Polluters must pay for New York’s transition to clean transportation

By Julie Tighe | May 13, 2021

Julie Tighe

We have a choice to make on transportation as we transition to a zero-emission sector: We can keep using fossil fuels or we can provide incentives to move to clean fuels. We think that transition should be financed by the same polluters that led us into the climate crisis.

Each year, 5.6 billion gallons of gasoline and 1.3 billion gallons of diesel support New York’s transport system. Our reliance on fossil fuels has harmed our public health; low-income communities living near highways especially experience much higher asthma rates.

New York has a long way to go if we hope to reach the goals established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to improve public health and combat the climate crisis, including cutting emissions 40% economywide by 2030. To reach these goals, we must tackle transportation, which accounts for the largest source (36%) of greenhouse gas emissions in New York State.

Our ultimate goal is to have an entirely zero-emission transportation sector and create a power grid that runs entirely on clean energy. We’re years away from making both of these things a reality, but we’re facing a crisis now. We cannot afford to wait. That’s where a clean fuel standard can help.

A clean fuel standard will force the fossil fuel industry to pay for the climate crisis that they created, while establishing clean energy infrastructure for the future.

A clean fuel standard works to transform the fuels market from one that relies on petroleum-based fuels to a diversified one that uses a variety of clean alternatives, like electricity and renewable diesel. Under a clean fuel standard, the full life-cycle of fuels are assessed on a carbon intensity scale including impacts on land use and captured emissions. Fuels that pollute more, like fossil gas and diesel, generate deficits and cleaner fuels – electricity and renewables – generate credits. The credits will help to fund our transition to electric vehicles and clean fuels, ultimately making the polluters pay for our clean energy future.

Right now, the majority of cars and trucks on the road in New York have internal combustion engines that have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. Widespread deployment of zero emission medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses is further behind, meaning most will rely on fuels for at least the next 20 years. Clean, renewable fuels present an opportunity to reduce pollution now.

A clean fuel standard will also bring billions of dollars to clean fuel supplies and accelerate the move to electric transportation in New York. Based on California’s clean fuel standard program, New York’s gas and diesel use would generate $1.423 billion each year for clean fuel suppliers while reducing fossil fuel use and allowing us to meet the CLCPA’s ambitious goals.

We need to do something about the fuels we rely on every day. We can either continue to burn harmful fossil fuels, or we can transition to cleaner fuels that will actively reduce emissions. Faced with this choice, there is a clear way forward.

Transportation experts know this is an effective and needed policy. This week, the Transportation Advisory Panel recommended to the Climate Action Council to advance a clean fuel standard to reach our climate goals. I applaud the panel for making this recommendation and recognizing the importance and urgency of weaning off fossil fuels.

We have a long road ahead of us, and we can’t afford to let the fossil fuel industry keep driving the crisis they’ve created. The Clean Fuels NY Coalition, comprised of over 50 New York environmental, public health, agricultural and business organizations representing over 1,600 businesses, is calling on the state legislature to pass bills A862 and S2962 to adopt a clean fuel standard.

Julie Tighe is the President of the New York League of Conservation Voters.