taining a focus on meeting the goals of the policy. Although it addresses a different issue, a RAND (RAND Europe, 1997, p. 2) study summarizes this sensibility by saying that “a realistic approach to the formulation of policy should explicitly confront the fact that policy will be adjusted as the world changes and as new information becomes available.” An example of such an adaptive policy is provided in Chapter 5 (see Section 5.6, “Adapting Policy to Changes in Technology”). In that example, a mid-course change in policy was made as a result of an unanticipated improvement in one vehicle technology or fuel type, and the study goals were met.
In considering what such an adaptive policy framework might look like, it is important that it not be trivialized to a mere exhortation that “policy makers should adapt.” Policy makers adapt all the time. Although the criticism, “America lacks an energy policy,” is often heard, the country in fact has as energy policy that has developed over time, including evolving measures to address transportation energy use. Congress and successive administrations have adapted laws, regulations, and other programs to new conditions and new information, satisfying different needs and interests to different degrees (perhaps leaving some unsatisfied). Vehicle efficiency standards have been modified over the years depending on the public priority placed on petroleum conservation and more recently coordinated with CAA-authorized GHG emissions standards in response to climate concerns.
The track record of the existing approach to transportation energy policy is decidedly mixed. CAFE standards have helped to limit growth in oil demand and GHG emissions, but at uneven rates over the years. Whatever learning may have been achieved, in the United States alternative fuel and vehicle technologies have had little impact on the sector’s petroleum dependence and no measurable benefit on its net GHG emissions intensity (which may in fact have worsened). Corn ethanol has displaced a portion of petroleum gasoline, but there is no evidence for the beginning of a broader transition to non-petroleum resources beyond the levels mandated by the RFS. If changes in energy use and GHG emissions of the magnitude given in this committee’s task statement are to be achieved, the country will need a policy framework that is much more effective in moving the LDV-fuel system toward specified goals. Although a formal adaptive paradigm has not been used for transportation and energy policy to date, some guidance can be obtained from other contexts where it has been used. Insights can also be found in the history of public policies that have resulted in varying degrees of progress on the impacts of LDVs.
One issue for which discussions of adaptive policy have been published is that of climate adaptation, i.e., measures for handling the impacts of climate change rather than mitigating its causes. This body of work builds on prior thinking about adaptive frameworks for natural resource and ecological systems management. Swanson and Bhadwal (2009) characterize adaptive policies as those that not only anticipate the range of conditions that lie ahead, but also have an up-front design that is robust in the face of unanticipated situations. Aspects of such design include integrated and forward-looking analysis, policy development deliberations that involve multiple stakeholders, and the definition of key performance indicators that are then monitored in order to trigger automatic adjustments in parameters of the policy. Adaptive policies ideally are able to navigate toward successful outcomes even while encountering developments (including lack of hoped-for outcomes) that cannot be anticipated in advance.
An example of such an adaptive framework for the transport-sector GHG emissions is the proposal contained in a 2009 consensus report by the U. S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a group of 31 corporations and public-interest groups. The USCAP proposal states (2009, p. 23):
Congress should require EPA, in collaboration with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal and state and local agencies, to carry out a periodic in-depth assessment of current and projected progress in transportation sector GHG emissions reductions… . This assessment should examine the contributions to emissions reductions attributable to improvements in vehicle efficiency and GHG performance of transportation fuels, increased efficiency in utilizing the transportation infrastructure, as well as changes in consumer demand and use of transportation systems, and any other GHG-related transportation policies enacted by Congress.
On the basis of such assessments EPA, DOT and other agencies with authorities and responsibilities for elements of the transportation sector should be required to promulgate updated programs and rules—including revisions to any authorized market incentives, performance standards, and other policies and measures—as needed to ensure that the transportation sector is making a reasonably commensurate contribution to the achievement of national GHG emissions targets.
Committee members hold a range of views on the merits of the USCAP proposal. This committee presents its own proposal for an adaptive framework in Chapter 7.
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