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Dire Warnings Over Fed's Failure To Track Highway Emissions

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Eight states jointly sued the U.S. Department of Transportation this week, claiming that its failure to require tracking of highway carbon emissions not only violates federal law but could cause further environmental calamity.

The defendants say suspension of the program may -- among many other negative consequences -- exacerbate: Lyme Disease in Vermont, forest fires in California, crop-reducing droughts in Iowa, declining air quality in Massachusetts, storm surges in Maryland, polluted water bodies in Minnesota, declining snowpack in Oregon, and damage to Washington's fisheries.

Just months after President Donald Trump assumed office, the Department of Transportation announced it had "indefinitely delayed" the start of the Greenhouse Gas Performance Measure, a program designed to track vehicle emissions in each state and set appropriate reduction goals.

"Good cause exists to suspend the effective date of the GHG measure without notice and comment," wrote the Federal Highway Administration's Acting Deputy Administrator Walter C. Waidelich, Jr. in May.

The Department of Transportation has promised to issue a federal register notice on the topic.

The suspension of the Greenhouse Gas Performance Measure came roughly one month after the  the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the transportation sector had surpassed electricity generation in becoming the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Energy also found that transportation was the only sector to increase its emissions and that emissions from motor gasoline increased by 1.8 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Greg Dotson, an assistant law professor at the University of Oregon, told CBS San Francisco that the benefit of tracking emissions can be "captured by the old saying, 'what you measure, you can manage.'"

The program would have provided information on which U.S. roadways were creating the most carbon pollution and might have led to proposed solutions, such as improved highway infrastructure or expanded public transportation systems.

Dotson said he knows of no instance where the department has articulated the reason for the indefinite delay, but added that he sees the move as consistent with other actions taken by the administration.

"DOT owes the American people an explanation for this highly unusual step to essentially ignore carbon pollution," Dotson said.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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