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Study advocates enacting climate adaptation policies

A new white paper asserts that short-term efforts to increase the transportation system’s resilience will reduce long-term costs from climate change and proposes federal policy options for the Obama administration and Congress to address the impacts of climate change on the transportation sector.

A significant amount of the nation’s roads, rail lines, and airports are in coastal zones most vulnerable to climate change. As the world community gathers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to discuss climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, the study highlights needed research on the predicted impacts of climate change on transportation to address this growing problem.

The paper, prepared by Cambridge Systematics Inc for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project, identifies principles and key areas for federal policy action, including climate impacts and adaptation research, transportation planning processes, project development, design and engineering considerations, and federal programs and funding. The paper proposes three main vehicles for implementing adaptation policy: the anticipated surface transportation authorization, climate and energy legislation, and Executive branch actions.

When the recently expired surface transportation bill is reauthorized, climate adaptation strategies targeted at the federal-aid transportation system should be incorporated. Strategies include planning requirements for climate adaptation, National Environmental Policy Act-related guidelines, and Department of Transportation research recommendations.

An energy and cap-and-trade bill could effectively address adaptation by including an adaptation title and by using revenue from allowances to fund adaptation initiatives. Research recommendations, including establishment of a climate services clearinghouse and development of consistent forms of climate data, can be appropriated in such comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

The paper also recommends that Executive branch policies support transportation resiliency by incorporating climate risk and adaptation data and strategies into federal policies including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and Federal Infrastructure Investment planning. The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent endangerment finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare further underscores this recommendation.

A project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, NTPP was launched with the goal of bringing fresh dialogue and approaches to transportation policy. To learn more about NTPP, visit

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