“Freedom from Oil”

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) has released a report titled Freedom From Oil via the Livable Communities Task Force. This report further expounds on Problem No. 4 from our list, Dependence on Foreign Oil. The report also offers some potential solutions.

High gasoline prices have once again demonstrated how dependent American households are on oil. Coping with road networks and development patterns that for the past century have been built to make driving the preferred and often only means of transportation, Americans are suddenly held hostage to a diminishing and increasingly expensive resource to live their daily lives.

Indeed, the government has built a road network and actively promoted development patters that now find us tied to a volatile natural resource. So when is the government going to get out of the way? When are they going stop disproportionately funding road projects? When are local zoning commissions going to allow more mixed-use development? These problems are going to take time to solve.

In the short term, I think that the continued volatility and rising of gas prices is going to help push research and development toward all-electric cars. Hybrids will ease the pain of rising prices, but all-electric vehicles will eliminate it. Such a shift would allow to continue using the infrastructure already in place as well. I think this trend is already starting with cars like the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Toyota RAV4.

American dependence on oil is not necessarily a result of preference as much as policy and investment in the infrastructure to create car-dependent communities.

So many folks are often quick to blame our culture for our car obsession. People are “culturally attached” to automobiles. However, I think the above statement is the crux of the matter. Policy and investment in infrastructure make cars the clear choice for most people. Our subdivisions, schools, supermarkets, and malls are based on zoning structures geared toward driving to get from Point A to Point B.

I’m a little disappointed with the Federal Policy Recommendations put forth in this report though. Most of them consist of more government-meddling. Government policy, partially due to the fact that Politics Trumps Solutions, often suffers the law of unintended consequences. That’s how we got to the point of car-focused policy and investment we are in now.

A few of the better ideas:

  1. Continue to increase fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles, which could save drivers the equivalent of $1.00-1.70 per gallon of gas.
  2. Set clear national priorities for our transportation system, including a strategy and performance measures for reducing oil consumption.
  3. Promote Pay-As-You-Drive insurance, allowing consumers to pay less if they drive less.

A good report. Well worth reading. I’m still polishing off the last of it.