Climate and energy legislation proposed May 12 by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., would aim state and regional planners toward freight rail operations, put some money into the Highway Trust Fund for efficiency grant awards and try to nudge truck fleets to convert to natural gas as a fuel.
Their “American Power Act” directs the administration to “develop a national transportation low-emission energy plan” that curbs greenhouse gases coming from the transport sector.
It also orders up a group of pilot projects for electric vehicles, to spur the spread of power-up facilities, and specifically calls for at least one pilot to target freight activity.
Their plan was developed over many months in coordination with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., but he recently pulled his backing to protest the Senate leadership’s handling of other legislative priorities.
And in the weeks before Kerry and Lieberman unveiled it, a range of highway and other freight-related groups sent word they would oppose it if the bill contained a reported new motor fuels tax that might divert money away from federal highway programs. Kerry broke his silence about the details to expressly deny such a tax was in the measure.
What it does propose is a new federal system of auctioning greenhouse gas emission allowances, capping and shrinking over time the amount of carbon and other gases generated by industries in this country.
It requires an inventory to be drawn up of all sources of GHG emissions in surface transportation, and strategies to cut them. It repeatedly urges transportation authorities to factor freight rail improvements into their planning.
Aiming to cut the use of imported, oil-based fuels such as diesel, the senators’ would give a tax credit for natural gas vehicles including heavy-duty trucks or buses. And it would push the government to expand such alternatives in the federal fleet.
It would also use proceeds from the allowance sales to fund billions of dollars in new infrastructure investments through the Highway Trust Fund.
But it says more than $1.8 billion of that would be spent under discretionary award terms the Department of Transportation calls “TIGER” grants. The DOT used discretionary funds from last year’s stimulus law to support some intermodal, port and multi-modal efficiency projects that don’t normally fit into other DOT aid programs. An equal amount would go into GHG-reduction investments in transportation.
“All the revenues from any new taxes, or ‘pollution fees,’ placed on transportation fuels should be deposited directly into the Highway Trust Fund for investment in a multiyear federal surface transportation program,” said John Horsley, executive director of American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in a statement reacting to the bill.
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