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06/07/2011 03:09 PM     print story email story  

Freedom From Oil: Policy Solutions Released by the Congressional Livable Communities Task Force

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The Congressional Livable Communities Task Force, chaired by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and consisting of all Democrats, released recommendations which will wean the US off oil, while creating much more livable communities.

"Freedom From Oil: Policy Solutions From the Livable Communities Task Force," says that our only way to control gas prices in the long run is to reduce our consumption and provide more transportation alternatives. More oil drilling simply will not work because the US only has 2% of the world's reserves - not enough to affect prices, which are determined by world markets. 

"Over the past century, our transportation system has been built to make driving the preferred and often only means of transportation, and Americans are suddenly held hostage to a diminishing and increasingly expensive resource to live their daily lives. Yet with less than 2 percent of oil reserves, there is little the U.S. can do to increase the supply of oil and almost nothing to reduce its costs over the long term," begins the report.

It continues: "Providing a range of transportation choices can help break auto dependence, giving us freedom from the increasing costs and uncertainty associated with oil. Low fuel prices throughout most of the 20th century encouraged communities to grow on larger lots in more distant locations.

These land-use changes spurred steady growth in the fuel consumed and miles driven by Americans each year. Even with low gas prices, the average household in an auto-dependent suburb paid a larger percentage of its budget for transportation costs than did a household in a walkable, transit-rich neighborhood.

As gas prices have risen, transportation costs have become unsustainable, making many residential locations unaffordable and even contributing to mortgage defaults. For average households, transportation is the second largest budget item after housing. For many poor families, costs are even higher.

As severely congested roadways consume our financial resources, our time, and our quality of life, Americans are demanding more and better choices in where to live and how to get around. Half of all Americans think improving transit is the best way to mitigate congestion.

Its policy recommendations are:

  • Continue increasing the fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles, which could save drivers the equivalent of $1.00-1.70 per gallon of gas. 
  • Increase investments in alternative fuels like electric vehicles, which would save drivers $1000 in fuel costs each year.
  • Set clear national priorities for our transportation system, including a strategy and performance measures for reducing oil consumption.
  • Require Metropolitan Planning Organizations to evaluate the effects of new transportation projects on regional petroleum consumption.
  • Promote Pay-As-You-Drive insurance, allowing people to pay less if they drive less.
  • Encourage lenders to use transit accessibility and location efficiency as a factor in mortgage rates, taking into account the reduced spending on gas and making it easier to purchase a home that allows transportation savings.
  • When people are considering a house purchase, provide information about the transportation costs associated its location using a tool like the Transportation and Housing Affordability Index
  • Use the tax code to encourage businesses to offer comprehensive commuter benefit programs that level the playing field for alternative, non gas-dependent transportation.
  • Increase federal funding for transit, including allowing capital funds to be spent on operations, helping transit agencies deal with increased fuel prices without compromising service or access.
  • Increase funding for "Safe Routes to School" programs so that parents and children have the option to get to school safely without driving.
  • Support "Complete Streets" policies that design streets for all users, making it safer for people of all ages to travel by bike, foot, or public transportation.
  • Authorize the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and provide funding to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities so the agencies can continue to provide technical assistance, planning, and capital support to communities.

While Republicans say their strategy is to do "everything,"  including drilling, nuclear, and renewables, they are against mass transit, and are cutting funding for renewable energy and efficiency. They are against raising fuel economy standards.

Unlike past years, this year's re-authorizatio of the transporation bill will be quite challenging, with the budget cutting mania in Congress.

The Livability taskforce plans to attempt to move some of these policies through as separate legislative initiatives.

BlueGreen Alliance Wants National Transportation Policy

The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental partners, called for passage of comprehensive transportation reauthorization legislation in 2011.

"Right now, America has a jobs deficit," says David Foster, Executive Director. "Revitalizing our transportation system can create the good jobs we need, not just in construction, but also in manufacturing trains, buses, cleaner cars, and trucks and their component parts. We need to take action now to pass a comprehensive bill that will rebuild our infrastructure, put people back to work, and make our economy cleaner, more efficient, and more competitive in the 21st century."

Their National Transportation Policy calls for investments in 6 main areas:

  • modernize infrastructure through a comprehensive, long-term federal transportation bill;
  • make the current U.S. transportation network greener by investing transit, rail, high-speed rail, biking and walking infrastructure;
  • build cleaner cars and trucks in the U.S.;
  • clean up the nation's ports and increasing the use of freight rail;
  • ensure jobs created by transportation investments are good jobs filled by U.S. workers through policies like Davis-Bacon prevailing wage and Buy America provisions.
  • support our current transit system by offering flexibility in transit operating assistance.

"This is the 21st century, but our transportation systems are stuck in the 20th," says Terry O'Sullivan, General President of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), a BlueGreen Alliance member. "One of four bridges in the U.S. is structurally deficient or obsolete, more than half the miles we drive on federal highways are on roads in less than good condition and our transit systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is a recipe for falling behind, not competing in the global economy."

The group notes that America spends over $1 billion a day on foreign oil. Transportation accounts for two thirds of every barrel of oil burned, producing nearly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.

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Here's the Livable Communities Task Force document:

Website: http://blumenauer.house.gov/images/stories/2011/documents/Freedom_from_Oil.pdf



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