The 2022 Climate Leadership Conference—held in Washington, D.C., in the last week of May—brought together influential climate, energy, and sustainability professionals to address climate change through policy, innovation, and business solutions. Fittingly, the theme of the event was “Connecting People, Innovation, and Opportunity.”
ICF’s Climate Center leaned into this theme by convening a workshop, How federal agencies are prioritizing new climate funding for transportation, that connected federal agency leaders with representatives from business and state and local governments.
We spoke with Chris Steuer, senior director of climate planning, to discuss key takeaways from the workshop.
ICF: It sounds like the workshop was a great opportunity to showcase climate leadership at the federal agencies. Who participated in our event?
Chris Steuer: Absolutely. We were thrilled to convene senior leaders working on climate change from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the newly formed Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
We heard from Coral Torres Cruz, senior advisor to the FHWA Administrator, U.S. Department of Transportation; Rachael Nealer, deputy director, Joint Office of Energy and Transportation; and Faye Swift, Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program grants and policy team leader, EPA. Our own Stacy Noblet, vice president, transportation electrification + ICF Climate Center, moderated the session.
ICF: The focus of the workshop was the funding to address climate change in transportation provided in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed last year. What stood out to you?
Chris Steuer: The distribution of funds available through the bipartisan infrastructure law provides a great example of the Biden administration’s whole-of-government approach to addressing climate change. Responding to climate change requires this collaborative approach because it’s a challenge that cuts across multiple areas of knowledge and expertise.
For example, the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation is working on infrastructure issues like electric vehicle charging stations that impact both the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure. The combined expertise of staff within both the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Transportation enables the federal government to respond to the diverse considerations that will make EV projects successful.
ICF: For people who are considering an EV as their next car, what did you hear that might make that decision easier?
Chris Steuer: Well, we know that the U.S. needs to ramp up the transition to EVs in order to hit its climate goals and achieve a net-zero economy, right? But the top cited reason why people say they won't buy electric is range anxiety. They're concerned about the limits of the battery’s power and feeling like they can only go so far before having to charge it again.
The IIJA created a National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program to make sure that there's an EV charging station all along the interstate highway system. The goal is to provide a place to charge an EV every 50 miles, within one mile of an exit—just as easy to find as the traditional gas station. $5 billion administered by FHWA is going to fund that new program via states, and there’s a new Joint Office website (DriveElectric.gov) that provides guidance, plan templates, technical assistance, and other supporting tools.
ICF: Focusing on environmental justice through the climate change response is also a stated priority of the Biden administration. Was that addressed during the discussion?
Chris Steuer: That's a good question. We have to figure out how we can solve the climate change problem and do so in a way that addresses long-standing environmental justice and equity issues.
One concrete example of how that's being done is the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. Replacing diesel buses with cleaner models will greatly cut down on CO2 emissions and air pollution, particularly in urban areas. It’s also a $5 billion program and it prioritizes funding for high-need, low-income, rural, and tribal schools. Applications for zero-emission and low-emission school bus rebates are being accepted as the first funding opportunity and a wealth of information is available online to help applicants.
Likewise, the forthcoming Charging and Fueling Infrastructure program managed by FHWA will provide funding for underserved communities to locate EV charging infrastructure at public buildings. An EV charging station at a school, for example, could be used by teachers during the day and then by community members in the evening when accessing parks, playgrounds, or other nearby amenities.
ICF: Any final observations?
Chris Steuer: I was struck by how these large federal agencies are working together. Our speakers highlighted the different roles that each of them played to develop and implement programs that are dispersing this new climate funding for transportation.
Having representatives from the private sector—including utilities—as well as state and local governments in the room meant that we really reached the key stakeholders that will pursue federal funding. These same stakeholders will be involved in, or benefit from, its implementation.
To learn more about the ICF Climate Center's data-driven projections of likely EV adoption scenarios and actionable recommendations for public sector and utility leaders, download our new report: The impact of electric vehicles on climate change.