For the past several decades, power plants were the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, among the main contributors to global climate change. However, for the first time since 1978, the energy sector is no longer the nation’s lead polluter.
That title now belongs to the transportation industry, as cars, trains, planes, and boats are producing more harmful emissions than any other source in the country.
In recent years, U.S. energy production has turned away from coal and embraced natural gas, a significantly cleaner, more sustainable fuel source. That, not an increasingly inefficient transportation sector, is largely responsible for transit’s rise to chief emitter.
Nevertheless, the reversal stresses the need for improved, reliable, and sustainable public transportation systems. Investments in modern transit systems—electrified bus fleets, expanded rail, pedestrian-friendly planning—are needed to break the country’s car-centric culture and transport people more efficiently. They will also play a critical role in addressing the challenges of climate change. The electrification of private vehicles and transit fleets will be particularly instrumental in taming transportation-related pollution.
A focus on modern transit and its relationship to harmful pollution, particularly as Congress debates sweeping tax reform and the Trump Administration rolls back environmental protection policies, is much-needed. Addressing the nation’s transit issues will prove vital in confronting many of its other pressing challenges.