Biofuels, Bus Lanes and Beer

beer.jpg 
Beer good, ethanol bad 

Pledging support for alternate fuel sources may make for
feel-good politicking, but "simply" developing a substitute for gasoline could do more harm than good. Instead, a panel of experts said last week, Americans must seriously address their addiction to fossil fuels, along with the built environment that enables it.

Moderated by new MTA Director Elliot Sander, the panel — Sonia Hamel, senior associate at the Center for Climate Strategies; Paul
Roberts, author of The End of Oil; Lee Schipper, chief of research for EMBARQ;
and Steve Winkelman, manager of the Transportation Program for the Center for Clean Air Policy — spoke before a packed conference room Friday at the Waldorf-Astoria. The
transportation workshop was part of the Regional Plan Association’s annual
Regional Assembly, where Mayor Bloomberg and DOT-commissioner-in-waiting
Janette Sadik-Khan would later deliver a congestion pricing one-two punch.

Though no "slam dunk," said Schipper, congestion pricing
should be a no-brainer, in part because it would convey the value of Manhattan
street space
. (Wrote Schipper on the Times’ Empire Zone blog: "We pay for parking on the streets and off the streets, why can’t we pay for using the
streets when they are crowded?") Contrary to what some opponents have
suggested, Manhattan’s water-locked geography would make congestion pricing
easier to implement — a la Stockholm — not more difficult, Schipper said.

The focus of Schipper’s presentation, however, was not
congestion charging, but alternative fuels — or "alternative fools," as he calls them.

Ethanol, Schipper said, is a presidential primary-driven subsidy sponge that produces
almost as much in greenhouse gas emissions as does oil, and no
alternative fuel will do much good unless prices go up in order to temper
consumption. (Not to mention how they might affect the beer supply.)

"We’re stuck in the mud," said Schipper, "We’re not
changing. We’ve basically taken cheap fuel and turned it into hot cars."

While Schipper believes hybrids like the Toyota Prius should
be cheaper to buy, he does not think they deserve automatic HOV lane privileges.
On a related note, he pointed to a slide of a Mexico City bus lane protected by
heavily armed police. There were no cars in it, Prius or otherwise.

During his presentation, Steve Winkelman discussed Green-TEA
— the CCAP’s answer to federal transportation funding bills SAFETEA and
SAFETEA-LU. The CCAP wants the next omnibus transpo reauthorization to be
linked with a national policy on climate change.

New England — which, if it were a country, would be the
world’s eighth largest emitter of greenhouse gases — is not waiting on Washington, said Sonia Hamel. Highlighting some of the steps northeastern
states and communities are already taking, Hamel said Massachusetts now
requires the disclosure of CO2 impacts as part of all plans for transportation
and land use development.

Paul Roberts warned that profit alone will not be enough of
an incentive to bring about required new, cleaner technologies, and echoed Schipper’s
assertion that biofuels may create more problems than they solve. He said there
is no magic bullet for the world’s energy and climate problems, and there never
will be. "We’re going to have to revisit this issue every year," said Roberts. What we can’t do, he said, is "start with a solution and ask ‘How is this going to screw
everything up?’"

Photo: dltq/Flickr

  • “Massachusetts now requires the disclosure of CO2 impacts as part of all plans for transportation and land use development.”

    If this were adopted generally, it would make a big difference in planning. Anyone have more information about it?

  • Charlie D.
  • dan

    There’s an inconvenient truth in all of this. Blame biofuels, blame global warming, blame peak oil– the reality is we’re at the end of the private auto age.Whether it’s the Prius or the suv, the world can’t survive if the Chinese take to private autos the way the West did.

  • crzwdjk

    I have an idea for a “GreenTEA”: defer all federally funded highway projects that are not absolutely necessary to keep things from collapsing for five years. Instead, spend $250 billion over 5 years building alternative transportation. This includes subways, light rail, streetcars, trolleybuses, commuter rail (preferably electric), intercity rail, even freight rail, as well as bikeways and sidewalks. Give public transportation a chance, at least for 5 years, and fund all the worthwhile projects that cities desperately want to build but can’t for lack of funding.

  • gecko

    amen

  • Impressed

    Ecoconvivial transport existed many years before the rapid emergence of the highly aggresssive transport produced by the industrial age and coincident rapid acceleration of affluence — indicating a kind of cargo cult mentality towards the perception of its importance — and it is highly misleading to describe those hundreds of millions who daily bicycle, sail, row, walk, etc. as using a lesser and alternative transport.

    Hybrid human-electric transport can achieve and surpass most of the prevailing perceived attributes of conventional transportation more aptly terms ecodestructive transport.

  • Thanks for the post. It does a good job of hitting the highlights from this interesting workshop.

    In addition to Dr. Schipper’s entertaining (and informed) quotes referenced above, he also discussed a number of other issues besides congestion pricing and biofuels. These included the need for better fuel economy standards and more modest vehicles, as well as better land use planning and other measures designed to reduce the need to travel.

    To get more info, including a copy of Dr. Schipper’s slides and a podcast of the talk visit:

    http://embarqblog.wri.org/?p=109#more-109

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