The draft reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program (highway and transit) in the House of Representatives is filled with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often by seeking to encourage compact development (smart growth) policies. Dr. Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation discovered an interesting definition in the draft: “sustainable modes of transportation” means public transit, walking, and bicycling” (Section 333(P)7, page 219, accessed November 18, 2009).
This definition would mean that a Toyota Prius that emits one-half as many grams of greenhouse gases per passenger mile as a transit system (not an unusual occurrence) is not sustainable transportation, while the transit system is. There will be more cases like this as time goes on, as vehicle fuel economy improves and the impact of alternative fuel technology is expanded. This is irrational and the worst kind of ideology.
It is possible, of course, that this is simply sloppy legislative drafting. But given the persistence of the compact development lobby and its contribution to pending legislation in Washington in the face of respected research demonstrating its scant potential, something else may be operating. The wording may betray an agenda more concerned with forcing people to accept the favored (and anti-suburban) lifestyles that an urban elite has long sought to impose on others than it is to reduce greenhouse gases. Sustainability in greenhouse gas emissions is not about the hobby horses of one group of advocates or another, it is rather about reducing greenhouse gas emissions as efficiently as possible. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the rest of Washington needs to focus on ends, not means.
Provisions that pick particular strategies, without regard to their effectiveness, have no place in a crusade so much of the scientific community has characterized in apocalyptic terms. Moreover, such disingenuousness, in the longer run, could whittle away the already apparently declining support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.