Less gas, more miles

Tim Castleman is a Sacramento activist who advocates a sustainable plant-based carbohydrate economy

Assembly Bill 2076, a bill that directed the California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Air Resources Board (ARB) to provide strategies to reduce petroleum dependence in California, resulted in a report of recommendations to the Legislature that was approved by the CEC and ARB executive boards in July.

These recommendations would result in tax breaks, subsidies and special deals for the natural-gas and petroleum industries while doing little to reduce petroleum dependence or consumption.

The official report recommends that the state adopt a goal of reducing the level of demand for on-road gasoline and diesel, work to establish national fuel-economy standards that double the fuel efficiency of new cars, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles and that increase the use of non-petroleum fuels.

As they say, the devil is in the details. Hidden in the report are the strategies. How are we to achieve these admirable goals? There are two things I find disturbing about this report.

First, the report’s alternative fuel of choice, natural gas, is highlighted in a way that all but excludes biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol. We are cheating California farmers and residents out of biofuel-development opportunities while deepening our dependence on a polluting fossil fuel.

Second, by omitting speed-limit reductions and enforcement from the list of strategies, we are dismissing a “politically difficult” strategy that can reduce petroleum consumption significantly and immediately while also reducing pollution and increasing safety. An enforced speed limit of 55 mph could reduce petroleum usage by between 20 percent and 50 percent.

Also hidden in the report’s list of strategies is a recommendation for a new fleet of cars for government officials, and a government program to encourage good tire maintenance and fuel-efficient replacement tires.

In the end, both time and money have been invested to produce a detailed marketing study for the natural-gas industry that ignores the original intent of Assembly Bill 2076. Once again, taxpayer dollars have been used to subsidize the petroleum industry and make the lives of government officials a little cushier while providing those “in the know” with yet another government perk: subsidized tires.

All the while, the one measure that actually would reduce petroleum consumption, dependency and pollution right now, at no cost to taxpayers, continues to be ignored. Reducing the speed limit might even help resolve the budget crisis, considering the revenues that would be generated by speeders who refused to drive 55!