Major Milestone Reached in Regional Effort to Rein in Transportation Emissions—But More Work Ahead to Ensure Equitable Air Pollution Reductions

New Policies and Investments Need Community Involvement to Build a Truly Clean, Equitable Transportation System

Published Dec 21, 2020

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (December 21, 2020)—3 states and the District of Columbia today signed a final Memorandum of Understanding to create the Transportation Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), a new multi-state program to reduce carbon and other pollution from transportation.

“Transportation is the largest source of global warming emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, so it’s critical for these state leaders to target it directly,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “These states and DC have shown leadership and vision to launch this program, and I have every reason to expect that other states will see the benefit of regional collaboration and join in. This type of regional cooperation alongside strong federal action can provide a foundation for building back better in the wake of a devastating public health and economic crisis.”

The states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island—plan to create a system that would cap the carbon pollution from cars, trucks and buses, make transportation fuel distributors pay for the right to bring fossil-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel into the region, and use the proceeds to invest in cleaner transportation options across the region. While the initial rollout includes a modest cap beginning in 2023, TCI-P is designed to be flexible, offering opportunities to strengthen the program and bring more states on board over time.

“This is an important first step—a limited, but necessary, measure that will set these states on the right path,” said Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Transportation Program at UCS. “We know this kind of program can deliver benefits—as long as it’s responsive to the real needs of communities across the region. We’ll be watching closely to make sure these states not only cut emissions, but build a better, fairer system for everyone, starting with equity advisory boards that should have real decision-making power.”

Reducing emissions from transportation is vital for reaching regional climate goals and doing so will also bring direct health benefits. On-road vehicles are a major source of air pollutants like particulate matter, and UCS analysis confirms that the damaging health effects of this pollution are disproportionately borne by Black, Latinx, and Asian American residents of the region. States have committed to a minimum of 35% of proceeds to communities that are overburdened by transportation pollution and underserved by current clean options. But to truly reduce the inequitable effects of transportation pollution, states need to include guaranteed, targeted emissions reductions and complementary policies, led by frontline community members.

“There are many questions yet to be answered, as the MOU establishes an overall framework but leaves it to the participating states to decide on many of the details,” said Robinson. “This gives states the opportunity to not just solicit public input, but take it seriously, and build this program with the needs of their most at-risk residents in mind.”

Studies show that a well-designed program to reduce transportation emissions could have a positive impact on public health and the regional economy. The investments could support increased transit, better walking and bicycling infrastructure, greater access to broadband internet and incentives to help consumers and municipalities make the switch to electric vehicles.

“Today’s announcement is years in the making, and it has the potential to accelerate the region’s transition to clean, reliable and affordable transportation,” said Kimmell. “It’s critical that we create this program in a way that’s inclusive and thoughtful, building a modern transportation system that can power us into a better future.”