The transportation sector is now the biggest contributor to US carbon dioxide emissions, beating the power sector, which has long-held that dubious distinction since 1979, according to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA).
While the difference is small — 32.1 for transportation versus 31.7 percent for power plants — it highlights the move toward clean energy sources in the US. In 2005, about half of US electricity came from burning coal compared to about one-third now.
This percentage will likely drop even lower if the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan takes effect. The emissions rules, currently tied up in court, would require existing coal-burning power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
The EIA report also highlights how hard it is to cut transportation emissions.
While electric vehicle sales in the US continue to rise — up 28 percent from April 2016 compared to April 2015 — oil remains the leading source of fuel for cars, trucks and planes and its responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions from transportation.
Companies are increasingly installing solar panels and purchasing renewable energy to supply their power needs. But rising transportation emissions show a need to also focus on corporate fleets, says Nate Springer, who manages BSR’s Future of Fuels initiative. This B2B effort, whose member companies include Walmart and UPS, provides tools and partnerships to accelerate progress to low-carbon road freight.
“There is no doubt that reducing emissions in line with global climate goals for in the US is a big challenge for much of transport as compared to electricity — there’s just fewer tools in the box today, especially for air and freight,” Springer told Environmental Leader in an email. “And yet it’s accelerating: companies can already take advantage of cost-competitive hybrids, EV’s, and even hydrogen vehicles for many personal vehicle and short-haul fleets or last-mile vehicles.
“Currently available, cost-effective, and proven efficiency technologies could save 624 million tons of CO2 by 2022 if adopted by freight fleets, according to one study. And most airlines are already using lower carbon jet biofuels. Our members UPS and Walmart are seeing results: Walmart doubled its fleet efficiency since 2005 and UPS is on track to drive 1 billion alternative fuel and advanced technology miles by the end of 2017.”
In a 2014 report, BSR outlines how companies can lower the environmental impact of their heavy duty transportation: understand the total footprint, optimize use of available fuels and vehicles, collaborate to enable low-carbon solutions, and advocate for a better policy environment.
“Today, there are ways to do all of these,” Springer said. “Companies can understand their impact by participating in programs like EPA’s SmartWay or our Clean Cargo Working Group, they can optimize using our Fuel Tool or existing efficiency technologies and fleet optimization software that are available in all modes of transport, they can collaborate through BSR, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, and advocate for a better environmental by adopting a science-based target to set their goals, then work with their suppliers, fleet managers and policymakers to accelerate progress.”
Policy makers are trying to reduce transportation emissions.
For almost a decade the US has been increasing the amount of ethanol that must be blended into gasoline via the Renewable Fuel Standard program. While corn farmers and the biofuels industry say the ethanol mandates aren’t aggressive enough, the oil industry has pushed back saying the ethanol volumes aren’t safe for cars on the road and will raise gas prices at the pump, which are on the low end of there they have been in recent years. And, as Grist points out in an article, there’s also a debate over whether ethanol is better or worse than gasoline when it comes to carbon emissions.
Additionally, the Obama Administration has set greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses. The second phase of these standards is slated for release this summer.
“The Phase 2 fuel economy/GHG truck standards will play an important role in reducing emissions from the freight sector, the fastest growing source of emissions in the transportation sector,” Ceres’ Carol Lee Rawn, director of the organization’s transportation program told Environmental Leader. “Corporations can take steps to reduce their transportation carbon footprint by supporting strong vehicle and fuel standards in order to ensure that cleaner vehicles and fuels are available, as well as buying fuel efficient vehicles for their fleets, improving fleet management through improving loading, routing and driving approaches, exploring electrification options and installing workplace charging for employees and customers.”