October 23, 2018 1:30 PM, EDT

New York Port Authority Adopts GHG Plan in Support of Paris Climate Agreement

Shipping containers and cargo ships are seen at the Port Jersey Marine Terminal Shipping containers and cargo ships are seen at the Port Jersey Marine Terminal in this aerial photograph taken above New York. (Craig Warga/Bloomberg News)

More than a year after President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change, one of America’s busiest transportation systems may sign on.

Following more than a dozen states which have said they will take their own steps to curb the release of greenhouse gases despite the federal government’s stance, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s board on Oct. 25 will consider cutting emissions 35% below 2006 pollution levels over the next eight years. By 2050, emissions should fall 80% below that level. New York and New Jersey are among states that support the international targets.

“The states of New York and New Jersey have taken a leadership role in stepping up to embrace the Paris accord, given the fact that the United States has withdrawn,” port authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, said. “The port authority ought to join with the two states in embracing the Paris Accord and doing what we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Container ship leaving New Jersey

(Edouard H.R. Gluck/Bloomberg News)

The port authority, one of the nation’s largest transportation agencies, operates New York City’s airports, shipping terminals, bridges, tunnels and the city’s bus terminal.

Trump announced in June 2017 that the United States would pull out of the climate accord that was signed by almost 200 countries after years of negotiations. He argued that living up to the pact’s carbon-cutting commitments would punish American industry, saying it amounted to a “massive redistribution” of wealth from the United States to other countries. In television interview earlier in October, Trump expressed skepticism about the decades-old scientific evidence linking a warming planet to human activities.

The federal government’s withdrawal has caused states, cities and businesses to assume responsibility. At least 16 U.S. governors have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is committed to upholding Paris targets, while hundreds of businesses and local governments have joined a similar group called the We Are Still In coalition. The port authority will be the first public transportation agency to join that group.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is a member of We Are Still In, which was coordinated in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies. America’s Pledge, a separate initiative designed to bring together public and private partners around climate change was founded by Michael Bloomberg, the company’s founder and majority owner.

NY and NJ Port Authority Logo

In November 2017, the port authority signed up with an initiative called Science Based Targets, which helps close to 500 companies and organizations develop emission-reduction goals in line with what scientific research suggests is necessary to slow climate change.

In order to reach both the 2025 the 2050 goals, the port authority has combined ongoing greenhouse gas reducing initiatives with newer, not yet implemented plans. They include shifting to electric vehicles for all airport shuttles and half of its light duty fleet. That is expected to cut about 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the authority.

The electrification of airport vehicles and equipment is likely to have a profound effect on air quality for employees and passengers. In October 2017, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $4 million federal grant to install 38 electric vehicle charging stations at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The chargers will allow JetBlue Airways Corp. to power 116 baggage tugs and belt loaders that would otherwise run on diesel.

The estimated port authority investment in sustainability projects is more than $150 million, according to the agency. That does not include related investments by private parties, authority spokeswoman Alana Calmi said.

The port authority’s announcement puts its new initiative in stark relief to the fossil fuel-driven transportation system that it serves. “You have to do what you can do,” Cotton said. “The first thing we can do is what we can control.”