Public transit advocates were almost nowhere to be found when the Senate debated climate change back in 2003. But today, transit agencies and their allies are among many new players jumping into the climate debate, as the stakes grow higher, and the prospective benefits — a cleaner world and cold cash — grow clearer.
An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity shows that last year at least 25 transit groups, cities, and counties engaged in climate lobbying focused on public transit.
Measures to reduce transportation emissions are a growing part of the climate change debate on Capitol Hill. “Between  and now I think what you saw was a clearer understanding of transit’s role in reducing greenhouse gases,” said Paul Dean, director of government relations at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). “We began to get some traction in the latest debate [in 2008].”
Environmental Protection Agency figures show that the transportation sector — cars and trucks, mostly — accounts for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So any climate change legislation will probably aim to get people out of their cars and on to mass transit, be it trains, light rail, or even buses.
But close observers of the debate say transit advocates are concerned not just with doing good, but with doing well. Under the “cap-and-trade” concept at the core of most legislative proposals, the federal government would raise billions in revenue by selling emissions “permits” to private companies; some of those billions would then be doled out to projects that could reduce greenhouse gases, such as mass transit projects.