The Biden Administration took a step closer to its emissions reduction goals this week with the release of an interagency “blueprint” to decarbonize the nation’s transportation sector. The plan addresses all passenger and freight travel modes and fuels, and is the first deliverable following an agreement last year between the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE), Transportation (USDOT), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The blueprint lays out a plan for achieving the administration’s goals to secure a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Among the goals identified this week, the agencies are: aiming for 30% of sales of new medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to be zero-emission by 2030 and 100% by 2040, and ensuring that 100% of the federal fleet of such vehicles is zero-emission by 2035; encouraging greater use of rail for passenger and freight travel to reduce emissions from road vehicles; and increasing production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to at least three billion gallons per year by 2030 and approximately 35 billion gallons by 2050, enough to supply the entire sector, according to the plan.
The blueprint builds on last year’s Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a wide range of efforts and investments to address climate concerns and clean energy. The agencies said this week the blueprint will “be followed by more detailed decarbonization action plans,” which they say they will develop in conjunction with state, local, and tribal philanthropic organizations, as well as private agencies and global partners. Additional plans will adhere to three general strategies that address infrastructure, vehicles, and fuels, according to the blueprint:
Some in the industry have raised concerns about certain aspects of the blueprint. Spokespeople for NATSO, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners, and SIGMA, which represents fuel marketers and convenience store chain retailers, are worried about the implications of the administration’s fuel policies on the trucking industry, for instance. They say the administration is incentivizing investments in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) over trucking industry renewables such as biodiesel, which have been used for more than a decade to lower emissions.
Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act awarded a higher tax credit for SAF than for biodiesel and similar trucking industry renewables, and this week’s blueprint emphasizes those incentives. NATSO and SIGMA argue that because both SAF and biodiesel come from the same feedstocks, producers will be incentivized to make SAF rather than biodiesel, leading to lower availability and higher pricing of clean fuels for trucking. They say parity between the tax credits is necessary to ensure producers continue to make biofuels for trucking fleets.
“Otherwise, we’re really just shifting the emissions savings away from the ground—as fleets are forced to revert away from biodiesel to diesel—and to the air, and that doesn't align with the administration's goal here of decarbonizing the transportation sector,” said Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, vice president of public affairs for NATSO.
David Fialkov, executive vice president of government affairs for NATSO and SIGMA, said he expects the issue to come under scrutiny as the Inflation Reduction Act and related policies are implemented.
“I anticipate that a lot of members of Congress—including the new majority in the House—will be interested in examining whether it makes sense to keep a heightened creidt for SAF,” he said.