Challenges facing states, transportation sector in response to climate change and resiliency building

December 6, 2019

by Cecille de Laurentis MPP/MCRP ’20

The Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center welcomed Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center and Professor from Practice at Georgetown University Law Center, as the guest speaker for the annual VTC Distinguished Lecture on December 3, 2019.

The transportation sector has become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States, according to Dr. Arroyo, who spoke about the necessity of transforming the transportation sector in response to climate change, as well as some of the overall challenges facing states as they build climate resiliency and reduce emissions.

Launched about ten years ago, the Georgetown Climate Center serves as a resource to state governments for developing climate change policy. Specifically, Professor Arroyo explained, it “works at the nexus of state and federal climate policies.” Professor Arroyo touched on some of the impacts of climate change that many audience members recognized only too well, such as the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters. She presented data showing that billion-dollar disaster events such as Hurricane Sandy are increasing in frequency in the U.S. And of course, Professor Arroyo acknowledged, such storms not only have monetary costs, but disrupt and even take lives in communities. Despite these heavy costs, “states are learning lessons–in the case of Sandy, they learned from Katrina about building back differently, about using disaster funds to build back differently.”

One critical climate issue for the transportation sector is improving evacuation procedures. As an example, Professor Arroyo introduced New Orleans’ Evacuteer.org, developed after Hurricane Katrina. This website houses resources around City-Assisted Evacuation (CAE). New Orleans has installed Evacuspots, statues of a person raising their arm, where residents can go to use CAE services.

Professor Arroyo then turned to transportation impacts in New Jersey. She displayed a picture of a flooded White Horse Pike in the southern part of the state to illustrate some of the challenges faced by New Jersey. She then went on to describe some of the measures that state transportation agencies such as New  Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) are taking to improve resiliency and climate adaptation.

Some of the policy solutions to address climate change in the transportation sector include stronger Low-Emission or Zero-Emission Vehicle requirements, cleaner fuels, and safe and accessible low-carbon transit options. Professor Arroyo highlighted the necessity of social equity in these policies due to the uneven impacts of transportation pollution, which often disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.

Despite the magnitude of the climate challenges New Jersey and other states face, Professor Arroyo is optimistic. Many states are introducing low- or zero-emission vehicle standards, and New Jersey recently rejoined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. “It’s really up to all of us to look at our homes and communities and figure out ways to not only survive but thrive in the upcoming future,” she said in conclusion. “I think we owe it to the next generation.”

Professor Arroyo also facilitates the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a multi-state coalition developing a regional policy platform around transportation and climate change. TCI has been conducting stakeholder outreach to gather feedback on the policy platform, and their online portal is still open for public input.

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