MTA Touts Carbon Avoidance in Bid for New Revenue Stream

mta_carbon_avoidance.jpgGraphic: MTA

Without its transit system, the New York region would emit 17.4 million more metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, the MTA announced yesterday. By taking cars off the road, decreasing congestion so the remaining cars emit less, and promoting dense land use patterns, the MTA is making a major dent in the region’s carbon footprint. As a result, the authority is making the case that transit agencies should receive revenue generated by potential federal climate legislation. 

The MTA’s 17.4 million metric tons of annual carbon avoidance is the emissions equivalent of burning two billion gallons of gasoline, or 4.5 coal-fired power plants. The authority calculated the figure using a new methodology developed by the American Public Transit Association, which weighs the benefits of both mode shift and land use patterns. The model also takes into account the emissions that the MTA does generate. The results were verified by The Climate Registry, a leading emissions measurement firm.

The transit system’s central role in maintaining New York’s low carbon footprint comes as no surprise. What’s perhaps more interesting is what the MTA wants to do with this information. If Congress passes a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system  — still a big if — the MTA wants to use its now-quantified environmental benefits as evidence that American transit agencies deserve a slice of the revenues raised by climate legislation. Putting a price on carbon emissions, the MTA says, shouldn’t mean that the authority has to pay for the emissions it does generate. Rather, the agency argues that it should turn a profit because it provides a net reduction in emissions. The MTA previously floated the idea in its 2009 sustainability report

The feasibility of such a scheme remains to be seen. Negotiations over climate and transportation legislation are both in constant flux. It’s also not quite clear what the MTA is lobbying for. A set-aside of total revenues, like in Sen. Tom Carper’s CLEAN-TEA bill? The ability to sell carbon offsets? Regardless, it’s an intriguing idea for generating revenue in the new regulatory environment that comprehensive climate legislation would create.

  • Maybe they could start estimating the carbon impact of service cuts. For instance: Due to eliminating the X Bus line, we anticipate that automobile ownership & usage in Y neighborhoods will increase and result in Z increase in carbon emissions…

  • vnm

    The land use multiplier actually understate’s the carbon avoidance benefits of mass transit, since it incorporates only the transportation aspects of compact land-use, not the benefits that result in less land consumption itself (more room for trees), and lower heating and cooling costs.

  • Moser

    My understanding of Waxman-Markey is that governments will be assigned some number of allowances, and presumably, say, NY State and some of its subdivisions would be sellers rather than buyers of allowances because factors like lower per capita driving. It’s still murky if this will really work out in a way similar to that the MTA is talking about. The Senate keeps kicking around how the transportation side of emissions trading is going to work.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

In a First, Seattle’s Metro Transit Will Be Funded By Carbon Offsets

|
Here’s an interesting new type of revenue stream for transit. The King County Council, which encompasses the Seattle region, recently enacted legislation enabling Metro Transit to receive revenue from the sale of carbon offsets. Stephen Fesler at The Urbanist explains this noteworthy innovation: The initiative, called the Transit Carbon Offset Program, is an incredibly unique strategy […]

Making the Case for Compact Development

|
From the people at Smart Growth America comes word of a new book, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, just out from the Urban Land Institute. In the book, researchers argue that more compact development (such as Atlantic Station, a mixed-use complex in Atlanta built on reclaimed industrial land, shown at […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Silver Will Put Atlantic Yards on Hold Until ’07 (NY1) Shift in Financials Puts Pressure on Silver To Delay (NLG) The $456 Million Blog Scoop That Stalled Atlantic Yards? (AYR) New MTA Chief Actually Uses the Train (News) Long Planned, Transit Projects Get U.S. Help (NYT) Carbon Emissions up One-Quarter Since 1990: Study (Common Dreams) […]

Where Is Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Plan?

|
Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the estimated 400,000 people marching in Manhattan Sunday to urge world leaders to avert catastrophic climate change before it’s too late. And he backed it up by having his administration commit to reducing New York City’s carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, […]

Conference: Climate Change, Land Use, and Transportation Planning

|
Dealing With Global Warming and Traffic Congestion Through Land Use Law Reform Climate change is on the mind of many following the convincing reports this year by the International Panel on Climate Change. Several of the most effective strategies for reducing carbon emissions can be carried out through changes in land use laws that create […]