On December 17, 2019, thirteen jurisdictions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic United States officially issued an ambitious plan to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions and investing in sustainable transportation infrastructure. The plan, entitled the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which has taken nearly a year to be drafted, is the first inter-state initiative of its kind and, if implemented, would drastically change the face of transportation along the East Coast.

In this first installment of a four-part series on the TCI, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the initiative and explain its aims. Subsequent installments will cover the initiative’s structure, the plan for Massachusetts, and potential challenges to implementation.

Since 2010, the jurisdictions involved in the TCI have worked together to improve transportation, develop a clean energy economy, and reduce emissions from transportation. In a press release issued in December 2018, nine states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia) as well as the District of Columbia joined together in order to develop a regional policy aimed at capping and reducing carbon emissions from vehicles through a cap-and-invest program or other pricing mechanism. In addition to the official TCI participants, the coalition includes three additional members (Maine, New Hampshire, and New York) which have yet to officially sign on to the commitment made in 2018.

The result of this collaboration is the recently released draft of the TCI, which provides the first clear parameters of what motorists along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia should expect as a result of the initiative. The draft illustrates a regional program that would cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and invest the proceeds in cleaner, more resilient, and more equitable low-carbon transportation systems. In simple terms, the TCI focuses on limiting carbon emissions from fuel by making it more expensive to drive, generating new revenue to be re-invested in clean alternatives.

The TCI’s goals are twofold: reduction of emissions and the creation of sustainable transportation infrastructure. The initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 20-25% across the region over the course of ten years. At the same time, the TCI aims to deliver new, sustainable transportation systems, particularly in areas underserved by current transportation options and disproportionately burdened by pollution.

In terms of the implementation of what is currently a draft framework, each signatory will decide whether to adopt and implement the proposed policy following a period of commentary and suggested changes to the draft. Each state must determine its own plan for implementation. Adoption of the initiative on a regional level will depend on each state, of which some may ultimately decide to opt out.

In Part II of this series, we will discuss the structure of the TCI as proposed and what its implementation would look like for those affected.