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Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchange Draft Report

The Role of State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) in Climate Change Mitigation

Held June 14-15, 2011 in Baltimore, MD

Prepared for
Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by
ICF International
1725 Eye Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20006

Contract No. DTFH61-11-F00003

July 20, 2011


On June 14th and 15th, 2011, FHWA hosted a peer exchange in Baltimore, Maryland, focused on "The Role of State DOTs in Climate Change Mitigation."  The peer exchange provided an opportunity for representatives from eight state DOTs to discuss opportunities for mitigating climate change within their state DOTs and when managing their state transportation systems. The states represented were: Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.
The state DOT Peer Exchange consisted of a series of brief presentations on various aspects of climate change mitigation including climate action plans (CAPs), mitigation strategies, creating greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, and communication strategies. Participants were encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussion about their current practice, challenges, and opportunities for future activity. 
This document summarizes the presentations, participant discussions, and cross-cutting themes from the peer exchange and notes additional resources available to state DOTs.  Workshop materials are included in the appendices.

Peer Exchange Summary

The peer exchange began with a short introductory presentation given by Michael Grant of ICF International. Participants were asked to briefly describe the status of climate change mitigation within their state DOT or their state more broadly. Following these presentations, the group discussed challenges and opportunities for climate change mitigation. In the afternoon, Diane Turchetta of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gave a presentation on state CAPs followed by presentations from Elizabeth Habic of Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and Gina Campoli of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) on their states' plans. Michael Grant presented and led a discussion on specific climate change mitigation strategies. The day closed with a presentation by Caroline Paulsen of American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on resources available for state DOTs interested in climate change mitigation.
Day two of the peer exchange began with a recap of issues discussed the previous day. Michael Grant gave a presentation providing context for creating GHG inventories and those states with inventories described their process. For the second portion of the morning, the group discussed strategies and challenges related to communicating about climate change. Participants separated into two groups based on their respective states' level of engagement with climate change to further discuss messages for communicating about climate change and strategies for getting those messages out. The exchange concluded with a discussion of next steps - principally in the form of resources needed.

Presentation and Discussion Summaries

Diane Turchetta, FHWA, welcomed participants to the exchange and explained the series of peer exchanges.

Context for Climate Change Mitigation

Michael Grant provided an introduction on the purpose of the peer exchange, which was to:

Mr. Grant touched briefly on climate change basics, transportation's role in GHG emissions, and the current political/policy context for federal regulation of GHG emissions and climate change action. His presentation also included a summary of responses to a survey that ICF had asked participants to complete prior to the peer exchange. The survey showed that the states represented  have a wide range of activity levels and attitudes toward climate change. However, all states represented are engaged in activities that have the potential to mitigate GHG emissions (e.g., travel demand management, energy efficiency improvements), whether or not they are being implemented specifically for the purpose of reducing GHGs.

Current Mitigation Efforts - Highlights by Peer Participants

Each participant provided brief highlights of his or her state's situation and activities relative to climate change. A summary of each state's current status follows:
Kentucky: Kentucky developed a CAP with the help of a consultant that was completed and published in early 2011. The plan incorporated input from industry and had industry buy-in. However, since that time, there has been no additional activity on climate change. Kentucky supports mitigation actions that have co-benefits, such as using CMAQ money for diesel retrofits, supporting cities' CAPs, providing funding for complete streets, and executing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with local governments for access control.
Vermont: Transportation makes up a large percentage of Vermont's total emissions (47 percent). Vermont's governor has put climate change as a priority and has recently convened a climate cabinet to develop a comprehensive energy plan for the state. Vermont completed its CAP in 2007 with a consultant and has since been working on implementation, though there is still much progress to be made. Actions include the creation of an intercity commuter bus system and the "GO Vermont" ridesharing initiative. All activities are marketed as economic development.
West Virginia: As a primarily rural, coal producing state in a period of rapid political turnover, activity on climate change in West Virginia is difficult. However, the DOT is interested in potentially developing a department-level  CAP in order to prepare for future requirements. The DOT has begun a few new initiatives including intercity bus service and planning for additional bike infrastructure.
North Carolina: North Carolina has had several groups and initiatives examining climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Most recently, the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change released a report with a GHG reduction goal. Most mitigation activity is coordinated by  the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. DOT actions include a "Drive Green, Save Green" campaign and an AASHTO workshop on climate change.
Utah: Climate change is not considered to be an issue in Utah. However, the state DOT is taking or discussing some activities with mitigation benefits. These include: considering a zero-idling policy for construction vehicles, pursuing public-private partnerships for wind generation on excess right-of-way to power streetlights on the freeway, and the "TravelWise" program, which provides ridesharing and vanpool services.
Pennsylvania: Overall, Pennsylvania has put climate change as a relatively low priority compared with other issues, such as balancing the budget and natural gas extraction. The DOT has a "green plan" and the current Secretary has asked for a new initiative on alternative fuels and supportive infrastructure. The DOT currently has specifications and standards for using recycled materials, however, due to the low cost of virgin materials, they haven't been widely used. A new capacity project on I-95 will test several operations and demand management strategies.
Ohio: Due to recent political turnover, most of Ohio's previous climate change initiatives have stopped. Several localities have small transportation-related initiatives and at the DOT level, there is significant use of flexfuel and biodiesel. The DOT uses some recycled asphalt and other materials as price allows. Approval is pending on the State's application for funds  to assess its footprint.
Maryland: Maryland is, on the whole, supportive of mitigation (and adaptation) activities. The Governor has a "Smart, Green, and Growing" initiative that incorporates all state agencies. The state's CAP incorporates 70 strategies and the state generates a progress report annually, though implementation has been slow. Actions at the DOT level include installation of LED traffic signals, planting a million new trees, hybrid bus replacements, and changing the fare structure on buses.

Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change

The group discussed challenges and opportunities. The following issues were identified:


Climate Action Plans - Diane Turchetta, FHWA; Elizabeth Habic, Maryland State Highway Administration; Gina Campoli, Vermont Agency of Transportation

Diane Turchetta began by presenting an overview of CAPs. Some key points were:

Elizabeth Habic of Maryland's SHA explained the development of Maryland's CAP, developed by three working groups covering mitigation, adaptation, and science and technology. Maryland developed its own methodology to measure reductions and the impacts of different reduction strategies. While there has been progress, the plan required some modification to implement it. The DOT expected reductions to come from vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction, however, it is coming from other sources. As currently planned, the DOT and the state as a whole will not be able to meet their goals. While there have been active attempts at interagency dialogue and collaboration, these could be improved.
Gina Campoli of VTrans presented on Vermont's CAP.  Vermont has an extensive history of climate change activity and its reduction goals are set in statute. However, the CAP was highly aspirational and required significant work to implement. In order to refine it, the DOT created its own CAP. Strategies in their plan include expansion of alternative modes and increasing average vehicle occupancy; smart growth and support of local economies; and road, parking, and fuel pricing. Vermont is also active in adaptation due to the magnitude of impacts they are already experiencing in the State. Looking ahead, Vermont would like to enhance its mitigation modeling capacity and the use of metrics.
Subsequent discussion focused around questions of how to set goals, whether setting unrealistic goals could be productive, and how to title a CAP in states where the word "climate" is taboo. There was concern that in transportation agencies  with fiscally constrained long range transportation plans, adopting a plan with lofty goals could be potentially damaging if not met.

GHG Mitigation Strategies

Mr. Grant presented on each of the five major strategies for transportation emissions reduction.  Participants discussed  their current initiatives, concerns, and questions related to that strategy. Strategies discussed were:

Resources to Help in Strategy Development - Caroline Paulsen, AASHTO; Diane Turchetta, FHWA

Ms. Paulsen and Ms. Turchetta explained resources available to state DOTs through AASHTO and FHWA. A complete list of resources discussed throughout the exchange is provided in the "Additional Resources" section of this report.

Day Two: Recap and Discussion from Day One

To begin the second day of the exchange, Mr. Grant led a discussion that allowed participants to ask questions and bring up topics from the previous day. Participants identified some opportunities they saw for future action and possible win-win strategies. One possible strategy was to appeal to the conservation ethic rather than talking about climate change, since being a steward of natural resources may resonate more widely. States recognized that differences in natural resource extraction patterns impacted each state. For example, trucks carrying heavy loads of coal wear down roads faster and, requiring more repairs, but the reliance on coal in West Virginia shapes politics regarding climate change. On the other hand, reliance on tourism focused on the natural environment can incentivize greater conservation activity. Participants also discussed the need for clarity on the future direction  of national transportation policy and the possibility for increased Federal discretionary funding programs to support livability and sustainability initiatives.

GHG Analysis and Inventory Development

Mr. Grant presented an overview of how to develop a GHG inventory including the major steps and some of the main data tools currently in use, as well as analytic issues associated with assessing GHG emissions. Participants discussed their successes, and challenges in inventory development.
One theme of the discussion was the level of technical expertise (particular air quality modeling) required for successful inventory development. This is a concern particularly in states that are in attainment under the Clean Air Act. However, even states in non-attainment may house their air quality monitoring and modeling staff in an environment department. This means that developing an inventory or calculating impacts may require interagency collaboration or working with a consultant who has these capabilities. In addition, many of the existing modeling tools do not take a detailed look at transportation. The main transportation-related tool is EPA's MOVES model. However, State DOT participants indicated that it is a complicated model that requires large amounts of data and incorporates many assumptions. For those states that have completed CAPs using outside consultants, several expressed confusion as to how these consultants came up with their emissions estimates and reduction targets by sector. While the plans provided a good starting point, the states are now unsure of how to replicate or alter the reduction or inventory calculations
States also discussed their statewide travel demand models and issues of how to get upper level management engaged in inventory creation.  

Communicating about Climate Change

Mr. Grant set the context for communication challenges in this time of widespread skepticism by both the public and decision-makers. Participants were then divided into two groups based on how advanced their state's climate change activities were and were asked to discuss messaging and communication techniques. The groups reported back with the following results:
Group 1 - Higher level of mitigation activity (MD, NC, PA, VT):

Group 2 - Limited mitigation activity (KY, OH, UT, WV):

Developing an Action Agenda

During this closing discussion, DOTs expressed what they felt would be the most helpful support and tools that they need going forward. These suggestions are incorporated in the section "Additional Resources."

Findings and Conclusions

Political and institutional hurdles for mitigation activities

Throughout the peer exchange participants mentioned difficulties associated with climate change mitigation in this polarized political climate. Although some state leaders are very supportive of climate change mitigation, other State DOTs may face opposition from the state legislature and Governor's office, or from the public and other outside stakeholders. Widespread opposition to any new forms of revenue generation make new initiative by DOTs or other state agencies difficult. Also uncertainty over future reauthorization of Federal transportation legislation makes it difficult to launch any new initiatives since the framework for transportation funding could change.

Resource and data-related challenges

DOTs do not always have the data that is needed to complete a GHG inventory or to quantify the reductions from particular projects or initiatives. Given the increasing emphasis on return on investment and cost-benefit analysis, DOTs need to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs using appropriate performance metrics, but generating these for GHG mitigation activities is a challenge. States would benefit from increased data availability, funding, and expertise to complete these.

Geographic diversity shapes the context for mitigation

DOTs face different challenges depending on the rural or urban nature of their state, whether their population is increasing or decreasing, and the nature of their state economies (such as whether they depend primarily on tourism, resource extraction, business, or a combination). Some states are grappling with mitigation in the face of limited funding for new construction and high maintenance costs on existing assets, while others are engaged in constructing new capacity (which may appear to work against GHG mitigation objectives). Some states also face a combination of both. 

Opportunities for mitigation

DOTs feel that they may be able to undertake mitigation-related activities that have significant co-benefits or that offer cost-savings and improved efficiency. Some of the low-hanging fruit includes installation of LED lighting, anti-idling policies, use of recycled material, and traffic operations strategies. For those with active mitigation programs, there are opportunities for enhanced interagency collaboration and marketing of existing or new initiatives as part of an economic development strategy.

Climate action planning moving forward

Within some DOTs, developing GHG inventories and initiating climate action planning is a way to move forward and be prepared for potential future Federal requirements related to emissions quantification and reduction. Other DOTs may wish to develop an energy efficiency or sustainability plan, which includes measures that reduce GHGs while focusing on saving costs and improving economic and environmental conditions. Documenting and quantifying existing actions taken by the DOT to reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions can be a good first step and help to establish a baseline for future activities.

Additional Resources

Additional Support for State DOTs

Through the peer exchange discussions, it was clear that there are opportunities for providing additional support to DOTs and MPOs to assist them in preparing for climate change.  In particular,

Tools and Resources

During both days of the exchange, participants shared resources and tools that can be used for mitigation. In addition to the resources listed below, states also discussed possibilities for collaboration with other agencies and departments in state or local government, such as Departments of Environment or Economic Development.

Appendix A: Participant List

Name Affiliation Email
Terry Arellano North Carolina DOT
Kevin Burgess FHWA - West Virginia Division
Gina Campoli Vermont Agency of Transportation
Chris Cole Vermont Agency of Transportation
Gary Fawver Pennsylvania DOT
Elizabeth Habic Maryland State Highway Authority
Dan Johnson FHWA Resource Center
Perry Keller West Virginia DOT
Jesse Mayes Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
Perry McCutcheon West Virginia DOT
Matthew Perlik Ohio DOT
Laura Rinehart West Virginia DOT
Tim Sedosky West Virginia DOT
Brandon Weston Utah DOT
Presenters and Event Organizers
Diane Turchetta FHWA - Main Office
Caroline Paulsen AASHTO
Michael Grant ICF International
Sonya Suter ICF International

Appendix B: Agenda

June 14th, 2011
Note: This is the final agenda compiled prior to the peer exchange. Actual times were altered based on discussion needs. Proceedings on day 1 began at 9:30 due to participant travel delay.

  Day 1
9:00 AM Welcome/Purpose/Introductions
9:15 AM Context:  Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation
  • Overview (Michael Grant, ICF International)
9:30 AM Current Mitigation Efforts:  Highlights by Peer Participants
[5-10 minute summary by each State DOT about what it is currently doing in regard to climate change mitigation]
  • Key questions:
    • What is your state's current political climate in regard to addressing climate change?
    • What actions are being undertaken within your state (broadly) to address climate change and greenhouse gas reduction?
    • How has your State DOT participated?  Are there some actions that you have initiated?
10:30 AM Break
10:45 AM Discussion: Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change
11:20 AM Climate Action Plans
  • Overview of What they Are, Status, and Development (Diane Turchetta, FHWA)
11:45 AM Lunch Break
12:45 PM Climate Action Plans
  • State DOT Participant Presentations
  • Roundtable Discussion
2:00 PM Break
2:15 PM Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies
  • Overview of Range of Strategies (Michael Grant, ICF International)
  • Roundtable Discussion, focusing on different types of strategies
3:30 PM Break
3:45 PM Resources to help in Strategy Development
  • DOT and other resources (e.g., climate change clearinghouse, sustainable highways tool) - Diane Turchetta
  • AASHTO resources - Caroline Paulsen
4:15 PM Key Needs
4:30 PM Adjourn

June 15th, 2011
*Note: These topics may be revised based on the discussion in Day 1

  State DOT Mitigation Peer Exchange - Day 2
8:00 AM Brief Recap from Day 1 / Focus for Day 2
8:15 AM GHG Analysis and Inventory Development
  • Brief introductory presentation (Michael Grant, ICF International)
  • Facilitated discussion
9:45 AM Break
10:00 AM Communicating about Climate Change
  • Brief introductory presentation (Michael Grant, ICF International)
  • Facilitated discussion
11:00 AM Developing an Action Agenda 
11:45 AM Adjourn
Updated: 10/28/2015
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