President Donald Trump’s Federal Highway Administration on Friday delayed implementation of new measurements for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles on the nation’s highway systems, a move that drew sharp criticism from environmental groups.
The greenhouse gas performance measure, included in a final rule issued by the Obama administration in January, was designed to help policymakers understand how the current transportation system is generating emissions, and how these emissions would be affected by proposed policies and investments.
But the idea of measuring greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector proved problematic to the Trump administration. Provisions of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions from “on-road mobile sources” — cars and trucks — “would benefit from further notice and comment procedures,” the highway administration said in a Federal Register notice.
While the greenhouse gas section of the rule will be delayed “indefinitely,” other portions of the final rule, published in the Federal Register in January by the Obama administration, will be allowed to move forward, the FHWA said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is reviewing its legal options “to contest this unwarranted summary postponement of the duly-adopted regulation,” Deron Lovaas, senior policy adviser for urban solutions at the environmental group, said in an email to ThinkProgress.
The FHWA developed the rule over the course of a year, including a four-month comment period in which the agency received a record-breaking number of positive comments, including from many cities, metropolitan planning organizations, state transportation departments, and businesses, Lovaas said.
The FHWA, part of the Department of Transportation, plans to publish a notice of proposed rule-making in the coming weeks related to the final rule’s greenhouse gas measurement portion. The effective date of this portion of the rule will be delayed until the rule-making is completed, the agency said.
The final rule, “National Performance Management measures; Assessing Performance of the National Highway System, Freight Movement on the Interstate System, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program Final Rule,” established new performance standards for state highway projects that receive federal dollars.
“This commonsense performance standard simply requires that regions and states measure carbon pollution from transportation sources, so their effects are clear and help to improve their plans to reduce pollution,” Lovaas said. “FHWA staff are prepared to implement the rule and political appointees should let them do their jobs.”
In comments filed during the rule-making process, NRDC said the U.S. transportation system is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a major contributor to climate change. “Indeed, the U.S. cannot hope to meet its emissions reduction goals without action on transportation,” the NRDC said.
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that in 2016, for the first time since 1979, carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks, and SUVs surpassed emissions from electric power plants.
A greenhouse gas performance measure would help transportation decision-makers understand how the current transportation system is generating emissions, and how these emissions would be affected by proposed policies and investments, the NRDC argued.
On January 20, the Trump administration immediately directed heads of departments and agencies to take steps to ensure new appointees have time to review new and pending regulations. The administration instructed agencies to temporarily postpone the effective dates of regulations that had been published in the Federal Register but were not yet effective.