Snapshot of State DOT and Industry Interest in Low Carbon Asphalt

Snapshot of State DOT and Industry Interest in Low Carbon Asphalt

Passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in November 2021 followed by enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022 ushered in a new era for state transportation agencies and producers of asphalt and concrete pavements by incentivizing technologies that reduced the embodied carbon emissions of these materials in federally funded projects.   This report looks at how the states are responding to the Federal offer for $1.1 trillion in climate and infrastructure spending Congress enacted and how the paving industry has geared up to take advantage of the low carbon spending spree on highways and greenhouse gas reduction. 

One way to measure progress in implementing IIJA and IRA is how much money has been spent since these two bills have been enacted.  According to an extensive POLITICO analysis, less that 17% of the $1.1 trillion has been spent as of April 2024.   Moreover, only about $86 billion of the infrastructure law has been spent by states to date. 

The slow rate of spending IIJA and IRA dollars should be of concern to stakeholders in the asphalt industry since Congress, after the next election, may want to claw back those unspent dollars to pay for new programs under the next administration.   What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh too.  Nothing is permanent.

Another way to look at implementation is how states – and in particular State DOT’s – are responding to the Federal government’s push to incentivize the purchase of low-embodied carbon asphalt and concrete paving materials.  States have at their discretion an opportunity grow their highway funding above what is granted in the IIJA formula programs if they start measuring and reducing carbon emissions.  While some states, led by their respective governors and state legislatures, have zero interest in carbon reduction, other states have fully embraced the concept and are eagerly applying for the funding to grow their highway programs utilizing low carbon paving materials.

Enough time has passed since IIJA and IRA were enacted that it is now possible to measure progress each state is making towards implementing these new programs.  A table has been prepared showing the advancement each state has made in embracing the programs made available under IIJA and IRA.  These programs are good indicators that help provide a snapshot of prime targets for low-embodied carbon pavement technologies.  Those programs are as follows:

  • Federal-State Buy Clean Partnership – Launched in March 2023, states that join the partnership are committed to supporting “the procurement of lower-carbon infrastructure materials” in Federal and Federally-funded projects.  The decision to join the partnership was made by each state governor, whose leadership on this issue would filter down to each state’s respective DOT.  These are states to watch for Buy Clean initiatives. 
  • Buy Clean at the State Level – There are several states that have already passed Buy Clean policies that use EPD’s. Additionally, some states are considering Buy Clean policies but are not identified in the table.  They include Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Virginia, and Washington.  2025 will be an active year for state legislatures to debate Buy Clean legislation.
  • General Services Administration (GSA) Low-Embodied Carbon Program – IRA provided GSA $2.15 billion in funding to invest in federal buildings that incorporate low embodied carbon materials. In December 2023, GSA announced new projects requiring an EPD for 96 asphalt projects totaling $384 million.   This raises an interesting issue.  What will asphalt contractors do in states where the transportation agency is not interested in Buy Clean procurement, but the contractor must secure an EPD to compete for a federally funded GSA project?
  • Carbon Reduction Program – Established as part of IIJA, the $6.4 billion Carbon Reduction Program apportions by formula Highway Trust Fund dollars to states to plan and construct projects that reduce carbon emissions. Ostensibly focused on reducing tail pipe emissions, FHWA has also allowed states to adopt strategies utilizing Carbon Reduction Program funds for low-embodied carbon paving activities.  The catch? States must submit a Carbon Reduction strategy plan to FHWA indicating how they plan to spend the funding.  States that incorporate low-embodied carbon paving in their Carbon Reduction plan are more open to utilizing low carbon paving technologies. 
  • FHWA Climate Challenge – In 2022, state DOTs and other public agencies were invited by FHWA to submit grant applications to foster the use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and EPDs as sustainable pavement practices and quantify the emissions and impacts of those practices. FHWA approved $7.1 million for 30 proposals from 27 agencies.  As part of the program, FHWA has conducted training and education sessions around the country to increases awareness of EPD and how to us EPDs for sustainable project delivery.  State DOT’s who have responded to the Climate Challenge grant opportunity are more likely to explore technologies (i.e., additives) that reduce carbon emissions in asphalt mix.
  • Low Carbon Transportation Materials Grant Program – IRA authorized FHWA to spend $2 billion on low carbon materials focused on asphalt, concrete, steel and glass. FHWA recently issued a request for applications from state DOT’s which closed on June 10, 2024.  Which states applied and for what projects is not known yet; however, those states that took the time to complete and submit application should be on the radar screen for companies providing low carbon technologies to the asphalt industry. 

What the Data Says

The startup of any new Federal program takes time, especially when it requires a partnership with all stakeholders pulling in the same direction.  Federal leadership and funding are key.  State DOT’s willing to apply for grants and create internal processes to implement Buy Clean programs is essential.  Lastly, an industry mindset change from low-bid to low-carbon is critical to see low carbon paving projects materialize.

While there is still a long way to go, states such as California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington are leading the way in implementing Buy Clean policies.  These states have governors that have identified Buy Clean as an issues and their state DOT’s have acted accordingly.  Other states will follow their lead while others will wait out the national election to see what happens next. 

Asphalt Industry Response

The best way to measure the asphalt industry’s preparedness to accommodate Buy Clean policies is by identifying how many asphalt plants have secured EPD’s under NAPA’s Emerald Eco Program.  As of this writing 302 asphalt plants have a published EPD for 2,781 asphalt mixes.  That is less than 10% of the total number of asphalt plants operating in the US today.

According to GSA in an article published by Concrete Products, there are 14,000 EPDs from concrete producers, a 15 percent increase from 2022.   Clearly, the concrete industry is ahead of its asphalt peers in getting the industry ready to compete for low carbon paving products.  In fact, the Reduced Concrete Consortium (RC3)  has been set up to assist Concrete producers navigate and win in the new market competition for low carbon paving materials. 

This sets up an interesting market dynamic where, without a current EPD, an asphalt contractor would not be eligible to bid on a job; but a concrete contractor, with a valid EPD, would be eligible to bid on a job.  If the Federal government starts mandating EPDs on more projects beyond GSA-funded jobs, that will be a wake-up call for the asphalt industry facing market share threats from the concrete industry.   Can the asphalt industry afford to move at a different cadence on this issue as compared to its competition?

What’s Next

With the presidential and congressional elections just four months away, the future of Buy Clean programs rests with who will be in office in the next Congressional term.  It has already been mentioned that a GOP led administration and Congress will want to claw back the unspent IIJA and IRA funding to pay for other initiatives (e.g., tax cut).  On the other hand, a Democrat-led administration and Congress will have other plans. 

So far, the current Administration has been willing to settle for educating and promoting Buy Clean policies and even invest Federal funding in incentives and pilot projects.  But what if these efforts don’t work quickly enough?  Then the next step is policy mandates.  Believe it or not, the next Congress must reauthorize IIJA, the perfect legislative vehicle to tighten the screws on states to adopt Buy Clean policies.  FHWA is already informing groups of the possibility with slides such as the one used during a recent Sustainable Project Delivery National Symposium

In conclusion, implementation of IIJA and IRA Buy Clean programs in the states have been uneven to date.  However, a lot of work has gone into data collection, establishing product category rules, and developing label requirements for low-carbon asphalt mix designs.  Buy Clean programs will continue even after the next election.  How intensely will be determined by who is in office after the elections.


Jay Hansen joined Surface Tech following a long and distinguished career at the National Asphalt Pavement Association and in the U.S. Congress where he worked on legislation from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA) in 1991, to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021. Jay will serve as an ongoing resource for Surface Tech customers to help them get ahead of the growth curve and be ready for shifting market conditions as they occur in 2023 and beyond.

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As a leader with both creative and analytical skills, Jason oversees the planning, development, and execution of Surface Tech’s marketing and advertising strategies. He has been responsible of late for clarifying the company’s value proposition through a series of new branding executions resulting in a revamped website and other improvements in the company’s strategic marketing initiatives.

Jason brings more than 25 years of industrial design, branding, and manufacturing experience to his new role as CMO. His work has appeared in leading design publications, and he has received numerous international design awards. His portfolio includes more than 40 design and utility patents in the fields of consumer electronics, software, packaging, medical devices, and software. Speed to market, with a critical eye for detail and simplicity, is the driving force behind his multidisciplinary design process.

Jason holds a BS in Industrial Design from The Ohio State University. His previous work experience includes Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Skylab Architecture, and founder of New Studio. 

Stacie Steel

U.S. Northwest

Stacie Steel, PE, offers a depth of experience in asphalt and concrete pavements. She has provided infrastructure-related civil engineering and project management consulting services to both public and private sector clients for the past 20 years.

Stacie’s technical expertise centers around all things pavements: structural design, materials design and specifications, sustainability, life-cycle cost analyses, pavement management, preservation and rehabilitation, QA/QC, materials testing, and forensic evaluations.

Throughout her career, she has worked on paving projects for many national commercial retailers, municipalities, and airports. Stacie has proven leadership and organizational capabilities, as evidenced by earning the President’s Choice Award from the WTS Colorado Chapter early in her career. She currently serves on the WTS Puget Sound Chapter’s TransportationYOU Committee, and is dedicated to ensuring access to local outdoor recreation opportunities serving on the Board of Directors for the Lonesome Lake Preservation Group.