MnDOT asks: How can the transportation community help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

shutterstock_173804489In The Conversation, MnDOT, 2017

Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act, legislation put in place in 2007, set goals for energy conservation, renewable energy use, and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. This includes reducing GHG pollution from 2005 levels by 30 percent and 80 percent by 2025 and 2050, respectively.

In February, CTS convened all five of our research, education, and engagement councils for a joint meeting focused on how the transportation community can help reduce GHG emissions. The meeting was held in conjunction with our Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon on February 15.

The meeting opened with a presentation from Tim Sexton, Construction and Operations Section Director at MnDOT, who outlined how the agency is working to set and meet 2025 GHG reduction targets. In addition to setting specific goals for MnDOT’s construction program, facilities, and fleet, the agency may explore building out the MnPASS network, implementing a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) standard, and conducting a potential pilot on advanced biofuels.

Chad Leqve, Director of Environment at the Metropolitan Airports Commission, then shared information about GHG reductions at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP). Efforts have focused on the MSP vehicle fleet, an enhanced energy management system, and solar and thermal power. However, Leqve said, to really “move the needle” in terms of emission reductions, the aviation industry should focus on what’s happening in the air. For example, MSP is adopting performance-based navigation procedures, such as the optimized profile descent (OPD) method, to accelerate emission reductions. Using OPD, airplanes approach the airport in a smooth descent rather than in a stair-step fashion. According to Leqve, MSP’s implementation of OPD could save a minimum of 1.75 million gallons of fuel annually, which translates into 17,200 metric tons of GHG emission reductions.

At Metro Transit, initiatives to reduce emissions have included both facilities and fleets, according to Jason Willett, Finance Director of the Metropolitan Council’s Environmental Services Division. Recent facility-focused efforts include LED lighting retrofits, HVAC improvements, energy audits, and renewable energy initiatives. In terms of the fleet, Metro Transit is running 134 hybrid buses, has explored alternative fuels, and has greatly reduced diesel exhaust emissions (down 95% from 1995 levels).

Wrapping up the presentations, U of M associate professor Carissa Slotterback suggested that collaboration and engagement at the local level are critical for reducing GHG emissions. Her suggestions included looking at the intersection of transportation and land use, focusing on community strategies to drive reductions in VMT, and making transit and other modes more viable. Slotterback also emphasized the benefits of collaboration between transportation and health stakeholders, especially related to such issues as equity impacts.

Following the presentations, council members engaged in a conversation circle discussion. First, attendees offered their ideas on the groups or partners that should be included in conversations about GHG emission reductions. Their suggestions included the following:

  • Communities and residents in rural and suburban areas. It’s important to understand what strategies work in rural areas and how they may be different from those that apply in urban areas. How do we influence and change the behavior of the average resident?
  • Stakeholders beyond the transportation community. We’ll have a greater impact if we partner with utilities, health advocates, and others to build a broader coalition that brings in other resources and expertise.
  • The freight and trucking industry.
  • Pricing. This can be a powerful tool and should be included in this discussion, with a focus on how to communicate to the public why pricing is important.

The meeting closed with council members offering their suggestions for research, engagement, and training needs related to reducing GHG emissions. Ideas included the following:

  • Research related to the total life-cycle emissions for ZEVs, including the energy needed to charge and recycle batteries. What can be done with batteries at the end of their life?
  • Research that can help identify and quantify the co-benefits of ZEVs (e.g., environmental benefits, a quieter, smoother ride). Where are the most efficient uses of these co-benefits? How can they help prioritize where our second-generation efforts should be?
  • Engagement efforts focused on helping people understand what a low-carbon transportation system looks like for them and their future. How does it change their life? How does it make their life better? Will the related cost benefits affect them? How will specific groups, such as rural Minnesotans, really be affected?
  • Efforts focused on exploring how GHG emissions fit into transportation decision making. Most transportation decisions affect emissions, but very few are informed by them. How do we integrate them as a consideration?