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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

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