Southern and CSX – recently developed a group of five capital improvements that would significantly reduce pinch points and improve freight rail movements statewide. These improvements should be analyzed and given a timeline for implementation.

 

The Turnpike widening, and other glaring inconsistencies

Among the plan’s inconsistencies is the NJ Turnpike Authority’s farcical “Clean and Green Corridor” Program. The program contains environmental recommendations like alternative fuel stations and green building techniques, but makes no mention of the state’s plans to widen the Turnpike by six lanes. New Jersey needs to halt these projects, return to the drawing boards to determine their true greenhouse gas impacts, and explore alternatives to capacity expansion alone that will achieve the twin goals of congestion relief and lower emissions.

Enforcement and implementation

Too often, good policy fails due to poor enforcement mechanisms and legislative dilution.  The report must avoid these pitfalls by clearly defining each initiative and enforcement measures to accompany each.  The initiatives should be carefully drafted so they are easy to codify but hard for legislators to dilute.  The report is being released in an election year, creating even higher political pressure.

 

There are ten gubernatorial election cycles between now and 2050; without statutory enforcement of progressive policies the GWRA will remain a suggestion, and its goals will fall to the wayside as administrations and commissioners come and go.

 

How to shift a paradigm

NJDEP lays out a series of actions that must be taken in the last 18 months to meet the plan’s goal. While the state is already working on these initiatives, it needs a more aggressive tack on transportation reforms to achieve the reductions outlined in the plan; transportation represents 49% of NJ’s carbon footprint. “Long range” initiatives dealing with zoning and land use are misnamed – they must be implemented now to realize the benefits in the future.  Reducing sprawl and providing viable, reliable transit is the key. DEP correctly identifies the urgency and enormity of the undertaking as a “paradigm shift” for New Jersey residents, departments and agencies.  Advocates applaud the report’s vision and are eager to see concrete details emerge in the final draft.

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