Sustainability commission unveils green recommendations

By · Published in 2009

greenmta Back in Sept. 2007, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander unveiled plans for a Blue Ribbon commission on the MTA’s sustainability. Yesterday, the panel unveiled its first set of recommendations and a 148-page draft of its final report due in February. Combining national recommendations with state-based efforts and internal improvements the MTA could make in its green efforts, the document is a powerful, ambitious and, at times, over-reaching proposal for one potential future of the area’s transit network.

The report is, frankly, too large and too all-encompassing to digest in one sitting, and like Ben Fried at Streetsblog, I’m still attempting to sift my way through it. In terms of first impressions, however, it’s mostly what you would expect. On a local level, it urges the state to approve the Ravitch Commission recommendations and calls for adequate enforcement of bus-only and BRT lanes. It urges better transit-oriented development and higher on-street parking rates. On a national level, it urges the government to pass a $1 trillion green stimulus bill devoted to “21st century transit and renewable energy.” Nothing is too big or too small for this commission, and in a perfect world, nearly all of its recommendations would be followed.

As I make my way through the report, I can offer you the MTA’s organizational take on it via the agency’s press release. The report was unveiled in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday by Sander and Jonathan F.P. Rose, chairman of the Sustainability Commission. A whole slew of leading transit advocates and experts as well as New York politicos were on hand. Here’s the press release’s summary of the report:

Among its many transformational recommendations, the report calls for the MTA to draw 80 percent of its operating energy from clean, renewable energy sources by 2050, and suggests ways this should be done. At the same time, it urges a significant expansion of transit access in order for the MTA transit system to reach and absorb two thirds of the New York metropolitan area’s projected growth of 4 million people between now and 2030. By ensuring that an increased share of this growth develops as transit-oriented clusters rather than sprawl, the MTA’s expansion will have a significant impact not only on regional productivity, but on our national energy and climate-stabilization goals. The report points to strategies that will reduce regional CO2emissions while expanding the mobility needed to remain competitive in a global financial, educational, and cultural marketplace.

Initial assessment of the report’s recommendations indicates a possible yield of 105,500 net new jobs per year, employment income of $5.1 billion a year, and regional economic output of fully $17 billion per year for the period from 2010 to 2019. This urgent stimulus priority at the federal level intersects with the equally urgent international commitment to contain global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote renewable energy.

By removing some 3 million drivers from the roads each day, the MTA already avoids more carbon emissions than 648,000 acres of forest absorb. This “carbon avoidance” benefit is increasingly viewed as a measurable commodity with societal benefits and a market value. In effect, the MTA provides unreimbursed carbon reduction services for which many industries now claim financial and funding credits.

The draft of the report and an executive summary of sorts are available here on the MTA’s website.

I think the MTA deserves to be commended for this document. At the same time, we should also recognize that the MTA, by virtue of its mission, is already a green organization. For every bus, subway and commuter train packed at rush hour, thousands of cars are off the roads. As the state legislature nears that March 25 deadline for action on the Ravitch recommendations, that august body should keep in mind the environmental impact of inaction as well as the economic effect a weaker MTA would have on the New York City Metropolitan Area.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep pouring over the environmental report. Already, I can see a flaw: While the commission encourages better MetroCard recycling efforts, the first draft contains nary a mention of the more environmentally friendly SmartCard options that are alive and well in various other cities. That’s small beans compared to the commission’s overall message. We can act. We can save the MTA and our region’s and country’s environment. All we need is a strong leader and the political will to do so.

3 Responses to “Sustainability commission unveils green recommendations”

  1. Doc Barnett says:

    I don’t think this is a good idea: “the report calls for the MTA to draw 80 percent of its operating energy from clean, renewable energy sources.” Pledging to get electricity from certain sources for certain things is a shell game, with transit riders as its marks. It raises costs for us, while suburban and exurban residents can spend less per kilowatt to power their large, single-family houses on zero percent renewable. To the extent that such efforts expand renewable power at all, they do it on the backs of people that are already thanklessly living responsibly. Wind turbines that are going to be built anyway can send their feeble output to transit instead of somewhere else, and somebody’s spreadsheet may look better, but overall carbon output keeps going up… hooray.

    Carbon tax: it’s the only way to promote renewable energy that is effective and fair. Which, I hear, the commission also recommends. It sounds like a good report overall, with some green fluff around the edges to please fans of conspicuous green consumption—a trend that has graciously been waylaid by the financial crisis, if the Times’ and Post’s mocking write-ups on the Green MetroCard are any indication. That part of it just feels behind the times.

  2. Climatarians says:

    I personally agree with mr Barnett…. but one of the most important things is that we, all the people in the world, establish a price for CO2 output in Copenhagen this coming winter…. then we can tax it!

    Meanwhile…. if you want to promote your (sustainable) website or content please go to our


  1. […] the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the MTA unveiled its 148-page draft recommendations last week, the news coverage was decidedly mixed. It’s no small feat to digest and present a […]

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