Cut your driving by 30%? Janet Mills’ Climate Council looking at range of costly policies

AUGUSTA – A review of the working documents of Governor Janet Mills Climate Council shows the Transportation Working Group of the sprawling council is looking at serious reductions in the amount of driving Mainers do. One strategy document lays out a plan to reduce the number of miles Mainers drive by 20% to 30%. The policies the group is looking at implementing to achieve those kind of results are far-reaching.

The entire process the Transportation Working Group is engrossed in relies upon a strategy of reducing carbon emissions in Maine’s transportation sector, which is one of the largest sources of emissions, and believed to be a place where emissions reductions can be achieved.

The document laying out the 20% to 30% reduction in miles driven is published under the title “Strategy: Less miles driven in Maine.” It lays out carbon emissions reductions if the strategy of such a dramatic reduction in driving were to succeed.

Under the broad “less miles driven” estimate, Maine would reduce carbon emissions by about 1.1 million metric tons per year if drivers were to drive 20% less miles per year. The savings if Mainers drove 30% less, on average, per year, would be about 1.64 million metric tons of carbon.

The 20% reduction in driving would help the state of Maine reduce about 16% of the carbon emissions the Climate Council is tasked to reduce. A 30% reduction in driving would deliver about a 24% of the desired carbon emissions reduction.

While the Climate Council group did look at the benefits of vehicles with better efficiency, a slide from the group’s strategy discussion shows they are serious about reducing the actual miles Mainers drive.

Among the strategies on the table are “Cap and trade”, which the presentation says would create the sharpest reduction in driving. That is likely a reference to the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), which Governor Mills has been considering. The TCI would implement what amounts to a 17 cent per gallon gas tax on Maine drivers in the first year, and then increase over a period of time.

TCI funds would be dedicated to “green” transportation projects, which rural Mainers in public comment to the TCI group have loudly pointed out, would not benefit Mainers outside a few southern and central Maine cities.

Other strategies the Climate Council is looking at, again, listed in the strategy slide, are a “pay as you drive insurance”, a “miles driven fee” and “congestion pricing.” The slide also lists increasing tolls and raising the fuel tax as strategies.

In the “Less Miles Driven In Maine” estimate, the group members are also looking at reducing the number of miles Mainers commute. Of course, achieving that would require a different approach than policies to modify the behavior of drivers.

The strategy lays out a potential goal of reducing the number of miles Mainers commute from 50 miles to either 25 miles or 10 miles. That would appear to require a change in where most Mainers live, work, or both. According to the data in the document, Maine could achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of nearly 5 million metric tons per year if the average commute could be reduced from 50 miles to 10 miles.

The strategy presentation around reducing the commuter miles Mainers put on their cars appears to focus on “compact development”, a “compressed work week” and “telecommuting.” While many workers might welcome a day or two of work from their home, finding a way to get hundreds of thousands of Mainers to move closer to their work, or employers to move closer to their employees looks like a heavy lift given Maine’s rural nature.

A strategies framework document published in the following meeting shows the Climate Council group aiming for a massive reduction over the next decade.

According to the most recent report from Maine DEP, Maine’s transportation sector was responsible for carbon emissions of 8.5 million metric tons in 2017. Under the Climate Council Framework, the goal would be to reduce that number to 4.56 million metric tons by 2030 and achieve a reduction of about 80%, to 1.66 million metric tons by 2050.

Under the framework, those reductions would not be achieved only through reductions in driving, but also through transitions to biking, walking, carpooling and commuter rail, among others, including public transportation strategies. Still, to achieve those goals, major reductions like those laid out for individual drivers and commuter driving would need to be achieved.

No matter how you look at it, the far-reaching goals of Governor Janet Mills’ Climate Council as they relate to how Mainers drive would bring major changes.

Whether those changes are much higher costs to drivers, significant modification of your behavior, or a move into a compact neighborhood, almost every Mainer would feel the impact of the policies the Climate Council is likely to produce.

Read the Climate Council Transportation Working Group “Less Miles Driven in Maine” Strategy Document:

Read the Climate Council Transportation Working Group December meeting slides laying out strategies such as fuel tax increase, fee for miles driven, pay as you drive insurance and congestion fees.

Read the Climate Council Transportation Working Group Strategies Framework (Excel):

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