How VW forced drivers to ‘roll coal’ & what it tells us about the flaws in our emissions testing systems

rollin coal
rollin coal

Rollin’ coal (courtesy of Vocative).

Last summer, a few media outlets reported on a strange phenomenon that was on the rise in certain corners of the country. For whatever reason, a group of Good Ole’ Boys had decided that the best way to show how much they hated environmental regulations and loved fossil fuels was to alter their trucks’ exhaust systems to release massive amounts of black soot. This practice – called “rolling coal” – has inexplicably become highly popular in some communities; its official Facebook page has more than 18,000 followers.

For the coal rollers, tampering with the emissions controls on their trucks was a way to make their personal and political ideologies manifest. Never mind the fact that the exhaust they were spitting out is a known carcinogen. No, the coal rollers claim, the people who are on the receiving end of their soot cloud probably deserve to suffer the consequences because they have the audacity to walk, or ride a bike or, God forbid, drive a Prius. That this cloud of pollution could trigger a medical emergency for someone with a respiratory or cardiovascular condition didn’t matter, because pollution is freedom. Or something.

Fast forward to this week, when we found that Volkswagen had systematically been lying since 2009 about their supposedly “clean” diesel vehicles. When the company claimed that it had discovered a way to make its cars run on diesel, all while meeting US air quality standards, boosting fuel efficiency, and improving handling, people were thrilled. Nearly 500,000 Americans bought into the hype and purchased a clean diesel VW from 2009 to 2015. All told, there are around 11 million of these vehicles on roads globally.

Volkswagen and the inadvertent coal rollers

But, as we now know, VW sold these people a bill of goods. The company had installed a so-called “defeat device” in the vehicle software that allowed it to detect when regulators were conducting emissions testing. At this point, the car would trigger its emissions controls systems, allowing it to meet the standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rest of the time, the car knew to deactivate these controls, causing it to release 10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than allowed by federal law. NOx are a family of harmful air pollutants formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. They can help form fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and are a key precursor to the formation of ground-level ozone.

Based on estimates from The Guardian, those 11 million affected vehicles may have released up to 948,691 additional tons of NOx than they would have if they complied with EPA standards. In the US, the 482,000 “clean” diesels on the road likely generated 2,700 to 11,600 tons of NOx. In effect, through its deliberate deception, VW forced its customers unknowingly to roll coal.

A number of observers have discussed the implications of this scandal, discussing, for instance, how efforts to make cars smarter and more internet compatible open them up for manipulation of this sort. But I want to focus on a different issue – how this episode provides an important insight into the the challenges inherent to the US’s vehicle emissions testing system.

Vehicle inspection & maintenance programs: A primer

As Americans began pushing their representatives to address the country’s air pollution crisis, environmental regulators developed ideas on how to tackle pollution from mobile sources. On the one hand, EPA developed a set of certification standards for all new vehicles sold in the country. The Agency developed a rigorous test – known as the Federal Testing Procedure (FTP) – to measure emissions from vehicles in operation. The FTP is highly complex, and largely involves running a car through various phases to simulate, among other things, driving on a freeway and driving in urban gridlock. If a vehicle manufacturer wants to sell its cars in the US, it needs to get EPA certification that it meets federal emissions standards.

federal test procedure

A graph showing the various components of EPA’s Federal Test Procedure for emissions testing (courtesy of US EPA).

But what happens once those vehicles are on the road? How can we make sure that they aren’t spewing out higher levels of pollution? And, if they are, how can we identify them and address this? That’s where vehicle inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs come into play. Congress first included language requiring vehicle I/M programs in areas with persistent air quality problems as part of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA). Congress has amended these requirements since that point, most significantly as part of the 1990 CAAA. This bill required all areas designed as nonattainment for ozone standards to implement an I/M program. These programs typically required vehicle owners to bring in their vehicle annually or biennially and undergo some sort of tailpipe emissions test. These tests were generally a modified version of the FTP, such as the IM240, which lasts for 240 seconds.

For years, federal and state regulators promoted the benefits of vehicle I/M programs. EPA, in particular, reportedly considers it (see page 4-14) “one of the most important, if not the single most important, ozone control measure available to metropolitan areas.” According to the Agency, states that implemented its model I/M programs should see mobile emissions of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and NOx  fall by 28%, 31%, and 9%, respectively. Given these numbers, I/M programs clearly appear to be a vital emissions control program, at least on the surface.

Challenges with vehicle I/M programs

But it’s when we get below the surface that things get murkier. As the VW case shows, technology exists to allow vehicle owners – or manufacturers – to actively cheat on emissions tests. But drivers don’t always need to have such malevolent intentions. As Dr. Donald Steadman, a prominent critic of I/M programs has noted, vehicle emissions can vary widely from one test to another – by an order of magnitude in some cases. Emissions also demonstrate a tendency to revert to the mean. In other words, a vehicle can exceed emissions standard on one day, but that same vehicle may dip below the standard on the next day, even in the absence of repairs. Drivers who failed the first test can pass the second through sheer dumb luck.

Even when drivers do get repairs to lower emissions, these repairs are often short-lived. If your goal is only to pass the test, you may seek out a low-cost repair to allow you to game the system. These repairs rarely last, ensuring that real world emissions may spike in the period between tests. And then there’s the drivers who simply choose to skip the test altogether. A number of states, including Ohio, require vehicle owners to pass an emissions test to register their vehicles. But some drivers bypass this option by registering the vehicle outside of the I/M program area or by selling it to someone who does. A 2009 investigation by The Akron-Beacon Journal found that 1 of every 5 vehicles that failed Ohio’s E-Check test in 2008 simply “disappeared.” Of these missing vehicles, nearly 20% ended up registered in counties directly adjacent to the E-Check area.

On-board diagnostics were supposed to fix the problem

These major issues with I/M programs led state and federal agencies to do a lot of soul searching in the 1990s. In an effort to address these challenges, EPA issued a rule in 2001 requiring all states with I/M programs to begin testing the vehicle’s on-board computers. These second generation on-board diagnostic systems, or OBDII, are installed on all cars model year 1996 or newer. OBDII systems are designed to sense issues with the vehicle’s emissions control systems and turn on an indicator light – the infamous check engine light – whenever issues with these components would lead to emissions that are 1.5 times higher than federal certification standards. For comparison’s sake, traditional tailpipe tests are set to fail vehicles whose emissions are 2-3 times higher than certification standards.

In theory, OBDII tests are great. Not only do they allow you to identify issues with emissions controls, they actually tell vehicle owners about them before their cars become major polluters. But, if you’re one of the 3 people who’ve made it this far, you may guess that OBDII tests aren’t a silver bullet either. On the one hand, because they are so restrictive, OBDII tests may fail vehicles that are marginal polluters and would have passed a tailpipe test. According to the National Research Council (pg. 99), up to 70% of all vehicles with an illuminated check engine light had emissions that fell below federal standards. This can push drivers, who are often lower-income, to make expensive repairs that do little to improve air quality. Additionally, OBDII tests may not be particularly reliable.  If a driver disconnects his/her battery before going to the testing center, the OBDII system will tell inspectors to run a tailpipe test instead. And at least one study suggests that, as ODBII systems age, they becoming more likely to malfunction. The odds that a vehicle would actually fail a tailpipe test but pass an OBDII test increases by 3.3% for each year it is on the road.

So what other options are available?

Ultimately, these facts demonstrate that the current vehicle I/M program faces a number of challenges that may compromise its effectiveness. So what options are available to address these shortcomings? One potential area for regulators to expand their efforts is the use of remote sensing device (RSD) technologies. Remote sensing, which has been around for vehicle emissions testing in some form or another for more than 20 years, allows regulators to measure a vehicle’s emissions while in operation in real world conditions. Rather than trying to simulate on-road driving, you bring the testing to the road. A number of states already utilize this technology in some capacity. Here in Ohio, the E-Check program employs RapidScreen vans, which measure a vehicle’s emissions as they drive by on the freeway. This approach can exempt a small group of very clean vehicles that complete 2 successful screenings within a 9-month period.

But RSD has the potential to be expanded further. The National Research Council found that RSD tests are able to identify “dirty” vehicles with a success rate of up to 96%. It’s telling that the International Council on Clean Transportation, the organization that exposed the VW defeat device, did so through the use of remote sensing devices while driving from San Diego to Seattle. RSD tests are also highly cost-effective (they cost less than $1 per test, on average) and can test a much larger number of vehicles in a shorter period of time. It’s worth noting that some prominent conservative and libertarian scholars, including Douglas Noonan and Daniel Klein, have been pushing to use RSD as part of emissions testing for years.

Observers have called for other alternative approaches. These include extending the required manufacturer’s warranty for vehicle emissions controls systems. Under the 1990 CAAA, all car manufacturers are required to provide 8-year/80,000 mile warranties for major emissions control systems, including the catalytic converter and OBDII. But that warranty is only 2 years/24,000 miles for other emissions components that can directly affect pollution levels. Extending component warranties to 200,000 miles would place the financial burden for controlling emissions back on the vehicle manufacturers and out of the hands of individual drivers. States could also follow California’s lead and provide repair subsidies to low-income vehicle owners. Dirty vehicles disproportionately end up in the hands of those people least able to afford expensive repairs. Providing them with financial support may incentivize them to get effective repairs to cut emissions. Perhaps the fines that EPA and the DOJ ultimately level on VW could help to finance the creation of this kind of program. Or these funds could go to finance alternative forms of transportation, such as to shore up underfunded public transit systems or improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

It’s nice to see that Volkswagen’s deception has sparked a conversation about the impact of mobile emissions on air quality. But it also provides an important insight into the challenges that environmental regulators face day in and day out. Hopefully this terrible episode can help bring about positive change by bringing attention to the issue and garnering support to fix the cracks in the existing system.

Rep. Bill Patmon to fight infant mortality through the power of condescension

bill patmon planned parenthood
bill patmon planned parenthood

Bill Patmon announces his bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.

Last month, two seemingly unrelated reports came out. The first involved a series of leaked videos from an anti-abortion activist group that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell the tissue and organs of aborted fetuses. The second was a report updating Ohio’s abysmal record on infant mortality rates. Now, at first glance, these two stories have nothing to do with one another. That is, unless you’re Representative Bill Patmon of Cleveland.

On July 28, Rep. Patmon stood on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to announce that he had introduced House Bill 294, a bill that would bar the state from issuing state and certain federal funds from “any entity that performs or promotes elective abortions.” Apparently Rep. Patmon and his primary co-sponsor, Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Liberty Township), decided that the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos provided perfect cover for them to try and defund the organization in Ohio.

Now, in order for this bill to make any legal sense, Reps. Patmon and Conditt need for you to ignore a few details. Like the fact that Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to performing abortion services. Or the fact that Ohio law already places Planned Parenthood at the end of the line for state funding. Or the fact that, under provisions in the Medicaid law, the state has no authority to bar patients from visiting the health care provider of their choice. But Rep. Patmon has never been one to let facts get in the way of a chance to preach at Ohioans.

But the truly galling part of this bill is the way that Reps. Patmon and Conditt are attempting to cloak it as a way to address Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. In an email to colleagues, the two claim that the funding taken from Planned Parenthood would be shifted to “empower groups who are committed to combating Ohio’s atrocious statistics [on infant mortality].”

As recent reports from the Ohio Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show, the state ranks near the bottom – 45th out of 50 – when it comes to infant mortality rates. While Ohio’s infant mortality rate did decline somewhat in 2013 – down to 7.33 deaths per 1,000 live births from 7.6 in 2012 – it remains 21% above the national average of 5.96 deaths. The issue is drastically worse in Cuyahoga County, which had a rate of 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. For Cleveland, that number was a depressing 13.0 deaths in 2013. The 2012 rate for African Americans in Cleveland was even higher at 15.73 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than 2.5 times the national rate.

Of course, HB 294 will do absolutely nothing to address this ongoing issue. On the contrary, it could actually make the problem worse. As I noted, Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to abortion. The other 97% goes towards a variety of other medical services, including sex ed, contraception, STD and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, cancer screenings and referrals, pregnancy tests, and referrals for prenatal care for pregnant women. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio treated nearly 57,000 patients last year alone. Many of the patients who rely on Planned Parenthood’s services are low-income and have few other options. As Rep. Gretta Johnson (D-Akron) stated, “This legislation is a purely political maneuver that will further restrict access to necessary healthcare for Ohio’s women, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged and already struggling to meet their basic health needs.”

That Rep. Patmon would place his ideology above the interests of his constituents is hardly surprising. This is the same man who co-sponsored the “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2013-2014, a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Patmon eventually backed down, but only after drawing intense criticism. So don’t fall for the (D) that comes after his name. Bill Patmon is a Democrat in the same way that Adam Sandler is funny – some people may have believed that back in the 90s, but we should all know better by now.

Rather than actually stand up for the interests of his constituents, Rep. Patmon is more interested in lecturing them. While announcing HB 294, Rep. Patmon had the nerve to attack African Americans in Northeast Ohio – the majority of people in his House district – for being concerned over excessive use of police force within their communities. “You hear a lot of demonstrations across the country now about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “Well, they skipped one place – they should be in front of Planned Parenthood.”

Perhaps Rep. Patmon has to use condescension to cover up the fact that he has done nothing to address the actual challenge of infant mortality within his district. Instead, he has consistently stood up for the interests of the fossil fuel industry to pollute poor and minority communities throughout the state. The third largest contributor to Rep. Patmon’s campaigns for the Statehouse has been FirstEnergy.  That’s the same FirstEnergy that operated the Lake Shore Power Plant on Cleveland’s east side for 104 years before it was forced to shut down this April in response to the Obama administration’s mercury regulations. That plant sits just upwind from much of Rep. Patmon’s district, including neighborhoods like University Circle and Kinsman that have infant mortality rates higher than Bangladesh, Haiti, North Korea, or Pakistan. In 2012, the NAACP ranked Lake Shore as the 6th worst coal plant in the country for environmental justice, given its high levels of pollution and proximity to tens of thousands of low-income persons of color.

Yet, if Rep. Patmon actually cared about infant mortality, as he claims, he would step up and tackle air pollution. A litany of studies have demonstrated a clear link between in utero and neonatal exposure to air pollution and a host of negative health outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality. In a landmark 2003 study, researchers Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone explored the impacts of the decline in particulate matter pollution as a result of the 1980-1982 recession and changes in infant mortality rates. Their results were stunning. They found that the decline in air pollution was responsible for 80% of the total reduction in neonatal mortality in the United States during that period. In their conclusion, they state [FYI, TSP means total suspended particulates, another name for coarse particulate matter]:

We find that a 1 µg/m3 reduction in TSPs is associated with 4-7 fewer infant deaths per 100,000 live births at the county level…Most of these effects are driven by fewer deaths occurring within one month of birth, suggesting that fetal exposure during pregnancy is a biological pathway. Consistent with this, we find significant effects of TSPs reductions on deaths within 24 hours of birth and on infant birth weight. The analysis also reveals nonlinear effects of TSPs and large infant mortality effects at TSPs concentrations below the EPA-mandated air quality standard. Overall, the estimates imply that about 2,500 fewer infants died from 1980-82 than would have in the absence of the [10% reduction] in air pollution.

Additionally, multiple studies demonstrate that exposure to air pollution from natural gas extraction is linked to lower birth weight and higher rates of infant mortality. Despite this, Rep. Patmon was 1 of just 3 Democrats to vote for HB 483, which drastically increased the setback requirements for wind turbines in the state. This bill ensured that setbacks for wind turbines in Ohio are now up to 10 times greater than those for oil and gas wells. Patmon also cast the deciding vote to move HB 375, the pathetic House GOP severance tax bill for oil and gas extraction, out of committee; fortunately it died in the full House. His fealty to fossil fuels knows nearly no bound.

So it’s great that Rep. Bill Patmon has a new-found concern for Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. But perhaps he should spend more time addressing the actual causes of the issue and less time delivering morality lectures to this constituents.

SB 310 makes it far harder for Ohio to comply with the Clean Power Plan

obama clean power plan
obama clean power plan

President Obama delivers his speech announcing the final Clean Power Plan on Monday, August 3 (courtesy of Susan Walsh/Associated Press).

Last Monday, President Obama stood at the podium in the East Room of the White House to announce “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change” – the final Clean Power Plan (CPP). As the President noted in his remarks, this final rule amounts to “the first-ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants” into our atmosphere. The EPA projects that, if fully implemented, carbon emissions from US power plants should be 32% lower in 2030 than in 2005.

Here in Ohio, the rule was met by a mixture of excitement from those of us who want the country to take action on climate change and outrage from those who oppose such steps. Attorney General Mike DeWine joined 11 other attorneys general in a lawsuit to derail the rule, while notorious Ohio coal firm and serial litigant Murray Energy intends to file no fewer than 5 separate suits.

Changes to the final Clean Power Plan that affect Ohio

Given all of this controversy over the CPP, it may be wise to take a step back and consider just how the rule would affect Ohio. Last year, I explored how Ohio fared in the proposed CPP and how the state’s clean energy standards put it on a solid path towards meeting its carbon reduction targets. While that analysis was relevant at the time, we need to revisit it, as the final CPP is different from the proposed version in a lot of ways. For the sake of this post, here are a few of the key changes that will affect Ohio:

  1. State compliance plan date: Under the proposed CPP, states needed to submit their compliance plans to the EPA by June 30, 2016. The final rule pushes this date back to September 6, 2018, but with a caveat. States still need to submit either a final plan or an interim plan in 2016, but they can request a 2-year extension of the deadline if they meet certain criteria. This matters, as Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler has already stated that he will wait until to submit a plan until he sees how the rule fares in the federal court system, which may take years.
  2. Emissions cuts to begin later: Whereas the proposed CPP required states to begin cutting carbon emissions in 2020 and continue through 2030, the final rule delays that effective date until 2022. This 2-year delay is important for Ohio as a result of SB 310, as I will explore later.
  3. Changing the way that emissions reductions are measured: Originally, the EPA planned to measure emissions reductions as the change in how many pounds of carbon emissions a state produces per megawatt hour (MWh) of energy it produced (“rate-based”). But the Agency has now added a “mass-based” approach, which shows reductions in the actual tons of carbon states emit. Additionally, EPA has changed the state-by-state targets to account for the fact that the utility sector operates within 3 broader regions. As a result, Ohio’s rate-based target was strengthened from 1,338 lbs/MWh to 1,190, up to 37.4% from a 27.7%. The mass-based reduction remains at a comparable 27.85%.
  4. Eliminating the energy efficiency benchmark: The proposed CPP created federal guidelines for state compliance plans that included 4 main building blocks: improved coal plant efficiency, more use of natural gas, increasing renewable energy generation, and improving demand-side energy efficiency. EPA has removed the energy efficiency building block, which has significantly reduced the CPP’s legal vulnerability. Fortunately, EPA did not scrap demand-side energy efficiency entirely. Instead, it will allow states to include it as part of their state compliance plan.

How Ohio can meet its Clean Power Plan requirements

Fortunately, Ohio is well-positioned to meet its emissions reduction targets under the CPP, as multiple analyses have shown.

In a 2013 analysis, the World Resources Institute found that, if Ohio fully implemented its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) that the state passed nearly unanimously back under SB 221, it could cut its carbon emissions by 17% through 2020.

WRI’s analysis also calculated the emissions savings from the other 2 building blocks in the CPP. It estimated that Ohio could cut its emissions by 7% by 2020 if it increased the operating capacity of its existing natural gas fleet (building block 2). The state could further cut emissions by 2% if it improved its coal plant efficiency by 2.5% (building block 1). Combined, these four actions would get Ohio to a 26% cut by 2020, before the CPP’s requirements even kick in. And if Ohio continued to implement its EERS and RPS beyond their current end date, the state would be able to meet and exceed its required carbon targets.

wri ohio emissions clean power plan

Ohio can cut its carbon emissions by up to 24% through 2020, depending on the policies it implements under the Clean Power Plan (courtesy of World Resources Institute).

SB 310 will make increase the costs of compliance

While Ohio is currently in decent shape, SB 310 will unquestionably make it more difficult and more expensive for the state to comply with the CPP.

The two-year freeze on the RPS and EERS will deprive the state of renewable energy and energy efficiency gains that it could count towards future benchmarks. Though it pushed back the date when states have to demonstrate emissions cuts by 2 years, EPA wants to encourage states to reduce their carbon emissions before that point. Accordingly, the final CPP creates a Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), which allows states to get credits for renewable energy generation and energy efficiency measures taken in 2020 and 2021 and apply these to reduction targets in subsequent years. For every 1 MWh of wind or solar that a utility brings on line, it will get a 1 MWh credit towards future emissions reductions. And for every 1 MWh saved through energy efficiency projects in low-income communities, utilities will get a 2 MWh credit.

Because SB 310 freezes Ohio’s RPS and EERS for 2015 and 2016, the RPS and EERS benchmarks will be lower during 2020 and 2021. RPS benchmarks will decline to 6.5% and 7.5% from 8.5% and 9.5%, respectively, while the efficiency requirement for 2020 will be halved to 1%. According to projections from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the state’s major electric utilities would have generated almost 25.9 million MWh of renewables in 2020 and 2021; however, thanks to SB 310, this number will fall by nearly 25% to 19.4 million MWh.

The freeze will also cut into the amount of low-income energy efficiency projects carried out in the state. From 2009-2012, Ohio’s major electric utilities realized  55,084 MWh in energy savings from low-income projects. This accounted for just under 1% of total savings. Based on estimates from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Ohio was on course to save 56,410 MWh from energy efficiency in 2020 and 2021 before SB 310. Using revised energy savings from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which account for SB 310’s effects, this number would fall to 46,866 MWh. Because these savings get double credit in the CEIP, Ohio will lose out on 19,048 MWh of emissions reduction credits (ERCs).

All told, the 2-year freeze on Ohio’s clean energy standards enacted under SB 310 will cause the state to miss out 6,476,386 MWh of ERCs. If we assume that each of those MWh would have offset a unit from a fossil fuel plant, we can estimate how many tons of carbon emission reductions the state will lose. EPA has calculated that Ohio’s power plants release 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MWh; as such, Ohio will lose ERCs worth roughly 6,152,567 short tons of CO2. Applying a social cost of carbon at $40 per ton means that this one effect of SB 310 will cost the state more than $246 million.

But that doesn’t account for any potential reductions in the RPS and EERS benchmarks. The bill’s language makes it perfectly clear that the Ohio legislature intends to “enact legislation in the future… that will reduce the mandates.” Any future reductions to these clean energy standards will make it that much harder for Ohio to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

What should Ohio’s elected officials do?

Clearly, SB 310 carries a big price tag for Ohio. The state’s elected officials should take action on three fronts to address this issue.

First, the legislature needs to pass a bill restoring Ohio’s clean energy standards as enacted under SB 221. It should not wait until the freeze comes to an end on December 31, 2016. Instead, legislators should use the final report from the Energy Mandates Study Committee, which is expected to be released this fall, as a reason to restore the standards effective January 1. Interestingly, OEPA Director Butler told Gongwer (subscription required) that, despite his reservations, he realizes restoring the standards from SB 221 would help Ohio meet its emission reductions targets. Beyond this step, however, the legislature should look to pass a follow-up bill by the end of the next session that will extend and, preferably, strengthen these standards through at least 2030.

Second, Ohio should begin exploring how it can partner with other states to form a regional carbon trading system. The final CPP explicitly allows and even encourages states to pursue this route. Several Midwestern states have been meeting under the auspices of the Great Plans Institute to discuss this option, but Ohio has conspicuously been absent. It would be in the state’s best interest to work with its neighbors in order to lower the cost of compliance.

Third, Ohio needs to double down on low-income energy efficiency. According to Policy Matters Ohio, the state currently weatherizes roughly 7,000 homes per year. This number accounts for just 1.5% of the households in the state who seek emergency assistance for their utility bills each year. Not only will ramping up low-income weatherization allow the state to get additional credits through the CEIP, it will generate tangible benefits. Every $1 million invested in weatherization leads to the creation of 75 jobs.

Ultimately, SB 310 has cost Ohio considerably, but it’s not too late to mitigate those effects. Every day that Ohio continues to languish under this bill will continue to add to those costs. It’s time to act.

Update (8/13/2015, 3:45pm): Since I posted this, the Union of Concerned Scientists has updated its state-by-state projections on the Clean Power Plan. In June, they concluded that Ohio was on track to meet and actually exceed its 2020 interim reduction benchmark under the proposed CPP. The new analysis finds that Ohio is now on track to achieve 84% compliance with its rate-based goal and 130% compliance with its mass-based goal for the 2022 benchmark. Without implementing additional policies, however, the state would only 44% and 56% of its rate- and mass-based targets, respectively.

Additionally, I noted that, based on the EPA’s social cost of carbon ($40 per ton), the emissions reductions that Ohio will miss in 2020 and 2021 as a result of SB 310 would carry a cost of more than $246 million. This number does not account for the costs of other air pollutants that power plants release in addition to CO2. Based on a 2010 study, which reviewed the literature on the air quality co-benefits of carbon reductions, the average air quality benefit for developed countries per ton of CO2 is $44. Based on this number, Ohio would not only incur climate change-related costs of $246 million, it would also forego air quality improvements worth more than $270 million. Combined, SB 310 will cost the state nearly $517 million in 2020 and 2021 alone.

Why developed countries should back loss and damage in Paris

schoolchildren typhoon haiyan
schoolchildren typhoon haiyan

School children in the Philippines contemplate the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (courtesy of Pio Arce/Genesis Photos).

A number of critical issues remain unresolved, including whether countries should set a maximum safe threshold for carbon emissions and what protocols will be put in place to ensure that parties are transparent and accountable for their emissions reduction commitments. One of the trickiest outstanding issues is the question of loss and damage. For years, developing countries have called for developed states to compensate them for the negative effects of climate change, such as more frequent flooding and more intense droughts.

While developed countries committed to provide financing for climate mitigation and adaptation through the development of the Green Climate Fund in 2009, it is widely acknowledged that there are impacts of climate change which we can neither prevent nor prepare for. These residual effects are at the centre of the loss and damage debate.

This issue particularly came to the fore at the 2013 Warsaw Conference, which took place in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the Philippines and killed more than 6,300 people.

Yeb Sano, the Philippines lead negotiator, delivered an impassioned speech in Warsaw pushing the issue. Sano, whose hometown had been flattened by the storm, fasted throughout the conference in solidarity with Haiyan survivors. He called for parties “to make clear the difference between humanitarian aid and climate change compensation in the context of historical responsibility.”

These efforts paid off, as negotiators created the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage, which created a standing committee to research the issue and advise the UNFCCC over the next two years.

At last year’s conference in Lima, negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to discuss the issue, outlined the membership of an Executive Committee, and approved a two-year work plan. But discussions remain in a preliminary phase, and many developing states remain concerned that the Paris talks may fail to address the question adequately. Small island states, in particular, view loss and damage as an existential question, as climate change may threaten their very survival.

To read the rest, head over to the original post at RTCC.

Climate change will lead to more deadly traffic accidents

A rendering of the proposed Cleveland Midway, a network of protected cycle tracks that would run across the city (courtesy of Bike Cleveland).

A rendering of the proposed Cleveland Midway, a network of protected cycle tracks that would run across the city (courtesy of Bike Cleveland).

In recent years, there has been a considerable amount of attention paid to transportation issues in climate change circles. This makes sense, given that the transportation sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. Mobile sources produced 1,806 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMtCO2e) in 2013 (27%), trailing just electricity generation, which accounted for 21% of total emissions (2,077 MMtCO2e). Emissions from the transportation sector have also grown by 16.4% since 1990, making it the second fastest growing emissions source behind agriculture.

Accordingly, the Obama administration has taken a number of steps to address the issue. These include corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for passenger vehicles, new investments in electric vehicles (EVs), proposed stricter rules for emissions from heavy-duty trucks, and the recent endangerment finding for GHGs from air travel. Each of these steps will be important if the US is to meet its goal to cut overall GHGs by 26-28% by 2025, as outlined in the administration’s pledge for the upcoming Paris Conference.

How climate change affects transportation

But the other side of this equation – how climate change will affect the US transportation sector – has garnered far less focus. The 2014 National Climate Assessment included a detailed chapter on the transportation sector, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) manages a pilot program to help transportation agencies assess their systems’ vulnerability to a changing climate. We know, for instance, that more extreme rainfall could wash out roads, that sea level rise endangers coastal transportation infrastructure, and that accelerated freeze-thaw cycles may increase the costs of road maintenance. But much research in this area remains to be done.

A few weeks ago, Resources for the Future, a leading environmental economics think tank, released a report that examines one as yet unexplored issue – how climate change may influence traffic accident rates. I’ll admit that the idea that climate change could affect the number of car accidents in the US seemed a bit far fetched to me a first. People tend to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to connect everything to climate change these days. But this report provides a convincing case that, barring aggressive action both to cut carbon pollution and become more resilient, climate change could make our roads even more dangerous.

The connection between weather and traffic accidents

In order to explore the relationship between climate and traffic accidents, economists Benjamin Leard and Kevin Roth first examined existing evidence on how changes in weather patters affect accident rates. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the number of traffic accidents that result in property damage, injuries, and fatalities for 20 states, the authors identified the existing relationships between temperature and precipitation fluctuations and traffic accidents. When temperatures fall below 20ºF, accidents that result in property damage increase by 9.3%. The relationship between temperature and accidents that lead to injuries is weak, but it appears highly significant for fatal traffic accidents. In contrast to property damage accidents, fatal accidents are 9.5% more likely on days when temperatures climb above 80ºF.

The relationship between precipitation and traffic accidents is more complex. Both rainfall and snowfall increase the incidence of property damage accidents; when rain and snow totals exceed 3 centimeters, accidents increase by 18.8% and 43.3%, respectively. This effect changes when we consider accidents leading to injuries and fatalities. In the former category, rain and snow totals over 3 centimeters lead to 14.4% and 25.9% increases in accidents, a relative reduction of 23.4% and 40.2%, respectively, compared to property damage accidents. But Leard and Roth found that fatal traffic accidents are actually less common on days with rainfall. On days with 1.5-3 centimeters of rain, fatal accident rates fall by 8.6%; this result is highly statistically significant. In contrast, this same amount of snowfall leads to 15.5% more fatalities. According to the authors, these results indicate “that drivers behaviorally compensate for these conditions,” but these adjustments are not enough to reduce the elevated accident risk presented by snowfall.

Importantly, the study also finds a strong correlation between weather conditions and the number of trips people make by foot, bike, or motorcycle (the authors term these “ultralight duty vehicles,” or ULDs). Unsurprisingly, these ULD trips decrease significantly as temperatures dip below 40ºF and as the precipitation begins to fall. Put a different way, as the weather improves, an increasing number of people choose to walk, bike, or motorcycle. This increases their exposure to automobiles, elevating the risk that they may be the victim of an accident. Accordingly, when the authors removed pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists from their models, fatality rates fell by roughly half.

Climate change will cause more traffic fatalities

The authors then used these observed relationships to project how climate change could affect traffic accident rates in the future. They utilize the IPCC’s A1B scenario – a middle of the road scenario that assumes global temperatures will rise by around 4ºC – to project changes in weather and traffic accidents through the end of the century. According to the Climate Action Tracker, we are currently on pace for 3.6-4.2ºC of warming in the absence of further action, making A1B a good model for this study.

As global temperatures increase, precipitation will gradually shift from snowfall to rain. The authors find that this change will decrease the number of annual traffic fatalities by roughly 253. However, the changing climate will also induce an increase in the number of trips people take by foot, bike, and motorcycle – leading to an additional 849 traffic fatalities per year – which brings the net change to 603 additional deaths per annum. This spike in traffic fatalities will carry an annual cost of $515.7 million. All told, by 2090 climate change will lead to an additional 27,388 traffic-related fatalities in the US, carrying total costs of approximately $61.7 billion.

Now, I should note that this study does not explicitly address a few issues.

Research shows that as the number of pedestrians and cyclists increases, the chance that they will be struck by a car declines. Each time that the number of pedestrians and cyclists doubles, the risk that they will be injured in an accident falls by a third. But this decline in the relative risk of injury does not overcome the increase in the absolute number of injuries, which actually rises by a similar percentage. Leard and Roth’s study finds similar results. Furthermore, their use of fixed effects should account for this safety-in-numbers effect.

Moreover, the study does not directly account for the fact that expanding bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure tends to make roads safer and reduce the number of accidents. Protected bike lanes, for instance, can cut the risk of injury by up to 90%. To be fair, Leard and Roth admit that this is a potential shortcoming of their study, noting that failing to control for this effect “overstates the long-run impacts of climate change.” They also explicitly point out the important role that these types of interventions can play in climate adaptation planning,

Our results do not indicate that reliance on walking, biking, and motorcycling imply large fatality rates, as other developed English speaking and western European nations have per-capita fatality rates that are often less than half that of United States. Some countries like Sweden with extraordinarily low fatality rates have pursued a variety of urban design and legislative changes to reduce fatalities with policies such as replacing intersections with roundabouts to slow vehicles where they are likely to encounter pedestrians. Relatively simple changes like these may prove to be effective, although unglamorous, adaptation strategies to climate change.

How can this study inform climate policy?

I have two main takeaways from this study.

1. Climate change will affect nearly every aspect of our lives, and we will never be able to fully anticipate and prepare for it. That’s what happens when humanity performs a global science experiment on the planetary systems that facilitated the development of human civilization.

2. It provides even more evidence of the benefits of investing in better infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, particularly when accounting for climate change. It emerges as a win-win-win.

Promoting active transportation is a vital component of any mitigation strategy, as every mile we don’t drive keeps roughly one pound of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

This type of people-centric infrastructure  also represents an important step that local governments can take to enhance their resilience to the impacts of climate change. We know that it may help to offset potential increases in fatal accidents due to climate change. But, more than that, it can also serve as a key lifeline to supplement existing road networks, which may be endangered by a changing climate. When roads are washed away and subway tunnels flooded, being able to ride your bike or walk to access resources and social services becomes that much more important.

Lastly, these types of investments would be valuable even in the absence of climate change, as they improve quality of life. Active transportation benefits air quality and public health, which reduces premature mortality and health care costs. Complete streets can also raise property values, increase business activity, create jobs, and make neighborhoods safer. All of these things make communities more vibrant and better able to withstand external shocks, whether from economic or climatic forces. In this way, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly infrastructure is exactly the type of no-regrets investment that climate resilience experts say we should be making now, regardless of the inherent uncertainties.

Karachi’s Heat Wave a Sign of Future Challenges to Pakistan’s Fragile Democracy

A man (R) cools off under a public tap, while others wait to fill their bottles, during intense hot weather in Karachi, Pakistan, June 23, 2015. A devastating heat wave has killed more than 400 people in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi over the past three days, health officials said on Tuesday, as paramilitaries set up emergency medical camps in the streets. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro - RTX1HPUL

A man (R) cools off under a public tap, while others wait to fill their bottles, during intense hot weather in Karachi, Pakistan, June 23, 2015. A devastating heat wave has killed more than 400 people in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi over the past three days, health officials said on Tuesday, as paramilitaries set up emergency medical camps in the streets (courtesy of Reuters).

Karachi, the world’s second largest city by population, is emerging from the grips of a deadly heatwave. A persistent low pressure system camped over the Arabian Sea stifled ocean breezes and brought temperatures in excess of 113°F (45°C) to the city of 23 million people in June. The searing heat disrupted electricity and water service, making life nearly unbearable. All told, officials estimate the heatwave killed at least 1,200 Pakistanis, more than twice as many as have died in terrorist attacks this year.

But meteorology alone cannot explain this turn of events. Rather, as with all disasters, Karachi’s heatwave is rooted in a complex web of natural and man-made factors. “The emergency is the product of a perfect storm of meteorological, political, and religious factors,” notes The New York Times.

Karachi’s rapid growth has heightened people’s exposure and vulnerability to heat. Since 2000, Karachi’s population has doubled, making it the fastest growing megacity in the world. This population explosion has overwhelmed the capacity of local government. At least half of all Karachiites live in informal settlements, with little access to infrastructure and vital services. Unplanned expansion has also led to widespread environmental degradation. Karachi’s annual concentration of fine particulate matter is 11.7 timesWorld Health Organization standards (and more than double that of Beijing), making it the fifth most air-polluted city in the world. Karachi also faces an acute water crisis. Some of its poorest residents survive on just 10 liters per day, one-fifth of daily drinking requirements, while some estimates suggest more than 30,000 people die from water-related diseases every year.

Wide swathes of trees and other vegetation have been cleared for roads and buildings, limiting shade and exacerbating the urban heat island effect (the process by which urbanized areas absorb and retain solar radiation, significantly increasing local temperatures). Add to this the city’s construction boom which creates a major demand for manual labor and the onset of the holy month of Ramadan – during which Muslims can neither eat nor drink before sundown – and you have a recipe for disaster.

To read the rest, head over to the original post at New Security Beat.

Why South Asia’s earthquakes are always India’s “fault”

muzaffarabad earthquake damage 2005
muzaffarabad earthquake damage 2005

Damages to Muzaffarabad, Pakistan after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, was at the epicenter of the magnitude 7.6 quake (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Earlier today, I read an article from The Conversation on why it is so difficult to develop early warning systems for earthquakes, like the one that hammered Nepal over the weekend. The piece included an interesting geological factoid:

Across the Himalayas there is around 20mm of convergence (shortening) every year, roughly half of the overall convergence between the Indian and Eurasian plates. The remainder is accommodated further north, in ranges such as the Tian Shan and the Tibetan Plateau. In other words, every year a person in Siberia becomes roughly 40 mm closer to a person in central India, as the Earth’s crust deforms across the broad region between them.

This reminded me of a story that I heard from Andrew MacLeod, a former United Nations official, back in 2013. MacLeod, who worked on humanitarian issues for a number of years, played an integral role in the highly regarded international response to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, which killed more than 73,000 Pakistanis. Here’s how he described this episode in his memoir, A Life Half Lived:

During a particularly difficult time in early negotiations with the Pakistanis, I joked that the earthquake was all ‘India’s fault’. This gross oversimplification intended as a joke brought the desired laugh at a very tense time. Geologically speaking, the joke is true. The Indian subcontinent, by continuing to push north-eastward and under the Asian continental plate at 5 cm per year, is the cause of the region’s considerable tectonic activity. This results in many earthquakes and an on-going pushing up of the mountain ranges, making the entire terrain unstable. Regular massive landslides and geological movements give the impression that this part of the world is still being born. The magnificent geography, unstable history and the political turmoil meant that when the earthquake hit, the word ‘devastating’ could only be used as an understatement.

3 things about this anecdote:

  1. This is a particularly brilliant double entendre. Using the word “fault,” which signifies both culpability and the underlying plate tectonics, is pretty damn clever.
  2. The historical roots of earthquake vulnerability often stretch back generations. Anthropologist Anthony Oliver-Smith famously described the May 1970 earthquake that hit Yungay, Peru as a “500 year quake.” By this, he meant that Peru’s vulnerability to the disaster was borne from the destruction of Incan infrastructure and land use policies enacted by the Spanish conquistadors. I guess if you look at vulnerability from the perspective of geological history, the Nepal earthquake could be seen as 50 million year quake.
  3. This episode shows how, even during times of great tragedy and hardship – such as the deadliest earthquake in the history of South Asia – humor can be the most effective tool at our disposal. Needless to say, the Pakistani officials who heard the joke loved it, which helped to ease a potentially difficult relationship between a military regime and the international humanitarian community. But you need to be careful to make the right joke at the right time. On this front, MacLeod has me beaten by a mile.

A political scientist explains what influences disaster relief aid decisions

germany search & rescue nepal
germany search & rescue nepal

Relief workers from the German NGO International Search and Rescue prepare to head to Nepal with their dog Apache (courtesy of VOA News).

In my last post, I examined a handful of studies that explored the political drivers of disaster relief aid determinations. Two of these studies were from Travis Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Platteville. Unfortunately, Dr. Nelson was too busy with end of the semester tasks to get back to me before I published the original post, but he did send me a couple of thoughts last week. Below are my questions on the research and his responses.

Tim Kovach: In your 2010 article, “Rejecting the gift horse,” you argue that anocratic states are the ones most likely to reject disaster relief aid. Do you think that the Burmese government would have initially rejected international assistance after Cyclone Nargis regardless of the fact that the constitutional referendum was one week later, given its hostile relations with the West? Or was the political transition central to this decision?

Travis Nelson: Having looked at a number of these cases of aid rejection, I think the main common denominator is a fear of perceived weakness. The government of Burma/Myanmar was already weak and facing a popular revolt when Cyclone Nargis struck. Any further perceived weakness could have, from their perspective, further emboldened those efforts. India transitioned from aid recipient to aid donor not necessarily because it no longer needed aid but because it wanted to be perceived as a stronger global power. Even the Bush administration’s refusal of international aid following Hurricane Katrina seems to me to be about perception of strength (to both a domestic and international audience) more than anything else. So my read is that Burma/Myanmar rejection of aid was less about the constitutional referendum and more about these broader concerns. Although the referendum itself was, of course, a factor in these broader concerns.

Tim Kovach: I’m not sure if you have read the 2009 World Bank paper (and subsequent 2011 study) from Guenther Fink & Silvia Raedelli that argues disaster aid is nearly as politicized as official development assistance. If you have, do you have any thoughts on their argument? I know that your study does find some evidence that trade, colonial ties, and military alliances influence humanitarian aid flows, but why do you think that your results differ from some of the other literature on these points?

Travis Nelson: Although I haven’t looked at their study that carefully, I don’t think my findings are that different than those of Fink/Raedelli.  Both of us agree that humanitarian aid is ultimately a mix of political interest and humanitarian need.  Individual donor states differ on which types of “political interest” are a factor in their aid decisions.  But the fact of political interest is consistent.  The same is true of humanitarian need.  When I give presentations about humanitarian aid, I often find that audiences are deeply skeptical that humanitarian aid is about anything other than the political interest of the donor.  So I think it is notable that the data does not support this conclusion.  There is still at least some humanitarianism in humanitarian aid.

 

Condoms are key for promoting responsible consumption

community health worker
community health worker

A community health worker talks to women in SIerra Leone (courtesy of H4+ Partnership).

At first blush, the idea that one action to reduce conspicuous consumption could bring about a sustainable future seems far-fetched. Sustainability is all-encompassing. There is no silver bullet; we need a thousand silver BBs. But not all actions are created equally. Some are so central that, without them, we cannot hope to bring about the future we want. Ensuring that all 7 billion people have the access to and education needed to properly use condoms is one such action.

Worldwide, more than 200 million women have an unmet need for contraception. This gap has startling consequences. In 2012, at least 85 million pregnancies were unintended. If every woman who wanted to avoid pregnancy could access modern contraceptives, there would be 22 million fewer unplanned births and 15 million fewer unsafe abortions each year.

The condom is perhaps the most important tool for tackling this issue. This simple piece of latex tackles a host of problems that undermine sustainability.

First, condoms help fight the scourge of HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). More than 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related diseases in 2013, while 35 million people live with HIV/AIDS. In turn, people contract nearly 350 million cases of STIs, like gonorrhea and syphilis, each year. These preventable infections make life far more challenging and can even be deadly. One such disease, HPV, is the leading cause of cervical cancer, which kills hundreds of thousands of women annually.

Second, condoms are vital for curbing population growth and addressing climate change. If contraceptive use increased by 14%, we could prevent 1 billion births by 2050. This step will be key for keeping global temperatures below 2ºC. Curbing population growth could, on its own, produce 16-29% of the emissions reductions we need to stave off dangerous climate change. This issue will be particularly important in the developed world, where each person’s carbon footprint is far larger. Here in the United States, where half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the average person uses 25 times more resources in his/her lifetime than one in a developing country. Clearly, condoms can reduce carbon emissions and tackle conspicuous consumption in tandem.

Third, ensuring that everyone can use condoms will increase our level of resiliency. Pregnant women and infants are uniquely vulnerable to a number of threats, like natural disasters and diseases. During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, women were four times more likely to die. And, because mosquitoes are attracted to pregnant women, malaria hits them especially hard. Infection during pregnancy causes 10,000 maternal and 200,000 infant deaths every year in Africa. Reproductive health, particularly contraceptive use, needs to be a centerpiece of health and disaster management planning.

Fourth, the condom can be a key tool for women’s empowerment. Every day, millions of women are trapped by the issues related to unprotected sex. Giving them the ability to choose when and how they reproduce is essential to putting their destinies in their hands. Condoms can help reduce the amount of time a woman spends pregnant, curb postpartum depression, and slash maternal deaths. As the WHO noted, “Without fertility regulation, women’s rights are mere words. A woman who has no control over her fertility cannot complete her education, cannot maintain gainful employment…and has very few real choices open to her.”

Clearly, while the condom is not a sufficient tool for a sustainable future, it is a necessary one. Condoms help liberate men and women alike from illness, vulnerability, environmental harm, and a lack of choice.

Ohio House budget slashes additional funding for public transit

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed its version of the state’s biennial budget, HB 64. The proposed budget, which is the largest in state history (by far), appropriates $131.6 billion in total spending for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This includes $71.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, which, based on reports from The Plain Dealer, will pay it no mind and develop a budget of its own. The next two-plus months should be…interesting.

HB 64 sets aside more than $700 million less than Governor John Kasich had requested in his budget proposal, which he released in February. Yet, according to Plunderbund, the GRF spending is still 43% more than the final budget passed under Governor Ted Strickland. Moreover, HB 64 far exceeds the cap on increased GRF spending set in place by the Republican-controlled stated legislature in 2006. As Plunderbund explains, while the State Appropriation Limit law dictates the state cannot increase GRF appropriations by more than 3.5% in any given year, this budget blows that (stupid) limit out of the water. Under HB 64, GRF spending would spike by 11.3% in FY 2016 and 4.7% in FY 2017.

Last month, I noted that the Governor’s budget increased GRF spending on public transit by $1 million per year, to $8.3 million annually for FY 2016-2017 from $7.3 million in FY 2014-2015. (According to Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), the state actually spent $10,134,611 during FY 2014.) As I argued at the time,

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

Well, it looks like even this modest enthusiasm was misplaced. HB 64 does away with this additional funding, locking in GRF spending on transit at $7.3 million for the next two years. Whereas transit accounted for a pitiful 0.035% of the GRF in FY 2014, this number will decrease to just 0.02% in FY 2016 and FY 2017.

Let’s express that in per capita terms, shall we? Based on projections from state’s Development Services Agency, Ohio’s population will reach 11,549,120 this year. That should grow to roughly 11,554,270 and 11,559,420 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, the state will spend a whopping $0.63 per person on transit each year.

Clearly, Ohio does not prioritize public transit. To show how little our legislators care about this issue, I have collected a few other budget line items from the Ohio House’s budget, for comparison’s sake:

  • Ohio Grape Industries (spending to promote the state’s wineries): $970,000 per year for FY 2016-2017
  • Art acquisitions for public properties: $225,000 per year
  • Choose Life (state issued license plates to discourage abortions): $75,000 per year
  • Ohio State Racing Commission (“dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of horse racing and its related industry components”): $31,535,000 million per year
  • Ohio State Fair Harness Racing: $235,000 per year
  • Coal Research and Development Program (a program to “development and implementation of technologies that can use Ohio’s vast reserves of coal in an economical, environmentally sound manner” LOL): $234,400 per year
  • Coal Research & Development General Obligation Bond Debt Service: $5,991,400 in FY 2016, $5,038,700 in FY 2017
  • Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative (a program to “improve agricultural trade and R&D ties between Ohio and Israel”): $200,000 per year
  • State printing costs: $21,568,075 in FY 2016, $21,688,106 in FY 2017

This is just a small selection of the things that Ohio lawmakers would rather fund than public transit.

We already know, for instance, that ODOT spends more money to mow the grass alongside Ohio’s highways than it does on transit. We’ll also apparently spend nearly $1.2 million to find “a less costly and easier way to cut the grass and manage the trees and shrubs along the state’s interstates and highways.” Oh, and did I mention that the state has set aside more than $200,000 for legal fees to uphold our ban on same sex marriage? But $1 million more for transit is unthinkable.

Sadly, I can’t even say that this budget passed strictly alongside party lines. That’s because, while 5 Republican representatives jumped shipped and voted against the bill, 3 Democrats actually voted in favor of it. All three of these legislators – John Barnes, Bill Patmon, and Martin Sweeney – hail from Cleveland, where nearly one-quarter of households lack access to a car.

One day, maybe we’ll break the car-centric fever raging through the Statehouse. Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through in a state that has no problem spending $429 million on a freeway bypass for a county that’s home to 25,000 people, but cannot find another dime for the nearly 250,000 people who ride transit each day (PDF) in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.

Update: (4/24 2:20pm): To provide some additional context on just how far Ohio’s level of transit funding has fallen, I wanted to add the comparable funding data from 2000, the year in which transit funding peaked. In 2000, Ohio’s GRF reached $20.2 billion. That same year, the state spent $44.32 million from the GRF on transit. As such, transit expenditures accounted for 0.11% of total GRF spending, 10.6 and 11.12 times more than it would reach in FY 2016 and FY 2017 under the House’s budget, respectively.

I also had some questions about how I got the number of people who ride transit on a daily basis in Ohio’s three largest cities. I took the annual number of transit riders for each city in 2011 from the American Public Transit Association, summed them, and divided that number by 365. That total was 243,299.5 riders per day. Because this is averaged across the entire year, it obviously overestimates the number of riders on weekends and significantly underestimates the number of commuters on weekdays. It also fails to account for any of the other transit authorities in the state.