Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Recovering from Oil Dependence: Urging the Feds to Get With the Program

This is the last in a series of 30 blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

For the 30th of my 30 posts in 30 days, I’m writing a letter to Congress. I’m not doing this because I look to the U.S. government – which has bumbled over energy policy for years – to solve our oil dependence problem. If you’ve read the last 29 posts, you’ll know I think we can do a great deal at the local and individual level to ease petroleum addiction. In fact, some of the most creative paths to oil freedom are being forged by citizens and communities.

That said, having the Feds get with the program would make recovering from petroleum dependence a whole lot easier. Our national government could do several things to help us get off oil. In my letter, I’ve included a few that make sense to me. Below is my missive; I’m sending versions of this to our local Congressional Representative, Bart Stupak; to Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow; and to President Barack Obama. I invite you to join me in a virtual letter-writing party and pen your own note to the Feds.

Dear Representative Stupak, Senator Levin, Senator Stabenow, and President Obama:

I write to urge the passage of legislation to help free our country from its costly, crippling dependence on petroleum. Toxic air and water pollution, massive military expenditures to secure oil supplies, and climate change concerns have already given us reasons enough to wean ourselves from oil. Now, we’ve added the stunning economic and environmental damage from the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to the list of reasons we so desperately need big changes in our petroleum-centric national energy policy.

I strongly favor the measures below to help us reduce our consumption of oil:

  1. Please pass some form of carbon pricing. I favor a robust carbon tax, phased in over time, starting low and increasing at regular intervals to discourage the use of fossil fuels and encourage the use of renewable energy. Such a tax could help fund alternatives to gasoline use. It could also fund recovery from some of the ongoing environmental and public health damage done by burning fossil fuels. In addition, it would provide a clear signal in the marketplace, allowing businesses to invest in cleaner energy with more economic certainty.

  2. Please eliminate all tax credits and deductions currently provided to the oil industry. I find it ludicrous that the most profitable companies in the world – ExxonMobil comes to mind – receive what amounts to about $4 billion per year in tax breaks from the U.S. government, as reported recently by the New York Times. These tax breaks are inappropriate favors to an industry that doesn’t need or deserve them. They also constitute a huge barrier to the competitiveness of alternative energy sources.

  3. Please significantly increase funding for transit, bicycling, and walking facilities. I suggest doing this with revenues from carbon pricing and from eliminating oil industry tax breaks. Since about 70% of the petroleum we consume in this country gets used for transportation, such measures have huge potential to reduce our use of oil and gasoline. They are popular at the local level, as well; a good example is the Safe Routes to School program, which has helped improve child safety and reduce the need for parents to drive. Safe Routes to School has also improved walking and cycling conditions for all community members. This and similar programs deserve to be expanded. I'd like to see Amtrak's long-distance trains included in this, as well.

  4. Please establish stronger federal tax credits for energy efficiency. The amount of energy our country wastes is mind-boggling and unnecessary. Other economies in the developed world consume less energy per unit GDP and rank more highly on quality- of-life measures. We can rebuild our economy more efficiently and effectively if we use energy more efficiently.

  5. Please improve energy efficiency in the transportation sector by imposing a national feebate/rebate system for car purchases. A system of high purchase taxes on gas-guzzling larger luxury cars, with corresponding credits on fuel-efficient vehicles, could be structured to be revenue-neutral; that is, the high taxes on gas guzzlers would pay for the administration of the program and for the credits to buyers of fuel-efficient vehicles.

The best thing you can do for the country now is to help pass a more rational energy policy that includes these and similar measures. I appreciate your attention to my concerns and look forward to your response.

Katie Alvord


  1. Don't give up. But you will have better luck with your city council. The US federal government is a wholly owned subsidiary of autosprawl incorporated. If we get free transit in a thousand towns, they cannot stop us.

  2. Sadly, yesterday's failure by the Senate to include cap and trade as part of current energy legislation supports your statement about the federal government. It makes local and individual action that much more important.