While U.S. non-transport emissions decline, those from transport climb

The good news is that more and more Americans are utilizing transportation methods that 1) don’t pollute at all, or 2) pollute less than the so-called “standard internal-combustion-engine powered motor vehicles.” What’s the bad news? With American drivers having driven 3.148 trillion miles in 2015 – the highest in recorded history, carbon dioxide and other emissions from this one activity alone, are on the upswing.

20130828172057-0[1] (340x192)Meanwhile, pollutant emissions from the energy sector are and have been trending negatively.

In a United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) news release titled: “New Federal Data Show Transportation Sector Now the Largest Source of Carbon Pollution in the United States, First Time in Nearly 40 Years: Highlights Need for U.S. DOT to Move Forward with New Rules to Help Limit Transportation Emissions,” the organization had this to say:

“New federal data from the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) show that the U.S. transportation sector has produced more carbon pollution than any other sector of the economy over the last 12 months, including the electric power, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors. The results mark the first time that carbon emissions from the transportation sector have exceeded emissions from each of the other sectors since 1979.”

U.S. PIRG went on in the release to state: “Based on the moving 12-month total for April 2016 (latest available data), which sums monthly carbon pollution from May 2015 to April 2016, the transportation sector produced the greatest amount of carbon pollution when compared with each of the other sectors of the economy. This marks the third consecutive month where this has been the case, with the moving 12-month totals for March 2016 and February 2016 showing the same trend. Like the 12-month total for April 2016, the 12-month totals for March and February are similarly based on the sum total of monthly carbon pollution for the preceding 12 months (i.e. April 2015 – March 2016 and March 2015 – February 2016). This continuity suggests that the trend may be here to stay.”

Not an encouraging thought. How does this notion scan with the terms of the climate agreement made at the COP-21 (21st annual Conference of the Parties) gathering in Paris last December? Does it scan at all?

Domestically, agreed to, was a greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction goal of between 26 and 28 percent below those in 2005 by year 2025.

It should be noted, based on a recent study conducted at MIT1, that in the United States each year from road-based transportation alone, approximately 53,000 and approximately 5,300 premature deaths, respectively, are fine particulate matter- (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) and ozone pollution-related.

“Pursuant to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), U.S. DOT is required to issue a series of performance standards to provide greater accountability over our national transportation system and to ensure that local action is consistent with key national priorities. The last of these rules, those governing air pollution and congestion, are currently open for public comment and U.S. DOT is expected to release the final version of the rule by the end of the year,” the U.S. PIRG in the release further noted.

There are many approaches to reducing carbon pollution from the transportation sector, such as better and more public transportation options, increased reliance on zero- and near-zero emissions vehicles and mobility-sharing and congestion-pricing schemes and more.

For more information, see: “A New Way Forward: Envisioning a Transportation System without Carbon Pollution” from the Frontier Group.


  1. “Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005,” F. Caiazzo et al., “5. Conclusions,” Atmospheric Environment, Vol. 79, Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013, p. 207

Image above: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This post was last revised on Jan. 1, 2021 @ 9:36 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Published by Alan Kandel