Energy & Technology

Making the Case for Plug-in Electric Vehicles: National Security

This is the first post in a three-part series that examines the reasons to consider purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle. Part 2  Part 3

Though it is unlikely that the first generation of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will be adopted by the masses, there is a compelling case for everyday consumers to take a look at these vehicles when they become available this winter.  There is no silver bullet to solving climate change, but PEVs could play an important role as one of a broader set of solutions. As is the case for many climate solutions, the benefits from PEVs are more than environmental. In this three part series, I’ll make the case for PEVs based on the gamut of issues that matter to Americans – national security, the environment, and their wallets.

FutureGen 2.0

The first two weeks of August saw two big news items from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) related to carbon capture and storage (or CCS, for an overview of CCS see the our Climate TechBook CCS brief). First, on August 5, DOE announced its plans for FutureGen 2.0. One week later, President Obama’s Interagency Task Force on CCS delivered its final report and recommendations regarding overcoming “the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to ten commercial demonstration projects online by 2016” (see the separate post regarding the task force’s report).

Why is this FutureGen announcement from DOE important? CCS is anticipated to be a key technology for achieving large reductions in U.S. and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (for example, see the recent projection from the International Energy Agency that CCS could provide nearly one fifth of all global GHG emission reductions by mid-century). Initial commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects are a critical step in advancing CCS technology; these projects provide valuable experience and confidence in “scaling-up” CCS technologies and technology improvements and cost reductions from “learning by doing.” The aforementioned report from the Interagency Task Force on CCS notes that FutureGen is one of ten planned CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE (see Table V-2 of the task force’s report for the list of seven power-sector and three industrial CCS projects).

The FutureGen project has had a somewhat tumultuous history. In 2003, DOE announced its plan to work with an industry consortium on the FutureGen plant to demonstrate commercial-scale integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology coupled with (pre-combustion) CCS at a single new coal-fueled power plant (with DOE covering most of the project’s costs). In 2007, the industrial consortium selected a site in Mattoon, IL, for the FutureGen power plant. In 2008, though, DOE abandoned the idea citing the escalating cost estimates for the FutureGen project and decided instead to pursue cost-sharing agreements with project developers to support multiple CCS demonstration projects (this time with DOE covering a smaller fraction of project costs). DOE received only a small number of applications for this restructured FutureGen approach, and this change of plans came in for some criticism from the Government Accountability Office (the GAO report also provides a helpful overview and history of what might now be referred to as “FutureGen 1.0”).

In 2009, the Obama Administration revived plans for a single FutureGen plant and restarted work with the industrial consortium on preliminary design and other activities, promising a decision in 2010 on whether to move forward with the project. That decision came on August 5 and included another shift in DOE’s plans for the FutureGen project (now dubbed “FutureGen 2.0”). Energy Secretary Chu announced the awarding of $1 billion in Recovery Act funding for the repowering of an existing power plant in Meredosia, IL, as a coal-fueled power plant using oxy-combustion and CCS. With “FutureGen 2.0,” DOE decided to change from building a new plant to repowering an existing one and chose a different technology (oxy-combustion with CCS rather than IGCC with CCS).

When subsidizing initial CCS demonstration projects, policymakers should support a variety of relevant technologies and configurations. With respect to applying CCS technology to coal-fueled electricity generation, there are factors that are expected to make certain variants of CCS technology more appropriate for certain circumstances. These factors include the application of CCS with: new plants vs. retrofitting/repowering existing plants; different coal types; and various geologic formations for CO2 storage. Importantly, there are three types of CO2 capture technology—pre-combustion, post-combustion, and oxy-combustion—with the latter two appropriate for use at existing coal-fueled power plants (see our Climate TechBook CCS brief for details). 

With its new approach for “FutureGen 2.0” DOE has focused on large-scale demonstration of oxy-combustion. Of the ten CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE, FutureGen will be the only one to use the oxy-combustion technology. Of the 34 large-scale power plant CCS projects worldwide tracked by MIT, only four (counting FutureGen) use or plan to use oxy-combustion, and FutureGen will be the only such oxy-combustion project in the United States. Given the greater focus so far given to the two other alternative CCS approaches, oxy-combustion is likely the CCS technology that can most benefit from the FutureGen large-scale demonstration project.

With its new approach for “FutureGen 2.0,” DOE is taking an important step in demonstrating a portfolio of different CCS technologies. Such demonstrations, along with other supportive government RD&D policies, provide a critical “push” for low-carbon technologies. Long-term policy certainty (such as from a GHG cap-and-trade program) for the private sector regarding future GHG emission reduction requirements can provide the necessary technology “pull” to guide private investments in widespread deployment of CCS and other low-carbon technologies.

Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow

CCS Recommendations Hit President’s Desk

Last week, the Obama Administration’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) released its final report and recommendations. President Obama created the task force, co-chaired by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and involving 14 executive departments and federal agencies, in February. The President’s directive charged the task force with delivering “a proposed plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.”

Keeping PACE with the States

Despite the uncertain future of comprehensive federal climate legislation, states continue to move forward with energy policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money on their electricity bills. One policy in particular is quickly gaining traction in the states: Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, programs. Twenty-three states plus Washington, DC, have PACE legislation, and 13 others have proposals on the table including Kentucky, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

PACE is an innovative funding mechanism that addresses many of the financial barriers to energy efficiency and renewable energy retrofits on residential, commercial, and industrial properties. In general through PACE states delegate authority to local governments to designate an improvement district and issue bonds, which provide low-interest, long-term loans to property owners for energy saving measures. The loans are paid back through an addition on the property tax bill and often over a 20-year period. If the property is sold, the debt transfers to the new owner. PACE programs usually create a lien on properties that is “senior” to (i.e., takes precedence over) other obligations on the property.

Because PACE is run by local governments, there are different styles of implementation for the various program elements including: program administration, underwriting criteria, source of funds, eligible measures, and quality control.  For example, San Francisco uses a third party for administrative functions and issues “mini-bonds” to be purchased by a pre-determined investor, while Babylon County, in New York, uses in-house staff to administrate and has repurposed an existing solid waste fund for financing. 

The White House strongly supports initiatives that make it easier for homeowners to get loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements, and PACE programs have benefited from $150 million in stimulus funding. In an effort to standardize best practices and ensure that PACE is good policy for all stakeholders, the White House released a Policy Framework for PACE Financing Programs in October 2009. The measures initially accelerated the adoption of PACE and served as a guide for the second generation of PACE programs.

However, both existing and developing programs have been slowed or halted entirely due to opposition from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  In May, both agencies sent letters to mortgage lenders reminding them that an energy-related lien may not be senior to a federally backed mortgage. The letters place a burden on the lender to determine if they originate mortgages in any state or locality that permits a first lien priority on energy loans. Proponents of PACE and its senior lien provision say it is a necessary requirement for local governments to raise funds. 

Following Freddie and Fannie, on July 14 the Federal Housing and Financing Agency (FHFA) released a statement of their opposition to PACE. As a result, the California attorney general’s office has sued the FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac for their actions and unwillingness to guarantee properties with PACE assessments. The July 14 lawsuit asks the court to declare that PACE does not violate the standards of Fannie and Freddie and also requests an injunction to prevent the agencies from taking action against home owners with PACE loans. Congress is also working on legislation that would require Freddie and Fannie to use underwriting standards that would facilitate the use of PACE programs. With a scarcity of financing options that overcome the high upfront cost of retrofits, this is an issue worth watching closely.

Olivia Nix is the Innovative Solutions intern

Understanding GHG Emissions from Plug-In Electric Vehicles

A hot topic in environmental circles lately has been the impact plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will have on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Some are optimistic about PEVs’ emission reduction potential, while others are pessimistic. The truth is, not surprisingly, somewhere in between. In order to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, we must both move to low carbon fuels (including electricity, which has zero GHG emissions from the tailpipe) and reduce the carbon intensity of the electrical grid.

U.S. Agriculture & Climate Change Legislation: Markets, Myths & Opportunities

July 2010

By: Jessica Shipley, Solutions Fellow, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Sara Hessenflow-Harper and Laura Sands, Partners, The Clark Group, LLC


Download this paper

Press release



Any climate and energy legislation will impact U.S. farmers and ranchers, and this paper examines the many legitimate concerns the agriculture sector has with such legislation. There have been a large number of economic analyses, modeling exercises, and reports published in the past several months based on an array of climate policy assumptions, and the resulting scenarios have ranged from realistic to doomsday. The results of these efforts have often been skewed or cherry-picked to support particular arguments. This brief tries to objectively assess the impacts of climate legislation and identify ways that such legislation could be shaped to provide greater opportunities for the sector. U.S. farmers have long exhibited adaptability and entrepreneurship in the face of changing circumstances, and they will be presented with a host of new markets and opportunities with the advent of climate and energy legislation.

Farmers have many reasons to be engaged participants in the climate and energy policymaking process. It is imperative that the United States take constructive action on climate and energy to maintain a leading role in the new energy economy. In shaping those actions, productive engagement by American farmers can help ensure that U.S. policy addresses their concerns and embodies their ideas. America’s farmers will be the best advocates of both the principles of a robust offset market and the creation of other market and renewable energy opportunities.

Key takeaways from this brief are:

  • American farmers and industry will face greenhouse gas limitations regardless of what happens in the legislative and regulatory process. Market-driven requirements from the private sector (e.g. Walmart), regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state or regional programs, and nuisance lawsuits will continue to require greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be reduced going forward. Legislation can simplify requirements on business, provide incentives and new markets for farmers, and provide mechanisms to lower the risks and costs to all sectors of the economy. In fact, without legislation, the piecemeal nature of GHG limitations will likely result in a worse outcome for farmers.
  • Costs to farmers from GHG legislation can be substantially mitigated by cost-containment mechanisms. Though there is potential for increased costs (namely energy and fertilizer input costs) to farmers, mechanisms potentially available in legislation can significantly minimize price volatility and cost impacts to farmers and the economy as a whole, even though not all these can be adequately reflected in economic modeling.
  • The opportunities for farmers to realize a net economic gain from climate legislation are significant. Offsets, biofuel and biopower, renewable power, and the ability to receive payments for multiple environmental benefits from well-managed working farmlands are among the new potential opportunities. The key to making this a reality is climate and energy policy that is shaped by the agriculture sector and farmers themselves.
  • Climate change and resulting weather patterns pose numerous risk management concerns for agriculture. The strong scientific evidence behind climate change should concern farmers because of the significant new risks climate change poses to farmland and the rate at which those risks are increasing.
Jessica Shipley
Laura Sands
Sara Hessenflow-Harper

Midwest States Pursue Clean Energy and Jobs – and Highlight Role for Feds

The Midwest Governors Association (MGA) recently held a briefing in Washington for congressional and federal agency staff to highlight key regional developments in clean energy job creation. As the Senate prepares to take up energy legislation this summer, state government officials and representatives from business groups and environmental organizations in the Midwest described the progress they have made promoting renewable energy in order to create jobs, benefit the environment, and increase energy security.

Freight Transportation

Quick Facts

  • Transportation-related activity – including the movement of people and goods as well as the purchase of transportation-related products and services – accounted for over 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States in 2002 with a value of over $1 trillion. That same year, over 19 billion tons of freight, with a value of $13.3 trillion, was carried over 4.4 trillion ton-miles in the United States.[1]
  • Inefficiencies and poor maintenance throughout the transportation sector hurt the economy. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), bottlenecks for trucks on America’s highways caused 226 million hours of delay and cost $7.3 billion in 2006.[2] Almost half of the locks on inland waterways maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers are more than 60 years old, even though the planned design life of these locks was 50 years.[3]
  • Trucks transport 70 percent of all goods by weight in the United States and emit 75 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from freight transportation.[4] GHG emissions from freight trucks increased by 80 percent from 1980 to 2007 while the amount of freight shipped in trucks measured in ton-miles has grown by over 100 percent in that same period.[5]


Freight transportation is a critical component of the American economy. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the movement of goods played a significant role in U.S. economic growth in the past two decades. The relative importance of international merchandise trade, and thus the movement of goods, to the overall U.S. economy increased from 12 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2008.[6]

Public policy that affects freight transportation must reflect the sensitivity of the national economy to these policies’ effects on freight. The players in freight transportation span the full spectrum of private enterprise from sole proprietors to very large international corporations. The relative importance of freight transportation within the overall U.S. economy is likely to continue growing, given current transportation trends and the policies of the Obama Administration. For example, President Obama hopes to double exports by 2015 though his Administration’s National Export Initiative (NEI).[7]

Freight transportation is a complex mix of publicly and privately managed systems – the roads and rivers used by trucks and barges, respectively, are almost entirely managed by the government while the railroads are managed by the private sector. Trucks must share the road with passenger vehicles, and freight rail companies sublease their tracks to passenger rail companies to offset maintenance costs.

This overview will focus mostly on truck and rail transport, as they account for nearly 60 percent of freight transport in ton-miles and 80 percent of the sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For more details about aviation and marine, see the Climate TechBook sections on Aviation Emissions Mitigation Strategies and Marine Shipping Emissions Mitigation.

Freight Travel by Mode

There are many modes of transportation for the movement of goods including truck, rail, water, air, and pipeline. By weight and value, most goods are moved on trucks, but the amount of freight moved by rail is comparable when one considers the amount multiplied by distance as measured in ton-miles (see Figure 1).

Because the freight transportation industry is highly competitive, the private sector chooses the most cost-effective mode for transportation. For instance, intermodal transport (using more than one mode) handled less than 11 percent of goods by value in 2008, likely due to the cost of transferring goods between modes. There is evidence that some of the transfer costs are offset by low-cost, long-distance hauls. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates intermodal transport’s share of goods will increase to over 21 percent by 2035.[8]

Each mode of freight transportation offers advantages and disadvantages. Some useful metrics to compare and contrast freight transportation modes are energy efficiency, convenience, and cost.

Energy Efficiency by Mode

When measuring the movement of goods in units of energy consumed per ton-mile, rail is the most energy- efficient form of freight transportation (see Table 1). Using this metric, rail is twelve times more efficient than trucks and almost twice as efficient as ships. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), trains transported a ton of freight 457 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel on average in 2008, a 94 percent increase since 1980.[9] However, fuel efficiency is not a comprehensive metric. For instance, the road infrastructure within the United States is so extensive that in many cases goods delivered by trucks can travel fewer miles than goods moved by competing modes.

Table 1: Energy intensity of domestic transportation modes in the U.S. from 1980 to 2006. 






Percent Change from 1980-2006

Trucks (Btu per vehicle mile)






Trucks (Btu per ton mile)






Rail (Class I) (Btu per freight car mile)






Rail (Class I) (Btu per ton mile)






Ships (Btu per ton mile)






Note: Class I railroads are the largest freight railroad companies based on operation revenue

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Transportation Energy Data Book. 2008. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Transportation Statistics, 2009.


Figure 1: Freight distribution among modes by ton-miles, tons, and value in 2007.

Note that the Commodity Flow Survey is for domestic shipments only; it does not include movements such as ship-to-land imported intermodal transfers.

(1)  Multimodal includes the traditional intermodal combination of truck and rail plus truck and water; rail and water; parcel, postal, and courier service; and other multiple modes for the same shipment.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, 2007 Commodity Flow Survey, 2009.

Convenience by Mode

Which transportation mode is most convenient for moving a good depends on the good itself and the good’s source, destination, and time requirements for delivery. Industrial goods like coal as well as other large and heavy goods tend to be moved by rail and ships. Coal is the good moved second most by weight and the good moved the most by ton-miles, and more than 70 percent of coal is moved by rail.[10]

Rail’s share of freight increases as trip length increases; goods travel 691 miles on average with rail.[11] This explains why rail’s share of freight transport is almost equal to truck’s when the metric is ton-miles, while it carries less than 12 percent of the total tons moved.

Infrastructure constraints limit both ship and rail freight volume. It is simply not possible for many trips to be accommodated solely by rail or ship and the cost of transferring goods from one mode to another is often prohibitive. For many short trips (known as short haul), trucks are the only mode available. Furthermore, in many cases trucks must also be used for the last mile of freight distribution. This helps explain why trucks have such a dominant share of the tons of goods moved (nearly 70 percent in 2007).

One of the most significant advantages for trucks over other modes is the extensiveness of the highway system. The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways is an engineering feat that was recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the United States” by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1994.[12] The nation’s rail and water freight transportation networks are much less extensive geographically than the network of highways and roads, making trucks a faster and more convenient delivery mode for most short- and many long-distance freight trips than these other modes or intermodal options. In fact, the miles of infrastructure for rail actually decreased by 24 percent between 1980 and 2007, while the road infrastructure increased by 5 percent.[13]

Another factor affecting each mode’s convenience is a recently developed inventory strategy known as Just-In Time (JIT). JIT attempts to minimize the amount of goods businesses hold at any given time. Holding goods can entail substantial costs, including the cost of storage.  Thus JIT helps the bottom line for many companies, and frees up more capital to spend on other business needs. This strategy puts increased time pressure on freight transportation, however. There is less tolerance for shipping delays because the receiver’s on-site inventory of goods is not as large. As a result, goods must arrive on time, when expected, and reliably.

Figure 2: Average freight revenue per ton-mile (2006 $)

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Transportation Statistics, 2009.

Cost by Mode

The cost of freight transportation varies greatly by mode and is an important factor in determining which mode is appropriate. Figure 2shows the revenue per ton-mile by mode. The cost of moving goods by airplane and truck is significantly more expensive than by rail or ship.

As mentioned previously, the two most competitive modes are truck and rail, both of which spend most of their revenue on fuel and labor (Figure 3). Rail must pay the complete costs of maintaining the railroad tracks while trucks share road maintenance cost with other vehicles, principally through fuel excise taxes.

Estimating costs for both rail and truck is very complex. Figure 3is provided for illustrative purposes and should not be treated as a definitive breakdown of the costs for either mode. The costs for any movement of goods depend on the current fuel prices, the distance traveled, the level of congestion, and other factors. These cost shares may all vary considerably and thus the cost breakdown by mode is difficult to quantify in the general case.

Figure 3: The cost of shipping goods by truck and rail in 2008.

Note that truck costs are based on a survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute while rail costs are calculated using data from Schedules 410 and 210 of the R-1 annual report filed with the Surface Transportation Board by the Class I railroads.

Source: American Association of Railroads, Rail Cost Adjustment Factor, 2009. American Transportation Research Institute, An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, 2008.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight

Freight contributed 27.9 percent of the U.S. GHG emissions from transportation, or 7.8 percent of total GHG emissions in 2007. This share has grown from 23 percent of transportation GHG emissions in 1990 due to the increased emissions from trucking (see Figure 4).

It is clear from Figure 4that the key challenge to reducing GHG emissions from freight transportation is to reduce the amount of emissions from truck transport. At a high level, there are two ways to accomplish this goal: reduce GHG emissions from trucks or shift more freight transport to less GHG-intensive forms of transport such as rail. The latter option is referred to as modal shift.

Figure 4: GHG Emissions from Transportation from 1990 to 2007 in Million Metric Tons of CO2e.

(1) Fluctuations in emissions estimates reflect data collection problems. (2) Includes only CO2 emissions from natural gas used to power pipelines.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2007, 2008.

Reducing Emissions from Trucks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking the lead in reducing GHG emissions from transportation through its rulemaking authority. In April of 2010, the EPA in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promulgated the first federal GHG standard for passenger vehicles and light trucks, which together accounted for over 60 percent of GHG emissions from transportation in 2007.[14] The agency is currently working on a similar standard for heavy-duty trucks; the EPA expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking by October of 2010.[15] In May of 2010, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum indicating the standards should consider the recommendations in a report released by the National Research Council’s report detailed below.[16] It is unclear how stringent the EPA’s standard will be.

Modal Shift

As mentioned above, convenience and cost determine which mode of transportation is appropriate for the distribution of goods. At least one of these factors must be addressed in order to cause a modal shift – i.e., to change which mode is used to transport a good.

The market for freight transportation is highly competitive in the United States, so most changes will likely come from the private sector. The optimizations or enhancements necessary to cause any modal shift would require significant increases in fuel prices to send a strong signal to freight shippers. Another necessary condition for modal shift is the further containerization of freight; this enables quick transport from one mode to another, encouraging intermodal transport such as truck-to-rail or truck-to-ship movements.[17]

National Research Council Report on Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required the U.S. DOT to enact a first-ever fuel economy standard for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDV). In order to assist in developing this new standard, the National Research Council (NRC) assembled a committee to assess fuel economy technologies for MHDVs.

The final report, released in April of 2010, recommends that a load-specific fuel consumption standard be adopted for medium- and heavy-duty trucks instead of an absolute fuel efficiency standard, as has been done in the past by the EPA with passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. Such a standard would acknowledge that trucks are designed as load-carrying vehicles. Thus, the standard would measure the performance of the vehicle against its intended purpose. The following are other recommendations from the report:

  • The federal government should continue to support R&D to develop MHDV technologies for reducing fuel consumption.
  • An economic/payback analysis should be done based on fuel usage by application and different fuel price scenarios.
  • Congress should consider raising fuel taxes as an alternative to a fuel efficiency mandate for MHDVs.
  • Congress should consider increasing weight and size restrictions on MHDVs.
  • The federal government should encourage the sharing of information related to improved driving techniques.
  • Vehicle regulation should come at the final stage of manufacturing.
  • Congress should help implement a field test for new standards in order to validate them.


Trends in Freight Transportation

From 1993-2007, freight transportation grew by over 35 percent (see Figure 5). Much of this growth came from trucks, which now lead other modes of transportation in the three main measures of goods movement: tons, ton-miles, and value.

These trends can be explained by cost competitiveness and the advent of just-in-time (JIT) inventory management. Low fuel prices throughout the 1990s and much of the 2000s made modes of transportation most dependent on fuel prices (i.e., trucks) more attractive. The rise in popularity of JIT inventory management made businesses more reliant on timely delivery, favoring trucks since they have access to an expansive network of roads and can move product quickly. As a result, trucks gained more and more market share throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

Figure 5: Percent change in ton-miles from 1993-2007.

(1) CFS plus out-of-scope estimates. (2) Multimodal includes the traditional intermodal combination of truck and rail plus truck and water; rail and water; parcel, postal, and courier service; and other multiple modes for the same shipment.

Source:  U.S. Department of Transportation, Freight Shipments in America, 2006.

Current trends will likely continue into the future. Figure 6shows an estimate of the goods by weight and value from 2002-2035. The U.S. DOT estimates that trucks will continue to increase their share of freight transportation.

Mitigation Strategies

Both the private and public sectors play a role in the effort to reduce GHG emission from freight transportation. As mentioned in above, reducing emissions from trucks and encouraging modal shift are the two most effective strategies. Since freight is a highly competitive market, incentives to improve technology and the efficiency of freight transportation already exist and play a major role in both approaches to reduce GHG emissions. However, the government can also influence the market by pricing GHG emissions.

Figure 6: Trends for freight transportation by weight and value.

(1) Intermodal includes U.S. Postal Service and courier shipments and all intermodal combinations, except air and truck. Intermodal also includes oceangoing exports and imports that move between ports and interior domestic locations by modes other than water. (2) Pipeline and unknown shipments are combined because data on region-to-region flows by pipeline are statistically uncertain.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Freight Facts and Figures 2009, 2009.

The following are a list of some policy options that will reduce GHG emissions from freight transportation:

  • Government support: funding research and development, providing financial assistance for environmentally friendly logistics practices such as freight containerization, and EPA’s SmartWay program.
  • Trucks: engine standards, speed limit reduction, increasing size constraints, anti-idling policies including the electrification of rest stops, eco-driving to optimize fuel consumption, the advanced technologies such as use of hybrid electric engines or waste heat recovery, and alternative fuel support, such as support for biodiesel.
  • Logistics: support for a more efficient organization of supply-chain networks, including optimal location of trans-shipment points and freight consolidation and distribution centers.

Related Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) Company Activities


Related C2ES Resources

Climate TechBook. Transportation Overview

Climate TechBook.Aviation Emissions Mitigation Strategies

Climate TechBook. Marine Shipping Emissions Mitigation

Greene, D. L., & Schafer, A. (2003). Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions From U.S. Transportation.

McCollum, D., Gould, G., & Greene, D. L. (2009). Aviation and Marine Transportation: GHG Mitigation Potential and Challenges.

Further Reading / Additional Resources

National Research Council. (2010). Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles.Washington: The National Academies Press.

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2009). Freight Facts and Figures 2009.Washington: U.S. Department of Transportation.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2008). Transportation Energy Data Book.Washington: U.S. Department of Energy.

[1] U.S. Department of Transportation, Freight In America, 2006.

[2] Cambridge Systematics, Inc., Estimated Cost of Freight Involved in Highway Bottlenecks, 2008.

[3] American Society of Civil Engineers. Statement Of The American Society of Civil Engineers Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development On the Budget for The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation For the Fiscal Year 2010. Washington: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2009.

[4] U.S. Department of Transportation, 2007 Commodity Flow Survey, 2009. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2007, 2009.

[5] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2007, 2009. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Transportation Statistics, 2009.

[6] U.S. Department of Transportation, America’s Freight Transportation Gateway, 2009.

[7] U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Commerce - Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Opinion Editorials- Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Unveils Details of the National Export Initiative, 2010,

[8] U.S. Department of Transportation, Freight Facts and Figures 2009, 2009.

[9] Association of American Railroads, Railroads: Green From the Start, 2009.

[10] Government Accountability Office, Freight Railroads:  Industry Health Has Improved, but Concerns about Competition & Capacity Should Be Addressed, 2006. U.S. Department of Transportation, 2007 Commodity Flow Survey, 2009.

[11] Margreta, M., Ford, C., & Dipo, M. A., U.S. Freight on the Move: Highlights from the 2007 Commodity Flow Survey Preliminary Data, 2009.

[12] Weingroff, R. F. (n.d.), Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways Engineering Marvels, 2010,

[13] U.S. Department of Transportation, Freight Facts and Figures 2009, 2009.

[14] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA and NHTSA Finalize Historic National Program to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Improve Fuel Economy for Cars and Trucks | Transportation and Climate | US EPA, 2010,

[15] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Control of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Heavy-Duty Vehicles - Rulemaking Gateway | Laws Regulations | US EPA., 2009,

[16] Office of the Press Secretary. Presidential Memorandum Regarding Fuel Efficiency Standards | The White House. May 21, 2010. (accessed May 27, 2010).

[17] Containerization is the use of standard intermodal containers as defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

[18] National Research Council, Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, 2010.

[19] Load-specific fuel consumption (LSFC) is measured in gallons of fuel per payload tons per 100 miles. This metric includes the extra weight of a truck when it is carrying a payload; the lower the fuel consumption of the vehicle and the higher the payload the vehicle carries, the lower the LSFC.


Overview of the freight transportation sector including greenhouse gas emission sources and mitigation options.

Overview of the freight transportation sector including greenhouse gas emission sources and mitigation options.

Comparing Energy Efficiency and Plug-in Electric Vehicle Provisions in Energy-Climate Legislation

Provisions in any legislation can be confusing. Trying to compare similar provisions across different bills can compound the confusion. To help make things more clear, we have two side-by-side comparison charts, one on energy-efficiency provisions, and the other on electric plug-in vehicle provisions, of this Congress’ energy and climate legislation.

Electric Vehicles and the Need for Public Policy

This post was written with Cynthia J. Burbank, National Planning and Environment Practice Leader at Parsons Brinckerhoff.  It first appeared in the National Journal Transportation Experts Blog in response to the question: What should transportation departments do for electric cars?

The call for the government to act to promote plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), and all clean alternative fuels for that matter, is to correct the clear market failures that exist in today’s petroleum-based transportation sector.

Historically, petroleum has been a key driver in the growth of the economy and development of nations worldwide. Gasoline and diesel fuel’s impressive energy density, portability, and low production cost made it the fuel of choice for nearly a century. All the while there have been costs, although they haven’t always been obvious. Petroleum’s impact on climate change and U.S. energy security, and the risks of drilling, result in real and significant costs to society, and currently the price of petroleum does not include those externalities.

Syndicate content