(Photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Creative Commons)
With gasoline taxes failing to keep up with the costs of road maintenance, some see a mileage tax as an attractive alternative.
However, the concept still faces a wide range of opposition — from truck drivers to clean energy advocates.
A vehicle miles traveled or VMT tax, as the concept is often known, has been considered by several states. The idea is to provide a source of road funding that avoids deliberately raising prices at the pump — a move that in most parts of the country amounts to political suicide.
Freight trains can take as long as 24 hours to navigate Chicago’s sprawling rail infrastructure. (Photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
Rail-bound crude traffic has faced intense public scrutiny and hours of delays in Chicago, the nation’s busiest freight rail hub.
Frank Patton thinks he has found a way around all the fuss — specifically, a roughly 150-mile-long way around the city itself.
The 70-year-old founder and managing partner of Great Lakes Basin LLC has proposed building a new track network to cut through the Windy City’s less-populated southern suburbs.
Coal ash is used to provide traction on icy roads in Muscatine, Iowa. (AP Photo/The Muscatine Journal, Beth Van Zandt)
Coal ash, the residue from burning coal to generate electricity, is abundant, and cheap. Often free for the taking, in fact. And it’s one way that at least some Midwestern communities provide traction on snowy and icy roads.
But what’s left behind in the nearby water and soil when this byproduct from coal-fired power plants is spread on roads?
Tom Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, dismisses the bottom ash used on roadways as mere “coal dirt.” And although it harbors varying amounts of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, lead, chromium and cadmium, Adams says the amounts are no higher than in the rock and dirt native to many areas of the country.
“None of these things exist in concentrations anywhere near what the EPA is concerned about,” he said.
Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for Physicians for Social Responsibility, isn’t so sure.
“This should be recognized as a problem,” she said.
(Photo by Pedro Moura Pinheiro via Creative Commons)
If you traveled by air over the holidays, you may have landed with a bit of green guilt.
Conventional wisdom says that driving a relatively fuel-efficient car is usually better for the environment than flying.
That may no longer be the case, though, according to new calculations from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
Over the last four decades, driving has steadily lost the fuel-efficiency edge it once held over flying. In 1970, the per-passenger-mile fuel intensity for flying was twice that of an average car trip.
“That is no longer the case for the average vehicle,” says Michael Sivak, director of Michigan’s sustainable transportation program, which produces a monthly “eco-driving” index of greenhouse emissions from U.S. drivers.
In fact, matching the fuel intensity of an average flight now requires a car get at least 33.8 mpg or have more than two occupants, according to to Sivak’s latest paper, “Making Driving Less Energy Intensive Than Flying.”
(Photo by Adelie Freyja Annabel via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Stateline
By Susan Milligan
Cash-strapped states are scouting for ways to pay for critical road work, and increasingly, the result for motorists is the same: You’re going to have to pay a toll.
In the past, state and federal gas taxes largely covered the cost of building and maintaining roads. But the federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon, has not changed in 20 years. Meanwhile, people are driving less and vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient.
Nobody likes to pay tolls, but raising the gas tax is even less popular — and a tax hike would be an uphill battle at a time when Congress can’t seem to agree on anything, said Patrick Sabol, an infrastructure analyst with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. At least with tolls, Sabol said, people feel they are paying directly for roads they travel, instead of paying taxes to build and maintain roads they may never use.
“There’s a fairness argument,” added Leonard Gilroy, director of government relations at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles. “If you use the roadway, you pay. If you don’t, you don’t.”
Dire predictions about Stockholm’s congestion-pricing plan failed to materialize. (Photo by Derek Yu via Creative Commons)
Editor’s note: Dan Haugen traveled to Scandinavia this month as part of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Climate Media Fellowship program.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—As a city of islands, Stockholm was in a unique position, geographically speaking, to implement congestion pricing for motorists. Just 18 crossings exist where cars and trucks can enter or exit the inner city.
When it comes to politics, though, the city had no special advantage.
In fact, public reaction to the proposal was very, well, American.
Opinion polling taken in the months before it was implemented in January 2006 showed 80 percent opposed the congestion pricing plan. The disaster scenarios predicted in the media involved everything from license plate thefts to bankrupt retailers. Companies would flee the city to spare their employees and customers from paying the fees. Authorities would use the payment system to spy on motorists, tracking their every turn.
“It was like the Obamacare in politics in Stockholm,” said Gunnar Söderholm, director of the city’s environmental and health administration, who was tasked by the mayor with implementing the program.
A conservative party leader told the press that Söderholm would be the first to lose his job if there were a change in majority. It was “political suicide,” he recalled.
What happened next may have saved Söderholm’s career: The system worked, and people liked it.
One of Metro Transit’s advanced “super hybrid” buses. (Photo courtesy Metro Transit)
While hybrid drivetrains have led to significant fuel economy gains for cars, it’s not necessarily the same equation for a city bus.
A typical bus gets only between four and six miles per gallon. About half of that fuel is never used to put the bus in motion.
Instead, that energy is gobbled up powering other equipment, namely systems to cool the engine and keep a window-lined interior the size of a small studio apartment at a comfortable temperature.
A year ago, two of the world’s most advanced “super hybrid” transit buses hit the road in the Twin Cities, and have beaten conventional buses on fuel economy by about 35 percent. But little is understood about how and where those benefits accrue. How much savings, for example, is due to the advanced engines versus battery-powered cooling fans?
The Hunters Pass subdivision near Albertville, Minnesota features a “meandering sidewalk” and streets that contour to existing topography. (Photo courtesy Rick Harrison)
The walls of Rick Harrison’s office in suburban Minneapolis are filled with colorful plans for subdivisions and town squares located in towns as close as River Falls, Wisconsin, and as far away as Saudi Arabia.
The plans take into account topography and wetlands while offering far fewer streets, less impervious surfaces and generally more parkland than traditional suburbs. The blueprints have no straight-line streets.
Harrison attempts to reduce energy use in his subdivisions while making them have much more curb appeal. Yet he’s not about placing solar panels on every rooftop, installing geothermal or adding a wind farm next to a community park.
Harrison prefer to save energy through better design.
An artist’s rendering of Boeing’s “SUGAR Freeze” LNG-fueled aircraft concept. (Image via Boeing)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
Ever since he was 6 years old, Jon Gibbs has been fascinated with aircraft.
But while toy planes seemed pretty cool to him as a kid, Gibbs now thinks he’s onto something more significant, and literally cooler: cryogenic aircraft fueled by liquefied natural gas.
Unlike conventional, oil-based jet fuel, super-cooled LNG is condensed from simple methane gas and sells for a fraction of the price.
Gibbs thinks the cleaner-burning fuel could be the biggest innovation to hit aviation since the development of the jet engine more than a half-century ago. And the aircraft designer, former Boeing employee and recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate hopes he can lead an industry shift toward LNG through his new company.
Workers clean up crude oil after a train derailment near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, in March. (Photo by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)
©2013 E&E Publishing LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
In the dead of night on July 6, a 173-car freight train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale broke free from its parking spot and rumbled toward the tourist town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec.
The ensuing tragedy — as many as 50 dead and a town in ruins — has echoed across the North American rail industry, which has been quietly hauling bigger and bigger volumes of crude in recent years.