WASHINGTON — Everyone in Congress agrees transportation is a bipartisan matter. But a hearing Tuesday to discuss the impact of transportation on climate change caused sharp partisan discord.
“We don’t need sweeping mandates that ignore economic reality,” said Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “The heavy-handed approach, envisioned by the Green New Deal, doesn’t work.”
Two other Republicans also questioned whether action at the federal level was required, expressing discomfort with a hearing called by Democrats who wanted to investigate how infrastructure policy might evolve in the face of climate change.
“It looks like companies and industry are already being environmentally conscious,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “Why do we need a top-down approach to environmental regulation?”
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., waved a research paper, saying the science of climate change was “a bit murky.”
But Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown University Climate Center responded that, “The scientific record is ... overwhelming.
“You can cherry pick and find a study that may make an alternative point, but we’re living in a world that everybody objectively knows is different from the world we were born into,” Arroyo testified. “We are seeing changes that are much faster and more severe than we had anticipated 30 years ago when I started looking at this.”
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Democrats, on the other hand, accepted global warming as a given, as evidenced by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D- Fla., who represents the Florida Keys and the southern tip of the state.
“We are definitely ground zero for the effects of climate change and sea level rise,” she said. “In order to stave off the effects of climate change we need to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and we need to do it very quickly.”
The Green New Deal, which Graves mentioned, is a set of proposed economic proposals intended to address climate change and economic inequality.
In the decades since the industrial revolution, global temperatures have increased by one degree Celsius and are anticipated to increase by 1.5 degrees before 2052 unless steps are taken to prevent it from happening, according to United Nations projections.
In October, a U.N. panel concluded there would by “unprecedented” consequences unless global warming were reduced within the next 10 years. That warning came as the United States, the world’s second-largest source of carbon dioxide, rolled back the work of previous administrations to control climate change.
Islanders in the Pacific worry they will be swallowed by the ocean, and authorities in California wonder whether to let beach houses on cliffs fall into the sea so barricades can be built to contain the encroaching surf.
The projected rising seas and extreme weather is anticipated to take a toll on the U.S. infrastructure. Both of them find vulnerable targets in roads, bridges, ports, rail lines, airports, transit and wastewater systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency said that in 2017, various modes of transportation were responsible for close to 29 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas, surpassing electric generating plants, some of which have shifted from coal-fired to less polluting natural gas.
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When the focus is solely on modes of transportation, cars and trucks contribute 83 percent of emissions, while airline traffic adds another 10 percent, the EPA said.
A white paper produced for the hearing by the committee’s Democratic staff underscored three things it said should be undertaken swiftly.
—Improve fuel efficiency standards
—Shift from fossil fuels to electricity and other sources
—Reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled
To achieve those goals would require Congress intercede to prevent the White House from its apparent intent to changed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which were established in 1975 after the Arab Oil Embargo.
The committee heard from nine witnesses, among them Daniel Sperling, a member of the California Air Resources Board, who counseled that Congress should “align transportation spending with environmental roles as well as with social goals.”
Arroyo said cities and states are working to concentrate the post-World War II suburban sprawl by building “more compact, livable communities.”
Thomas Lyon, a business professor at the University of Michigan, cautioned federal lawmakers about settling on a single new promising technology as the next great thing.
“This has sent confusing signals to make it hard for the U.S. auto industry to make long term investment plans for alternative fuel vehicles,” Lyon said.