A clean-fuel standard will lead to cleaner options
(Op-ed for Crain’s New York Business)

by Ben Mandel

Emissions from the transportation sector are harming our climate and the health of New Yorkers. To meet New York’s climate and equity goals, outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, cleaning up our transportation sector must be a priority.

Transforming the largest greenhouse-gas contributor—the transportation sector accounts for 35% of New York’s emissions—might sound daunting, but we already have the policy and technology tools to make an impact.

Adopting a clean-fuel standard would help facilitate our transition to cleaner, safer energy sources and put New York on the path to electrification.

A clean-fuel standard assigns a carbon-intensity score to transportation fuels based on their life-cycle emissions, including impacts on land use.

More polluting fuels would generate deficits, while cleaner fuels would generate credits, resulting in a market signal that would reward the production and use of cleaner fuels including hydrogen, electricity and biofuels. It also would make it easier and more affordable for transportation operators in New York to transition to cleaner alternatives.

Locking in reductions

The emissions standard would decline each year, effectively locking in a continuous reduction in transportation emissions while generating millions in revenue as polluters purchase credits to cover their deficits.

Those revenues could fund transportation priorities, helping to make cleaner technologies such as electric cars and trucks more attainable for New Yorkers.

A clean-fuel standard could reduce life-cycle emissions from existing combustion engines, as vehicles can be adjusted to use alternatives including renewable natural gas, biodiesel and renewable diesel.

In a white paper released last month, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry found that such alternative fuels achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions from vehicles currently on the road is key to meeting New York’s climate goals.

Our reliance on fossil fuels has caused significant harm to communities across the state. Low-income populations and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by vehicle emissions, creating devastating health impacts in some of our most vulnerable communities. Prioritizing transportation electrification, however, would help alleviate the health issues and complications caused by harmful emissions. A study conducted by the American Lung Association found that zero-emissions transportation solutions would save thousands of lives while avoiding tens of thousands of asthma attacks and billions of dollars in health costs.

We can’t afford to wait

Adopting a clean-fuel standard in New York would provide the necessary support to transform the state’s transportation sector. For this reason, the Climate Action Council included a clean-fuel standard in its draft as one of the highest- impact potential tools to clean our transportation sector and reduce our reliance on harmful fossil fuels. As we look to create cleaner, safer communities across the state, we cannot overlook the role that powering our transportation needs with fossil fuels has played in getting us to this place. It’s time to prioritize clean transportation and adopt a clean-fuel standard. New Yorkers cannot afford to wait.

This article previously appeared as an op-ed in Crain’s New York Business