By virtue of its role as one of the world’s largest public transit agencies, the MTA is a very green organization, and now the cash-strapped MTA is looking to capitalize on its negative carbon footprint in an effort to maximize its revenue potential.
Earlier this week, Matthew Sweeney at amNew York broke the story that the MTA is working with analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton to develop a way to sell carbon credits in the growing emissions trading markets. Sweeney writes:
Last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a $776,000 contract with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to measure its carbon footprint and look at ways to create revenues “in a tradable-carbon situation.”
What that means is that the MTA hopes eventually to quantify the amount of pollution it removes from the air through mass transit, put a value on it, and sell it to a company that is a high polluter. By paying the MTA, the company would legally be allowed to pollute.
“This is all quite new and unique and a little bit out there,” said Projjal Dutta, director of sustainability initiatives at the MTA.
The MTA, Sweeney notes, “actually has a negative carbon footprint because subways, trains, and buses take cars off the road and reduce congestion, which means that cars do not burn as much fuel sitting in traffic.”
In trying to wrap my head around the idea of the MTA trading its carbon credits in an emissions market, I keep landing on two distinct points that are seemingly at odds with each other. On the one hand, as we well know, the MTA is searching high and low for any dollars it can scrounge up. The authority needs money to keep our public transit system in a state of good repair and, looking ahead, for much needed expansion plans as well. To that end, if the powers that be feel they can capitalize on the MTA’s negative emissions, then they should do so.
But on the other hand, the environmentalist public transit advocate in me is a little wary of the carbon trading plan. If the MTA is allowing some other company to continue to pollute by trading them their carbon credits and profiting from it, does that really match the agency’s desired and publicly-stated goals of becoming a greener organization? Until the U.S. starts putting stricter caps on greenhouse emissions, the MTA is simply profiting off some other company’s pollutants. That’s fine for the bottom line but not so fine for the environment.