The national Sunday morning news shows focused on Obama and Clinton, because of the recent Reverend Wright resurgence and the upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. However, the KD/PG program and the Post Gazette Forum section focused on the price of gas. That’s not surprising, now that our primary has gone by, we can and are more interested in every day matters. The Post Gazette’s piece, by a CMU professor named Lester Lave, was both pretty interesting and sort of a “no duh” sort of piece. He began by giving a reasonable sort of over view of the US’s recent history of gas consumption, the missed opportunities to improve mileage standards and the unfortunate fashion of buying SUV’s (as one owner put it , because everyone else has one). He mentioned that Europeans are much more efficient consumers of energy, in their buildings, their industries and their transportation. He also made the statement that they do not suffer in their standard of living, something that many of us simply might not believe.
He made some policy prescriptions as well. The first was to raise mileage standards and the second to educate consumers. Of course, Congress simply has not shown the will to raise the CAFÉ standards and especially with “An Inconvenient Truth”, those who are willing to be educated (and even many of those who aren’t) have learned quite a bit. Dr Lave’s last suggestion is one that has in fact been made many times, but may be getting closer to being enacted. Instead of enacting a gas tax holiday, Dr Lave proposes going the European route and enacting a gas tax nightmare – four dollars a gallon tax. According to Dr. Lave (and I believe him, by the way) Europeans are paying $8.50 a gallon. Before the wealthy white readers throw up their hands and say “What about the poor people?” (many of whom may not have cars), remember that tax revenue can come back to targeted groups. Dr. Lave suggests exempting the $20,000 of income from the Social Security tax, paid for the gas tax revenue. I think the earned income credit could be adjusted upward as an alternative, for example. The EIC is a great way to help the nation’s working poor, too, because it costs employers nothing, so it doesn’t impact prices (the way the minimum wage might). Now, I would hope a four dollar a gallon tax would be phased in, say a dollar a gallon every six months. The oil companies would scream bloody murder because their profits would go down with the decreased gasoline use. But they helped get us in to this problem, and they wouldn’t disappear, they’d just have to get use to smaller profits. And the tax revenue could also help fund research on alternative fuels.
I myself have decided that bringing a folding bike on to a PAT bus is a practical impossibility. I may still try a few trial runs after July first (when I am sure there will be few or no Schenley students on the morning bus). But I have already ordered a cheap electric bike (from Walmart). It’s due to arrive in about a week. Actually, its not so cheap, it will take, in my estimate, a year to pay for itself in lower gas consumption. And it is recharged from the house electricity, so I am helping the coal burning electric companies (although not a whole heck of a lot). However, arriving to work not totally drenched in sweat is an appealing idea, and perhaps my presence on the road will give a few more people the idea that they too could occasionally abandon their cars and find some sort of two wheeled transportation.