What About the Other Energy Bill?

Heading into the fall, the Congressional debate is rightfully focussed on the landmark energy and climate bill as action moves from the House to the Senate. And part of that debate, thanks to NRDC, should be about the pincer move that this bill would put on oil imports by saving oil and increasing domestic production (see John Steelman's excellent post on this). The challenges of reliance on this resource haven't abated in spite of the drop in prices at the pump, as various contributors discuss in the new issue of Foreign Policy.

Yet little attention is paid to a bill that allocates hundreds of billions of dollars of public investment towards transportation (which drives our oil dependence, accounting for 2/3 of our oil thirst). The important federal transportation program expires just a week from today (on 9/30), yet the debate about it is limited to one depressing question: How long should we extend current law? That's not the right question! Everyone recognizes the current program must be overhauled, as described in excruciating detail in recent reports here, here and here.

One thing the new bill should tap is more oil-savings potential in the transportation sector, and a new report from Environment America shows that public transportation (such as commuter rail and buses) can help deliver results. The past couple of years have seen remarkable drops in driving and jumps in transit use, and the report quantifies some of the energy benefits. One of the more eye-popping findings is buried in the impressive table of state-by-state gasoline (and therefore oil) savings due to transit use in 2008: Savings of nearly 100,000 barrels a day in New York and more than 36,000 barrels a day in California. Those are real savings.

And looking forward, the groundbreaking Moving Cooler study found substantial potential to save oil by deploying more transit options along with complementary policies such as tolling of roads, better community designs and fuel-efficient driver education programs (teaching us, for example, to adopt habits like those featured in hilarious homemade videos at this site). A comprehensive set of strategies would yield about 1.5 million barrels of oil saved by 2030, more than we currently import from Saudi Arabia.

Check out our new fact sheet about Moving Cooler, as well as the report itself. Myself, I'm off to convince my friends in the public transportation industry that railcars should start sporting a version of former CIA Chief Jim Woolsey's famed "Bin Laden Hates this Car" bumper sticker: "Bin Laden Hates this Train."