Plan to Drill for Transportation Funding is Full of Holes

More than one year after the Gulf oil spill, Congress has yet to pass a single law that will make drilling safer. Yet the GOP continues its reckless push for an expansion of domestic oil drilling, this time disguising it as a jobs and transportation infrastructure plan. 

House Republican leaders have finally come around to the idea that investing in our crumbling transportation infrastructure, which has slipped from the being envy of the world to 23rd in the World Economic Forum's rankings, is a smart way to create jobs and help Americans save time and money.

But their plan for funding transportation work by expanding oil drilling is so nonsensical, it's drawing fire from all over the political spectrum. Linking transportation funding to expanded oil drilling needlessly politicizes an issue where there is much common ground. Prominent conservatives and liberals agree that our national transportation program is dysfunctional, and that fixing it requires increased efficiency, less dependence on oil, and new sources of revenue.

Yet the Republican plan fails to address any of these issues. Their plan is a giveaway to polluters that will further entangle us in oil dependence, and won't even generate enough revenue to fund their own transportation bill. (And it won't create as many jobs as clean energy investment, either. According to a report by UMass-Amherst, investments in clean energy will create three times as many jobs as investments in the fossil fuel industry.)

Fiscal conservatives and taxpayer groups deride the plan's economic philosophy, which departs from the traditional system in which users pay for the upkeep of the transportation system, through tolls and the gas tax, and relies instead on speculative royalties from the oil and gas industry to fund transportation work. Relying on royalties is problematic because revenue from new oil and gas drilling takes years to roll in, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And no one can put a finger on exactly how much revenue will be generated from the industrialization of our coastlines, Western lands, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Estimates range from $1 billion to $7 billion annually. The Republicans need about $15 billion a year to fund their plan.

Marc Scribner of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute calls the plan "myopic" and says, "The U.S. cannot afford to go down this road." Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the LA Times that this irresponsible plan is "like buying a Ferrari tomorrow because you are sure a raise is coming sometime in the future."

There are smarter, cleaner ways to fix our transportation program, and foremost among them is using less oil--not more. Any economist will tell you that America simply does not have the resources to control the price of oil on the global market. We can drill anywhere that the oil companies want to go, and still be vulnerable gas price spikes, and still be reliant on imported oil.

What we can control is our need for oil. Making our cars more fuel-efficient is one way to save oil. Ramping up the production of hybrids, electric vehicles, and sustainable biofuels are also critical to reducing our oil demand.

Aggressive investments in public transit, which would give Americans real choice in how to get around, could save as much as 4 million gallons of oil each day by 2030. Building walkable communities instead of car-dependent suburbs could save 8 million gallons a day. Even simple technological improvements, like upgrading traffic signals so they can respond to real-time conditions, could save 42 millions of gallons of oil a day.

A smart transportation bill would incorporate oil-saving measures like these to help break our oil addiction, and make sure that taxpayer dollars are used efficiently in performance-based investments, instead of doling them out by formula or earmark.

The oil industry enjoys about $41 billion in tax breaks--this could be redirected toward transportation. Another source of revenue could be an oil security fee, which would be charged to oil companies to reflect the enormous national security costs of protecting our oil supply. Right now, we're paying this "fee" in taxpayer dollars--and soldiers' lives. That's one of the reasons why the military is such a big supporter of clean energy.

Any way you slice it, expanding domestic oil drilling to fund transportation is not a credible plan. It's not a jobs plan, it's not an energy plan, and it's not a viable plan for transportation. We can create jobs, we can reduce our need for imported oil, and we can build a transportation network for the 21st century. We do it by focusing on efficiency, not by continuing to place our future in the hands of the oil monopoly.