The Gas Needle and the Damage Done

states460.gifNRDC’s depiction of how hard states are hit by gas costs, ranked by percentage of income spent.

America’s oil addiction is readily acknowledged, even by its biggest enablers. But what is the nation actually doing to kick the habit and embrace a safer, healthier, more realistic energy future? 

An attempt to answer that question was released Tuesday [PDF] by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has ranked the "oil vulnerability" of the 50 states for three years running.

On its face, the list is unsurprising: Mississippi remains in first place, with the average driver spending more than 9 percent of annual income on gas, while Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut were rated the least oil-dependent states. Yet NRDC’s analysis also offers some instructive tidbits:

  • New York is the overwhelming leader in transit — but not much else. The state dedicated 41 percent of its federal transportation money to transit as opposed to roads in 2007, making it the benchmark by which NRDC measured all others. Yet that was only enough to hit No. 6 on the overall scale of sustainable energy use, thanks to the state’s lack of a low-carbon or renewable fuel standard, action on smart growth, and incentives for hybrid vehicles.
  • New Jersey’s transit spending may not be getting through to some of its drivers. The state ranked second behind New York with 30 percent of transport cash used on transit, but the state’s average driver spent $2,286 on gas last year compared with $1,654 in New York. It’s not due to a high state gas tax; New Jersey’s is one of the lowest in the nation. 

  • Capitol Hill can set the pace for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Only six states have set targets for shrinking their VMT, a goal that Transportation Secretary LaHood has called essential to fighting climate change. Without congressional passage of legislation making VMT reduction a national priority, it’s difficult to see a majority of states taking action individually in the near term.
  • Reputations may be deceiving. Georgia, where all but 23 of 5,400 DOT employees focus on roads, saw its federal transit grants frozen this month due to financial mismanagement and spends less than 7 percent of its transport budget on transit. But the state ranked 17th on NRDC’s list, just ahead of Minnesota — the progressive-leaning home of House infrastructure committee chairman Jim Oberstar.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

The New Climate Villain Is Cheap Oil

|
Long-term climate prospects brightened somewhat in 2015. Pope Francis put climate care on the moral and political agenda. President Obama rejected the Keystone XL dirty-oil pipeline. Denialist heads of state were routed in Canada and Australia, and their brethren in the U.S. faced growing ridicule. To cap it off, nearly 200 nations signed the UN Paris […]

The True Cost of Gasoline, and What to Do About Energy

|
The news media has been writing a lot about energy and oil addiction lately.  One particularly noteworthy package of reporting highlights the hidden problems of oil addiction. Another searches for ways it could be alleviated but misses the most critical one. The first is The Chicago Tribune’s enormously important four-part series by Pulitzer-winning reporter Paul Salopek […]

Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton: Where Is the Leadership?

|
Joining Hillary Clinton in the push to reduce the federal gas tax is fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who has railed about gas prices at least since they "soared" to $1.59 per gallon. As Politico reports, rather than talking about climate change and auto dependence, Schumer is pushing a Democratic plan to go after […]

The Pentagon Burns 395,000 Barrels of Oil Per Day

|
It’s always a bit of a mind-boggler when some statistics emerge showing how much oil the U.S. military consumes. From yesterday’s Politico: So, you think you’ve got the gas prices blues. Just consider Al Shaffer, the man in charge of drafting an energy strategy for the gas-­guzzling Pentagon. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and […]

Joe Lieberman: Did Someone Say “High Gas Prices”?

|
How obsessed is Washington with gas prices? Acting on a Streetsblog post from last week, a reader wrote Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman urging him to support legislation that would bolster funding for Amtrak. In response, Lieberman’s office sent a long, long form letter outlining the many ways the senator is — you guessed it — […]