March 28, 2011

Gillibrand, Nadler, Mayor Bloomberg, Yassky, Announce New Legislative Push on Capitol Hill For Fuel -Efficient Taxi Fleets After Supreme Court Decision Grids NYC Plan To A Halt

Gillibrand-Nadler ‘Green Taxis Act’ Reduces Pollutants, Creates Estimated $90 Million in Annual Savings, Improves Quality of Life for All New Yorkers

New York, NY – Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a New York City program aimed to create a fuel-efficient taxi fleet, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and TLC Commissioner/Chair David Yassky stood in front of City Hall today to announce the Gillibrand-Nadler Green Taxis Act will be re-introduced in both houses of Congress this week. This federal legislation would allow all major cities to raise fuel efficiency standards for taxis. With the City’s green taxi plan now at a legal impasse, an act of Congress is required to give the City and other local governments the ability to upgrade to fuel-efficient taxi fleets. More than a dozen cities across the country joined in support of the City's appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s decision.

“Congress must act to provide New York, and cities all across the country, with the common sense tools they need to improve the quality of air and quality of life for their citizens,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “By creating fuel-efficient taxi fleets, we can improve air quality and lower carbon emissions while reducing our consumption of foreign oil. It’s time to update antiquated federal rules and allow cities to take a major step forward towards a cleaner and safer nation.”

“When it comes to reducing carbon emissions in our cities and improving the quality of our air, we need to do more to embrace forward-looking environmental policies,” said Congressman Nadler.  “The Green Taxis Act will go a great distance toward making our air cleaner, making taxis more energy efficient, and advancing a more sustainable future.  Along with Senator Gillibrand, I’m pleased to re-introduce this crucial legislation which will bring federal environmental policy up-to-date with the needs of our cities.”

“It is the height of irony that a law created over three decades ago to help clean our air has prevented us from doing just that,” said TLC Commissioner Yassky.  “And thanks to Senator Gillibrand, Congressman Nadler, and the tireless efforts of the Bloomberg Administration, the time is now for us to correct that unintended consequence so that we can all breathe easier.”

“Communities across the nation are making local efforts to have cleaner air by having cleaner cabs - Congress should give them the flexibility to do so,” said David Bragdon, Director of the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

“Many cities and states have developed innovative policies that also address climate change,” said Mark Izeman, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Director of the New York Urban Program. “Washington should be encouraging them to do even more, not standing in the way.  This sensible clean taxi legislation would allow New York and cities around the country to consume less oil and spew fewer pollutants into the atmosphere -- and that's good for our health.”

“The Sierra Club is grateful and supportive to see this bill from Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler,” said Ken Baer, Sierra Club’s New York City Group Chair.  “We need to take steps to curb our addiction to oil, and if passed into law this will be another step toward improving New York City's air quality and curbing global warming.”

“To cut pollution from traffic, cities need the ability to shift large fleets to the cleanest technologies on the market today,” said Andy Darrell, New York Regional Director and Deputy Director of Environmental Defense Fund's national energy program. “EDF encourages all levels of government to work together to make this step to clean air possible.”

The Green Taxis Act of 2011 would modify federal law to give local governments the authority to regulate fuel economy and emissions standards for taxicabs. Current policy under both the Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) and the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) blocks localities from setting fuel economy and emissions standards for taxis. In 2009, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler introduced legislation to empower cities to reduce emissions and improve air quality. The two lawmakers have been working closely with Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York, environmental organizations, and the transportation industry to amend federal environmental law to allow for a greener fleet of taxi cabs.

Under the Green Taxis Act, local governments can only set standards if the vehicles are commercially available or are manufactured under a contract with a State or political subdivision.  Manufacturers could not be required to produce vehicles simply to meet local emissions specifications and taxi operators could not be required to use vehicles that are not readily available.  In addition, specifications cannot exceed current federal laws for fuel economy.   

New York City’s current standard taxicab vehicle is the Crown Victoria, which has one of the worst emissions ratings for light duty vehicles. City taxis travel an average of 80,000 miles per year, compared to a typical passenger car with an average 15,000 miles per year.  Upgrading to fuel-efficient taxis with lower emissions would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 296,000 tons, or the equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road.  At today’s gas prices, drivers of hybrid taxis save an average of $5,250 in gas costs per year.  If all city taxis were Ford Escape hybrids, the taxi fleet would reduce gas consumption by an estimated 25 million gallons, saving an estimated $90 million annually. Citywide, only one-third of the 13,000 taxis on the road are hybrids.

Switching to greener taxis would also significantly improve air quality and provide health benefits. A typical city taxi emits roughly 71% more nitrogen oxide and 89% more hydrocarbons than fuel efficient vehicles.   These pollutants can lead to lung tissue damage and exacerbate asthma symptoms.  Studies have shown that even a slight reduction in the pollutants that form smog could have a substantial health benefit.

Last July, mayors from half a dozen cities – New York, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles – signed onto a letter in support of Gillibrand-Nadler legislation. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council, have also praised the benefits of the bill. Boston and Seattle have also attempted to green their taxi fleets and mandate upgrades to cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Those efforts have also been blocked in court.