Federal Agencies Publish Joint Strategy for Transportation Decarbonization

By Christian Roselund

On 10 January 2023, four federal agencies published a new document that outlines strategies for removing all emission from the transportation sector by 2050. The U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization is a joint effort of the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Transportation has increasingly become a focus in U.S. emissions reductions efforts due to its central role. Transportation is the largest sector at 33% of all emissions, and emissions from this sector have been increasing over the last decade, even as electricity sector emissions have declined.

Much of the focus is reducing emissions from light-duty vehicles (LDV: cars, trucks, and SUVs) and medium-and-heavy duty on-road trucks and buses, as these represent 49% and 21% of total emissions in the sector. Existing federal greenhouse gas reductions goals include reaching 50% of new LDV vehicle sales being zero-emissions by 2030, and the deployment of 500,000 EV chargers, and ensuring that 100% of federal fleet procurements are zero-emission by 2027. For the medium- and heavy-duty sector, the federal government aims for 30% of new vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2030 and 100% by 2040, with 100% of new federal fleet procurements zero-emissions by 2035.

The Blueprint goes beyond existing goals and focuses on three main strategies: reducing demand for transportation through implementing system-level and design solutions, improving efficiency through mode shift and more efficient vehicles, and deployment of zero-emissions vehicles and fuels. The document addresses each of the three categories to work towards a system that is “clean, safe, secure, accessible, affordable, equitable and decarbonized.”

The emphasis on strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the document shows how much the conversation around transportation emissions has changed in recent years. While past efforts to reduce emissions focused almost solely on electrification and avoided strategies that involved a shift to mass transit and change to urban forms, the Blueprint starts with strategies to “increase convenience by implementing system-level design solutions that prioritize access and proximity to work opportunities, community services, and entertainment options.”

In terms of zero-emission vehicles and fuels, the document ranks three options (battery electric, hydrogen, and sustainable liquid fuels) according to their relative long-term opportunity for each of the main transportation applications. The document is clear that battery electric will be the choice for most LDV, but for long-haul heavy trucks rates hydrogen as the most having the greatest long-term opportunity. For medium, short-haul heavy trucks & buses the document ranks battery electric ahead of hydrogen or sustainable liquid fuels, but with less certainty than LDV. For maritime and aviation, sustainable liquid fuels are ranked as having the greatest opportunity.

The recommendations of the blueprint are where the work gets more complex. For example, the strategy calls for policy and regulation to expand the market share and use of EVs. However, this is not a strategy that the Republican Party supports and with a split Congress there are limited paths to achieve this through federal legislation. Most of the progress to date has come from states, where targets are more aggressive. Oregon, Massachusetts, New York and nine other states are moving to adopt California’s mandate that 100% of new car sales must be electric by 2035.

The Biden Administration has had more success with implementing strategies to invest in EV charging infrastructure, including by funding such charging infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Blueprint notes that the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation will be a critical part of efforts to expand charging infrastructure.

And despite a focus on VMT reduction earlier in the document, specific means to do so are missing from the section on applying the strategies.

Source: National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization (U.S. Department of Energy)