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By J.B. Wogan June 26, 2012

Obama has encouraged energy conservation, but not required it

Sometimes, candidates get a little unrealistic with their promises.

As a candidate, Barack Obama said he would require governors and local leaders in metropolitan areas to include energy conservation in their planning for projects that rely on federal transportation money.

Broadly speaking, energy conservation has been part of President Obama's agenda.

Under Obama, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program has provided $3.1 billion in grants to state and local governments for 218 transportation projects that promote environmental sustainability.

His administration has sought more stringent fuel economy standards for passenger cars.

We also found the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an initiative launched in 2010, which aims to locate people near transit centers, reducing commute times and gas consumption while increasing affordable housing options.

"I think this administration has been more cognizant of this idea of improving the energy performance of our transportation systems than any president maybe since Jimmy Carter," said Kevin McCarty, assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, transportation policy analyst for the Sierra Club, called the Transportation Department's energy-conservation efforts "phenomenal," especially with the TIGER grants.

Prentice-Dunn also referred us to the administration's support of a Senate transportation bill awaiting a vote in the House. The bill uses energy conservation as a state and metropolitan transportation planning objective and calls for research and development that would promote sustainability and environmental protection.

Deron Lovaas, director of the Federal Transportation Policy, Energy and Transportation Program at the National Defense Resource Council, said the Senate bill could have a positive effect on energy conservation in terms of freight policy objectives and shifting funding away from federal highways.

"But overall, it sadly falls far short of the campaign promise," Lovaas said.

No one we interviewed could point to an existing or recently proposed requirement that energy conservation be a condition of receiving federal transportation dollars at the state or local level.

Tanya Snyder, editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, said Obama's energy-conservation promise is difficult to deliver when there is such strong political resistance to imposing federal requirements on states.

"There's so much passion among the Republicans and conservatives in the freshman class in preserving states rights," Synder said.

McCarty, of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said Obama's energy-conservation requirement would have been unprecedented in federal funding of state and local transportation.

"There's nothing else like that in the system," he said.

This is a clear case that Obama promised more than was realistic.

The promise was specific in calling for federal transportation funding to be granted on the condition of energy conservation in state and local transportation planning. Nothing like that exists. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Email interview with Deron Lovaas, director of the Federal Transportation Policy, Energy and Transportation Program at the National Defense Resource Council, June 25, 2012

Interview with Tracy Snyder, editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, June 25, 2012

Interview with Kevin McCarty, assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, June 22, 2012

Interview with Jesse Prentice-Dunn, transportation policy analyst for the Sierra Club, June 19, 2012

Executive Office of the President, Statement of Administration Policy, S. 1813 – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, Feb. 9, 2012

Partnership for Sustainable Communities, About Us

U.S. Department of Transportation, TIGER Grants

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, March 2012 Summary of the Fuel Economy Performance, March 12, 2012

Grist, Obama's Partnership for Sustainable Communities will put the feds' weight behind smart growth, Feb. 24, 2010

Grist, Romney, once an anti-sprawl crusader, created model for Obama 'smart growth' program, April 23, 2012

Integrating climate change into the transportation planning process, Chapter 2.2: Relationship of federal planning statutes and regulations, July 2008

Switchboard, Natural Resources Defense Council's blog, Steamrolling Environmental Reviews in the Transportation Bill, April 26, 2012

MAP-21, Surface transportation environmental cooperative research program, April 24, 2012

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 8, 2009

Energy conservation gets some TIGER in its tank

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "require governors and local leaders in our metropolitan areas to make energy conservation a required part of their planning for the expenditure of federal transportation funds.”

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants, which were created under the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year, represent a step in this direction.

These grants, provided for under Title XII of the stimulus bill, will make $1.5 billion available through Sept. 30, 2011, for highway, bridge, railway and port projects. They are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that are deemed to have "a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region." Among those eligible for the grants are state and local governments, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations and multijurisdictional applicants.

The important point for this promise is that several criteria will play a role in determining which projects are funded. These include the economic stimulus impact, the contribution to longer-term U.S. economic competitiveness, improvements to safety, and "livability" and "sustainability." The Transportation Department defines sustainability as "improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefitting the environment."

Such principles will not play a role in the decisions for all federally funded transportation projects, and nothing in the legislation requires governors or local leaders to take energy conservation into account more broadly when spending federal funds. But the use of a preference for energy-conserving projects in determining how $1.5 billion in TIGER grants is spent represents a major step toward fulfilling President Obama's promise. We rate it as In the Works.

Our Sources

Transportation Department, "DOT Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" web page , accessed Dec. 8, 2009

Interview with Olivia Alair, Transportation Department spokeswoman, Dec. 7, 2009

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