In Commonwealth Magazine
FROM THE GRIDLOCK of the Southeast Expressway to Logan Airport and the Cape Cod bridges, traffic congestion is so commonplace in Massachusetts that it’s easy to forget transportation is also our leading cause of climate pollution.
All this movement of people and goods fuels the extreme weather trends that threaten our coastal communities, statewide economic vitality, and the very infrastructure that our cars and trucks depend on. Transportation is also responsible for dangerous pollutants that cause heart and lung disease — especially in neighborhoods that border major highways, roads, and distribution centers.
Simply put, Massachusetts cannot fight the climate crisis or achieve environmental justice without a clean transportation system. That’s why lawmakers zeroed in on transportation in the Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy. The ambitious law, enacted this year, calls for the Commonwealth to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, while establishing short-term goals to steadily but aggressively reduce pollution in specific sectors, including transportation. It’s among the boldest climate laws in the nation and boasts widespread support from major businesses that want to give Massachusetts a significant advantage in building the climate-smart economy we need to stave off disaster.
Now it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. Literally.
The targets of the Next Generation Roadmap are key legal commitments to guide Massachusetts toward its climate goals. But we won’t meet them without establishing the kinds of policies that will enable our success.
For example, Massachusetts has a goal of getting at least 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. Although this technology is advancing and the market is growing at an impressive rate, we are not even close to the rate of sales we’ll need to meet that goal.
As State House leaders work to shore up the Commonwealth’s leading role in the burgeoning offshore wind industry, we must remember this exciting industry is meant not just to deliver clean electricity but to help us cleanly electrify other, dirtier sectors like transportation. The next round of climate policies and investments must prioritize cleaning up how we all get around — as several bills pending in the Legislature would accomplish.
Massachusetts must make it easier to charge up. This involves better incentives to help people install at-home charging systems. But we also need a clear plan, like that contained in H.3347/S.2151, to install more public charging infrastructure — especially in environmental justice communities, where many drivers may not have easy access to at-home charging.
Massachusetts must phase out fossil-fueled vehicles. We can’t afford to have polluting vehicles on the road in 2050. Because new cars last for years, lawmakers must be well ahead of this goal. The Legislature should pass H.3541 to formalize a plan to end the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
Massachusetts must increase and expand the electric vehicle rebate. The current $2,500 rebate, while significant, trails other leading states. Moreover, a rebate is only as good as one’s ability to front the money. We must develop a system to apply the rebate at the point of sale, which will help lower-income buyers access electric vehicles, as H.3347 would require.
Massachusetts must clean up freight and delivery. Businesses are eager to meet their own climate goals and to save money on fuel and maintenance, and want to switch to electric trucks and vans. But many of those models don’t yet exist. The state should adopt the Advanced Clean Trucks and Heavy Duty Omnibus rules to set new manufacturer standards to accelerate the shift and dramatically reduce trucking pollution. The Baker administration is considering these rules, and lawmakers should also consider other policies to support these vehicles, such as building out charging infrastructure.
The focus on electric vehicles is not to downplay the need for improved public transportation or walking and biking infrastructure. These, too, are crucial, not only for our climate, but to provide better, safer, and more equitable travel alternatives. Transit vehicles, especially buses and commuter trains, must also transition to electric power as soon as possible.
But most transportation in Massachusetts still happens by automobile, and there is simply no way to clean our economy on the timeline we need without electrifying cars, trucks, and SUVs. The Next Generation Roadmap shows us where we need to go. Let’s get moving.
Joan Meschino is a state representative from Hull and Alli Gold Roberts is director of state policy at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres.