Slashing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Northeast and mid-Atlantic could cost about $25 billion over the next decade or so, but those costs would be paid off and the region would start to see net financial savings by 2037, M.J. Bradley & Associates found in a new report.
Including financial and environmental net benefits, the total cumulative social benefits from the emissions reductions could range from $311 billion to $383 billion, said the report funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Officials from the 12 states of New England and the mid-Atlantic plus Washington, D.C., are in early discussions on ways to curb transportation emissions to reach their ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions. One idea the states are considering is to create a carbon cap-and-trade regime similar to the area's Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions program that targets electricity-related emissions.
The Trump administration has proposed to suspend rules that would boost corporate average fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks and revoke the right of California and other states to set their own standards.
The transportation sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry in the U.S., and experts have said curbing those emissions is key to the states and Washington, D.C., meeting their ambitious climate-related goals.
The report said greater fuel efficiency standards, widespread vehicle electrification and increased use of biofuels could help the Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states reduce on-road greenhouse gas emissions by 60% to 80% by 2050.
While making those changes and investments could cost from $12 billion to $25 billion in 2015 dollars over the next 10 to 12 years, annual fuel cost savings by 2030 would outweigh the incremental annual purchase costs for electric vehicles, said the report, "Decarbonizing Transportation: The Benefits and Costs of a Clean Transportation System in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region."
The study determined that by 2037, the regions would begin to glean net financial savings. By 2050, the cumulative net financial savings for the regions' residents could be more than $150 billion or at least seven times the initial costs. The study assumed vehicle miles traveled would grow 0.4% annually in the region for light-duty vehicles and 1.1% annually for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
The report said some of the major benefits of decarbonizing the transportation sector include lower greenhouse gas emissions due to reduced use of gasoline and diesel fuel and lower nitrogen oxides emissions and particulate matter in the air. The resulting significant reductions in fuel costs and higher revenue for electric utilities could be used to maintain existing infrastructure and put downward pressure on future electricity rates, the report said.
Costs associated with rapid transportation decarbonization include higher vehicle purchase costs, investments in necessary electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the use of more renewable liquid fuels and increasing power usage by electric vehicles. Supplying a mix of renewables and natural gas-fired generation for vehicle charging, including using battery storage technology and integrating additional wind and solar onto the power grid, would also add costs, the report said.
The report noted that electric vehicles are not necessarily zero-emissions vehicles. Depending on the grid mix, both nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter will be emitted by some of the power plants that will supply the electricity required to charge electric vehicles. "However, given the existing grid mix in the study, region electric vehicle emissions (grams per mile) are already significantly lower than emissions from new gasoline and diesel vehicles," the report said.