The U.S. transportation sector is responsible for one-third of all domestic carbon emissions. In response, the Biden administration released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization: A Joint Strategy to Transform Transportation early this year. Developed by the Departments of Energy (DOE), Transportation (DOT), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the EPA, it is designed to eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the U.S. transportation sector by 2050 and provide a “framework of strategies and actions” to achieve its goal.
The Blueprint is built upon five guiding principles:
- Implement Bold Actions to Achieve Measurable Results: Act upon the urgency of the climate crisis, and seize the critical opportunity to improve lives by prioritizing efforts that measurably and rapidly reduce GHG emissions and improve health outcomes, especially for overburdened communities.
- Embrace Creative Solutions Across the Entire Transportation System: Evaluate a broad set of solutions to reduce emissions, including improved land-use planning; infrastructure investments; and new policies, technologies, and business models that support clean modes of travel and zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) for passengers and freight.
- Ensure Safety, Equity, and Access: Focus on approaches that prioritize safety; include community engagement; address consumer needs and reduce emissions; expand accessibility and affordability of travel; distribute benefits more equitably and address disproportionate burdens; enhance infrastructure resiliency to a changing climate; and improve quality of life, health outcomes, and economic opportunity, particularly in overburdened and historically underserved communities.
- Increase Collaboration: Create and support collaborative programs that leverage the combined expertise of the DOE, the DOT, the EPA, HUD, and other federal partners, and expand the federal government’s partnerships with regional, state, local, and tribal governments; private industry; community-based organizations; and other stakeholders.
- Establish U.S. Leadership: Position the United States to lead the global race to clean transportation solutions, creating well-paying domestic jobs, strengthening U.S. energy independence and security, and developing robust and sustainable new domestic and international supply chains for clean transportation technologies.
Three key strategies
The Blueprint provides a comprehensive, system-level perspective of the entire transportation system across all passenger and freight travel modes and fuels and lays out three key strategies to achieve decarbonization:
- Increase convenience by supporting community design and land-use planning at the local and regional levels that ensure that job centers, shopping, schools, entertainment, and essential services are strategically located near where people live to reduce commute burdens, improve walkability and bikeability, and quality of life.
“Because every hour we don’t spend sitting in traffic is an hour we can spend focused on the things and the people we love, all while reducing GHG emissions.”
- Improve efficiency by expanding affordable, accessible, efficient, and reliable options like public transportation and rail, and improve the efficiency of all vehicles.
“Because everyone deserves efficient transportation options that will allow them to move around affordably and safely, and because consuming less energy as we move saves money, strengthens our national security and reduces GHG emissions.”
- Transition to clean options by deploying ZEVs and fuels for cars, commercial trucks, transit, boats, airplanes, and more.
“Because no one should be exposed to air pollution in their community or on their ride to school or work and eliminating GHG emissions from transportation is imperative to tackle the climate crisis.”
The Blueprint is characterized as “the first comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to decarbonizing the transportation sector that aligns decision-making among agencies and identifies new and innovative opportunities for collaboration that are critical to achieving our shared vision of a future decarbonized transportation system.”
The Blueprint identifies six categories of “levers” federal agencies can utilize “to enable and support a transition to a sustainable transportation future”:
- Policy and Regulation: The federal government, along with regional, state, local, and tribal governments, can use a variety of policy and regulatory levers to help enable transportation sector decarbonization. Policies and regulations include:
- Market incentives;
- GHG and fuel economy standards;
- Infrastructure compatibility standards;
- Prioritization of zero-emission transportation projects in discretionary grant programs;
- Transit-oriented development policies to support reliable, frequent, and affordable public transportation services;
- Transportation-demand management programs (e.g., ride-share and vanpool programs and employer-based trip reduction programs);
- Investments in walking and biking infrastructure;
- Transportation planning;
- Programming processes and procurement; and
- Economywide policies, such as carbon pricing, sustainable fuel standards, or renewable fuel standards.
- Infrastructure, Industrial Investments, and Financing: Investments in infrastructure are critical to enable decarbonization, including supporting a transition to ZEVs, the production and delivery of sustainable fuels, and operational improvements through travel demand management. Example areas for financing are:
- Battery electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure for all on-road vehicles and other applications of battery technologies and other zero-emission fueling infrastructure for rail, off-road, maritime, and aviation, as well as grid transformation and upgrades to enable transportation electrification;
- Manufacturing of ZEVs, batteries, and fuel cells and the production of sustainable fuels such as hydrogen and sustainable biofuels, including industrial investments to strengthen supply chains and improve access to critical minerals;
- Transit and rail investments for building new systems and expanding service on existing systems;
- Safe infrastructure for active transportation options like walking and biking and shared micro-mobility options such as scooters and e-bikes;
- A fix-it-first-and-fix-it-right approach to road and bridge investments that prioritizes repairing and modernizing existing roadways before expanding capacity;
- Smart planning and improved system operations; innovative uses of the transportation right of way, such as siting renewable energy technologies on highway or rail properties; and other cross-sector strategies; and
- Accelerating the transition to ZEV and engine technologies.
- Research and Innovation: Reducing the cost of clean transportation options will be required to drive the scale of adoption needed for sector-wide decarbonization, as well as to achieve market pull to accelerate adoption. Agencies, in close collaboration with DOE National Laboratories, are advised to strategically advance research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) and deployment to improve performance and reduce costs of clean energy solutions and support the development of new and higher-risk (but potentially higher-reward) technologies collaboratively with the private sector while also leveraging universities, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations.
- Data and Analytic Tools: The public and decision-makers need accurate and accessible information to understand the benefits of clean mobility options, such as improvements to air quality, heath and quality of life, and their implications for the rest of the energy systems and the economy. Timely and reliable data and analytic tools are critical to inform and guide decisions by consumers and others, ensure equitable outcomes, and adjust course during this monumental transition.
- Workforce Education and Training: As the country transitions to a clean energy economy, there are opportunities to create new, well-paying jobs. To create that workforce, all levels of government and the private sector should invest in high-quality training and education programs connected to well-paying jobs. Such programs may include pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships.
- Stakeholder Engagement and Public-Private Partnerships: Engagement and partnerships with local and international governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders are necessary to achieve decarbonization. All levels of government and the private sector should align their efforts to enact solutions through technical assistance and collaborative work. The federal government must provide leadership, set the course, and provide long-term confidence and stability during the global transition from fossil fuels. Achieving near- and long-term energy and climate goals will require building consensus among different stakeholders and coordinated action.
Specific subsector strategies and goals
The Blueprint identifies seven transportation modes, referred to as subsectors, and outlines decarbonization goals for each type of transportation.
- Light-duty vehicle (49% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Achieve 50% of new ZEV sales by 2030, supporting a pathway for full adoption, and ensure that new internal combustion engine vehicles are as efficient as possible.
- Deploy 500,000 EV chargers by 2030.
- Ensure 100% federal fleet procurement is zero-emission by 2027.
- Medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses (21% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Aim to have 30% of new vehicle sales be zero-emission by 2030 and 100% by 2040.
- Ensure 100% federal fleet procurement is zero-emission by 2035.
- Off-road (10% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Work to establish specific targets.
- Focus resources to develop technology pathways and set efficiency and ZEV and equipment targets.
- Aviation (11% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Reduce aviation emissions by 20% by 2030 when compared with a business-as-usual scenario.
- Achieve net-zero GHG emissions from the U.S. aviation sector by 2050.
- Catalyze the production of at least 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) per year by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050—enough to supply the entire sector.
- Pipelines (4% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Work to establish specific targets.
- By 2036, repair or replace 1,000 miles of high-risk, leak-prone, community-owned legacy gas distribution pipeline infrastructure, as well as an estimated reduction of 1,000 metric tons of methane emissions.
- Eliminate leakages, and enable the use of pipelines for clean, sustainable fuels.
- Maritime (3% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Continue to support the Zero-Emission Shipping Mission (ZESM) goals to ensure that 5% of the global deep-sea fleet is capable of using zero-emission fuels by 2030, at least 200 of these ships primarily use these fuels across the main deep-sea shipping route, and 10 large trade ports covering at least 3 continents can supply zero-emission fuels by 2030.
- Support the U.S. domestic maritime sector by performing more RD&D into sustainable fuels and technologies, and incentivize U.S. commercial vessel operators to move toward lower GHG emissions.
- Work with countries in the International Maritime Organization to adopt a goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050.
- Rail (2% of current transportation emissions) goals:
- Work to establish specific targets.
- Focus resources to develop technology pathways and set efficiency and ZEV targets.
- Encourage greater use for passenger and freight travel to reduce emissions from road vehicles.
The Blueprint makes it clear that the current administration is deeply committed to the necessary changes to achieve decarbonization in the transportation sector. All subsectors within the transportation industry are advised to take note of the goals within each transportation mode and take proactive steps to ensure they are prepared to achieve net-zero emissions by the timelines outlined within the Blueprint.