January 30, 2023

Biden Administration Unveils Blueprint to Decarbonize Transportation Sector

Holland & Knight Alert
Beth A. Viola


  • The Biden Administration released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation to detail the federal government's strategy to achieve net-zero emission reduction goals by 2050.
  • The Blueprint, developed by the U.S. Departments of Energy, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides a "framework of strategies and actions to remove all emissions from the transportation sector by 2050."
  • The Blueprint is meant to serve as a "guide for future policymaking and research, development, demonstration, and deployment in the public and private sectors."

The Biden Administration released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization (Blueprint) on Jan. 10, 2023, setting forth a comprehensive strategy for federal leadership and partnerships to decarbonize the transportation sector in order to achieve the economy-wide 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction goals.1


The Biden Administration published a long-term strategy in November 2021 with a goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) admissions by 2050 and 50 percent to 52 percent reductions from 2005 levels by 2030. The new Blueprint seeks to coordinate how to get there between all levels of government and in partnership with the private sector. The document stems from a September 2022 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE), Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which committed the agencies to release the Blueprint.

The transportation sector is the largest source of GHG emissions in the U.S., responsible for one-third of all emissions. Further, transportation is closely interconnected with other sectors of the economy. For example, electric vehicles (EV) rely on electricity generation and will have different implications for manufacturing relative to manufacturing of internal combustion engine vehicles. Specific strategies to reduce full life-cycle emissions associated with transportation activities are not addressed in the Blueprint, but they are needed to achieve the Biden Administration's goals.

Both the MOU and the subsequent Blueprint note billions of dollars in clean transportation investments in the recent Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was enacted in 2021. While Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and IRA equip the U.S. with many of the appropriate tools for decarbonizing the transportation sector, implementation will be critical. The scope, scale and speed of the economic shift will continue to require solutions that leverage market forces and private sector investments, which government policies and investments are intended to jumpstart and guide.

Continued innovation, research, development and demonstration across the transportation industry will be necessary to further efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Blueprint identifies key areas of focus that the agencies will target in the coming years, including EVs and supporting infrastructure, hydrogen and hydrogen refueling networks, and sustainable aviation fuels. Additional funding opportunities and incentives will continue to be made available to promote and further their development and demonstration.

According to the document, the four agencies created the Blueprint to serve as a guide for future policymaking and research, development, demonstration and deployment in the public and private sectors, all built upon five guiding principles:

  1. implement bold actions to achieve measurable results
  2. embrace creative solutions across the transportation system
  3. ensure safety, equity and access
  4. increase collaboration and
  5. establish U.S. leadership

The strategy will focus on research and investment to support deployment before 2030, then shift to scaling up clean solutions deployment between 2030 and 2040, and complete the transition between 2040 and 2050. The Blueprint's milestones are broken down as follows:

PPR Alert chart 1

Strategies to Decarbonize Transportation

The Blueprint focuses on each major transportation mode and identifies specific decarbonization opportunities and challenges, highlighting the roles of various clean technologies for various applications.

The Blueprint identifies three key strategies to implement immediately to achieve the nation's 2030 emissions reduction goals:

  1. increase convenience by improving community design and land use to prioritize access and proximity to work opportunities, community services and entertainment to reduce commute burdens
  2. increase options to travel more efficiently by enabling shifts to more efficient vehicles and reducing reliance on energy-intensive modes of transport
  3. transition to clean options by deploying zero-emission vehicles and fuels for all passenger and freight travel modes

The Blueprint acknowledged that the first two strategies will contribute to reducing GHG emissions and produce significant co-benefits. The Blueprint notes that the third strategy of transitioning to clean options is expected to drive the majority of emissions reductions.

Adoption and market penetration of clean technologies for travel modes is essential to transition to zero-emission vehicles and fuels. This involves adopting highly efficient zero-emission battery vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and sustainable fuels for vehicles and applications that are more challenging to electrify.

The following figure provides a summary of vehicle improvement strategies and technology solutions for different travel modes.

PPR Alert chart 2

Source: U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation

Applying the Strategies by Transportation Mode

Below is a summary of the Blueprint's application and its strategies by transportation mode.

Light-Duty Vehicles

49 percent share of current transportation emissions

With more than 280 million vehicles on the road, light-duty passenger vehicles (LDV) – cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks – are the primary mode of passenger travel in the country and account for more than 75 percent of total U.S. passenger miles traveled. The fuel economy of new LDVs has improved by about 30 percent over the past 15 years, driven largely by regulations, including EPA GHG emissions standards and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Blueprint cites increasing global sales and manufacturers' investments in EVs and battery development as evidence that EVs are clearly a viable technology to dramatically reduce GHG emissions from LDVs by 2050. The Blueprint presents strategies to ensure high market penetration of EVs over the next few decades. As such, the Blueprint underscores the importance of addressing EV charging and clean fuel infrastructure needs to enable every person and business to meet their mobility requirements.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • achieve 50 percent of new vehicle sales being zero-emission by 2030, supporting a pathway for full adoption, and ensure that new internal combustion engine vehicles are as efficient as possible
  • deploy 500,000 EV chargers by 2030
  • ensure 100 percent federal fleet procurement be zero-emission by 2027

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • implement policy and regulation to expand the market share and use of EVs, including:
    • potential GHG emissions and fuel economy policies at DOT and EPA to ensure internal combustion engine efficiency
    • tax credits and incentives established in the IRA to reduce costs of EVs and strengthen supply chains for domestic manufacturing
    • leveraging federal procurement to transition the federal fleet to EVs
  • continue EV charging infrastructure investments and planning to ensure access to convenient and affordable charging whenever needed
    • These actions will entail an equitable expansion of access to charging, including widespread public charging solutions for those without access to home charging (workplace, curbside, multi-unit buildings with shared parking) and ubiquitous fast-charging networks.
    • With the influx of EVs and the expectation that EVs will become one of the largest electricity load categories by 2050, development and implementation of solutions for effective vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration are critical.
  • fund research and innovation that will continue to improve vehicle, battery and charger performance and reduce costs, leveraging investments from IIJA, IRA and the CHIPS and Science Act to develop a domestic EV manufacturing supply chain

Medium- and Heavy-Duty On-Road Trucks and Buses

21 percent share of current transportation emissions

While medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDV) represent only 5 percent of total vehicles on the road, they are responsible for an outsized 21 percent of transportation emissions. MHDVs include a wide range of vehicles that vary in size from heavy-duty pickup trucks to long-haul semi-trucks. The use of these vehicles is correspondingly diverse, as this category encompasses vehicles used for local delivery, refuse collection, public transportation, long-haul goods delivery and many other purposes.

Virtually all MHDVs on the road today rely on internal combustion engines fueled with diesel (81 percent), gasoline (17 percent) and natural gas (1 percent).

The Blueprint notes increasing investments by manufacturers in zero-emission electric or hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains. Since MHDVs are used for a variety of purposes, there will likely be a suite of zero-emission technology solutions in the future to cover various use cases. The Blueprint projects a strong role for hydrogen in the long-haul trucking sector, where the weight and size of vehicles, as well as the use case, makes battery power impractical.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • aim to have 30 percent of new vehicle sales be zero-emission by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040
  • ensure 100 percent federal fleet procurement is zero-emission by 2035

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • fund research and innovation to develop viable technologies to replace fossil fuel vehicles for all MHDV applications, with an emphasis on lower-cost and higher-energy-density batteries and fuel cell applications, as well as the use of clean hydrogen and sustainable fuels to fully decarbonize MHDVs
  • implement policy and regulation to reduce new vehicle GHG and criteria emissions and set ambitious targets for transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles on a timeline consistent with achieving economy-wide 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction goals
  • invest in strategic demonstration and deployment to support the build-out of interoperable EV charging and refueling infrastructure through coordinated planning, policy and funding opportunities


11 percent share of current transportation emissions

As aviation demand continues to grow, the development and introduction of new aircraft and engines by manufacturers will be critical to reducing future emissions. With investments by industry and the federal government, new more fuel-efficient aircraft could be introduced.

The Blueprint emphasizes that sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) will be critical to the long-term decarbonization of aviation. The SAF production industry is still developing, but SAF production will also be aided by the new tax credits and a competitive grant program the IRA established.

Aviation decarbonization will require various vehicle and fuel solutions. In addition to SAF, battery electrification and hydrogen fuel are also potential options for replacing petroleum-based aviation fuels. These technologies can play an important role in the coming decades by decarbonizing short-distance flights and dedicated regional cargo routes. However, the Blueprint holds that they are not expected to provide a solution by 2050 for the medium- and long-haul flights that generate most of the aviation sector's carbon emissions.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • reduce aviation emissions by 20 percent compared to a business-as-usual scenario
  • achieve net-zero GHG emissions from the U.S. aviation sector by 2050
  • catalyze the production of at least 3 billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030 and approximately 35 billion gallons by 2050 – enough to supply the entire sector

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • policy and regulation to incentivize low-emission aviation innovations through new and breakthrough technologies, and to reduce emissions by providing access to and use of proven technologies from other transportation sectors
  • research and innovation to advance technological, operational and sustainable aviation fuels solutions to reduce emissions
  • expand stakeholder engagement and partnerships around the world to address the challenges and opportunities inherent in the international nature of aviation, including standards that incentivize the most effective technologies

Off-Road Vehicles

10 percent share of current transportation emissions

There are a wide range of engine sizes, power requirements, duty cycles and vehicle applications. Unlike most on-road vehicles, an off-road vehicle's engine typically provides power to propel the vehicle and to perform auxiliary work such as digging or harvesting. As a result, different applications in the off-road sector have specific requirements for ruggedness, durability and other operational constraints. Strategies for decarbonizing the off-road sector will leverage technologies similar to other sectors, including battery electric and fuel-cell EVs and sustainable fuels. However, the exact roles of different technologies and solutions across these use cases have many nuances. A deeper understanding of real-world operations and requirements is needed to enable comprehensive data-driven analysis that can identify viable pathways at the vehicle and system level.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • work to establish specific targets
  • focus resources to develop technology pathways and set efficiency and zero-emissions vehicle and equipment targets

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • increase targeted research and innovation efforts to better understand the spectrum of available technologies and collect real-world operational data to enable a deeper understanding of off-road vehicle and mobile equipment requirements
  • implement policy and regulation, including establishing GHG and efficiency standards for off-road vehicles and mobile equipment and setting ambitious targets for transitioning to zero- or low-emission technologies
  • invest in strategic demonstration to understand EV charging and clean fuel refueling infrastructure needs and support deployment through coordinated planning, policy and funding opportunities


4 percent share of current transportation emissions

While pipelines primarily transport fossil fuels today, in a future sustainable energy system, pipelines could also transport carbon dioxide to injection wells for carbon capture and sequestration and to other end users. They could also be used to transport hydrogen and other sustainable liquid fuels like SAF. There are several risks and barriers associated with the transportation of alternative fuels by pipeline, and potential integrity threats posed by different fuels must be fully examined and understood.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • work to establish specific targets
  • by 2036, repair or replace 1,000 miles of high-risk, leak-prone, community-owned legacy gas distribution pipeline infrastructure, as well as an estimated reduction of 1,000 metric tons of methane emissions
  • eliminate leakages and enable use of pipelines for clean sustainable fuels

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • policy and regulation that continue to increase the stringency of methane emissions limits, tackle emissions associated with pipeline operations and promote the viable use of electricity or other clean energy sources
  • infrastructure investments and improved design and planning for pipelines as made possible through provisions in the BIL
  • research and innovation to continue to develop tools and reporting systems for accurate disclosure of methane emissions, including direct measurement and remote sensing technologies; performance-based risk reduction for design, construction, operations, maintenance and fire protection of liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities; improved safety systems for underground natural gas storage facilities; and new technologies to mitigate risk posed by excavation damage to pipelines

Maritime Vessels

3 percent share of current transportation emissions

The maritime industry is international in scope, with the largest share of GHG emissions originating from international voyages. Therefore, effective decarbonization will require intergovernmental collaboration that aligns with industry and community needs.

Despite the variety of potential decarbonization fuels, technologies and policies in development, the best pathway for decarbonizing the maritime sector is unclear. New maritime technologies can be slow to be adopted, particularly when safety and operational standards still need to be established. Vessels have a long fleet turnover time – 30 years or more – so understanding the costs, standards and requirements is critical for long-term investment planning. Decarbonizing the sector by 2050 will require innovative practices, targeted regulations and a strong and immediate commitment to innovation and deployment of new and emerging technologies.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • continue to support the Zero-Emission Shipping Mission (ZESM) goals to ensure that 5 percent of the global deep-sea fleet are capable of using zero-emission fuels by 2030, at least 200 of these ships primarily use these fuels across the main deep sea shipping route, and 10 large trade ports covering at least three continents can supply zero-emission fuels by 2030
  • support the U.S. domestic maritime sector by performing more research, development and demonstration into sustainable fuels and technologies and incentivize U.S. commercial vessel operators to move towards lower GHG emissions
  • work with countries in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to adopt a goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • research and innovation on viable alternative fuels and new technologies to determine the most promising paths to decarbonizing the maritime sector; promising fuels and technologies that can support maritime decarbonization include:
    • sustainable liquid and gaseous fuels
    • electric vessels
    • cold-ironing
    • energy efficiency and hybridization
    • renewable energy
    • exhaust treatment and carbon capture
  • international and domestic stakeholder engagement to develop and implement effective decarbonization strategies and regulation
  • infrastructure investments and improved design and planning in clean technologies and fuels for maritime applications funded through new and existing federal programs


2 percent share of current transportation emissions

The United States has the largest rail network in the world, and it is used primarily to support freight movement. While electric rail technologies are widely used worldwide, freight rail carriers in the U.S. almost exclusively use diesel locomotives. Intercity passenger and commuter carriers also heavily rely on diesel, though there are some partially or fully electrified lines. According to the Blueprint, the rail industry is currently exploring opportunities to maintain its comparative energy use advantage on a ton-mile basis by transitioning to direct use of electricity (e.g., overhead catenary charging, third-rail systems), batteries, hydrogen fuels, sustainable fuels or hybrid solutions.

Also, according to the Blueprint, the electrification of commuter rail fleets offers promising opportunities for further emissions reduction. Longer-distance rail for passengers and freight may require fuel technologies in addition to electric batteries and fuel cells to achieve emissions reductions goals, and pathways to total decarbonization still need to be determined.

Federal GHG Emissions Reduction Goals

  • work to establish specific targets
  • focus resources to develop technology pathways and set efficiency and zero-emissions vehicle targets
  • encourage greater use for passenger and freight travel to reduce emissions from road vehicles

Strategy to Achieve Emissions Reduction Goals

  • infrastructure investments in electric locomotives and the expansion of electrification corridors to help to accelerate the zero-emission transition; interoperability and infrastructure for clean fuel technology adoption will facilitate efforts.
  • multi-stakeholder collaborations to accelerate the deployment of rail technologies that reduce emissions and increase efficiency
  • research and innovation to advance technology through pilot projects, greater infrastructure investments and continued policy and regulation support that helps accelerate the growth of electrification of U.S. passenger rail system


1 The Blueprint uses the term "decarbonization" to refer to all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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