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Another Voice: Burden of greenhouse gas reduction should be shared

By Phil Wilcox

New York is one of nine states that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The RGGI is essentially a tax on carbon emitters from the power generation sector.

More than $400 million was collected in 2014 alone, with the New York share of that funding primarily filtered through NYSERDA for a host of greenhouse gas-reducing investments and initiatives.

Of note, the state’s Energy Plan for 2014 detailed that cars and trucks in New York emitted more than twice the greenhouse gases of all the coal and natural gas power plants combined. I’m sure that statistic plays out nationally, so how do vehicles get a free ride when power plants pay big time? We need a national policy on this issue at an unparalleled time of robust energy supply and low prices for the foreseeable future.

Why should this be considered? California has a “tailpipe fee” where hundreds of millions of dollars are being injected into a major rail expansion project. The fee will reduce greenhouse gases by tons, not to mention reducing DWI and texting while driving, improving neighborhoods adjacent to transportation hubs and weaving more bike-ability into the master planning. Healthier and wealthier communities are why this matters.

The United States has done more than its share in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generators. We must be cautious in our electric supply policies lest we sabotage our economy, as Germany has done in its flawed policy where electric rates have more than doubled and greenhouse gases have gone up as a result of closing nuclear facilities, creating an unanticipated need to bring on coal generation to stabilize the grid from intermittent renewable energy. Balance is the key.

There are lessons the United States can learn from investments many countries have made in public transit as an untapped hedge for even greater emission reductions. For perspective, closing every coal plant in the United States would reduce global emissions 6/100th of 1 percent, while thousands of direct and indirect jobs are lost. Policy balance is imperative.

At a time when fuel rates have dropped and are predicted to stay low for years, shouldn’t we call for leadership to consider an equal contribution from the transportation sector that could help deliver emission outcomes even greater than the power generation sector?

Just as RGGI fees help fund renewable energy, a fuel fee should help fund greenhouse gas-reducing public transit.

Call on elected leaders to support a stronger, cleaner economy with a dedicated investment in transit.

Phil Wilcox is western division business representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97.