Land Use and Transportation Policies Addressing Climate Change
Sara C. Bronin, Land Use and Transportation Policies Addressing Climate Change, in Global Climate Change and U.S. Law (American Bar Association Press; Michael B. Gerrard, Jody Freeman, and Michael Burger, eds.) 3d ed. 2022
58 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2021 Last revised: 17 Oct 2023
Date Written: October 11, 2021
American land use and transportation policies direct where and how we live, and how we get from one place to the next. Together, they have tremendous influence over the extent to which humans impact the environment. Unfortunately, too often, they tend to favor low-density sprawl, which makes the places people go too far apart from each other. As sprawl begets more sprawl, Americans must depend more on their cars to get around. They do more driving, which in turn means more cars emitting more greenhouse gases (GHGs). The same development patterns that lead to more GHGs also inhibit us from mitigating the effects of those GHGs, because sprawl destroys forestland, wetlands, and other ecosystems critical to cleaning our air. Significant, coordinated changes to our land development patterns and our transportation system will be essential if we want to limit changes to our climate.
Despite clear links between them, land use and transportation policies are not well coordinated from a practical, administrative standpoint. Land use policy is primarily developed by local governments, pursuant to enabling acts adopted by legislatures in all 50 states. Tens of thousands of local jurisdictions engage in land use controls around the country, mandating low-density development on most regulated land. Transportation policy, meanwhile, involves a patchwork of funding decisions, regulations, and laws adopted at multiple levels of government, but primarily driven by federal standards and decisions. Generally, transportation policy tends to focus on the needs and convenience of drivers, and on the road network, rather than the full array of transportation users and modes. The effects of this uncoordinated approach are both detrimental and avoidable.
Reform and harmonization of land use and transportation policies at several scales can significantly reduce avoidable burdens we impose on our planet. This chapter first sets the context, highlighting the trend of increasing GHG emissions and explaining how land use and transportation policies relate. It then analyzes four key land use regulatory frameworks, including zoning, growth management, historic preservation, and planning laws. Next, it deals with transportation laws and policies at the local, regional, state, and federal levels, including the regulation of transportation fuels, another essential determinant of GHG emissions from motor vehicles.
Keywords: land use, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, planning, biofuels, zoning, energy, food, landscape, growth management, waste, historic preservation, walking, bicycling, public transit
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