Less Green is More Green???

There are very few major league baseball players capable of consistently hitting home runs.  In fact, if you hit 300 and every hit is a single, you’re a hero.  Throw in a 20 mph wind out of the outfield and a really good pitcher, and home run percentages drop even more.

The recent failure of Congress to hit a home run and pass climate change legislation is disappointing — but the outcome was fairly well assured given the headwinds — Congress had just (barely and with significant partisan politics) passed health care legislation, making it much harder to get another major initiative approved. Mid-term elections are coming in November and the economy continues to be problematic at best — making it realistically impossible to focus on anything as complicated and dramatic as cap and trade, etc.  But we have to ask — is it going to be any better after the mid-term elections, where it is anticipated that the Republican party will gain strength?  And, do we really want a whole new set of regulations that will make it more uncertain and difficult to revive the economy and create jobs?

Is there a simpler way?

I’m not sure of the background, but sometime in the last two years we quietly placed an end date on the sale of incandescent light bulbs in the US. I have to believe that the energy savings and environmental impact of this one simple act is huge.  There was no political wrangling and the light bulb manufacturing industry/lobby barely whimpered. This was such a small change that it flew under the radar. We need more of these easy wins — in baseball terms, singles, and less climate legislation that is swinging for the fences in the midst of huge headwinds and great opposition.

What are some simple wins?

Here are three potential easy steps that could significantly benefit the environment and should not be politically controversial:

1. Forget Cash for Clunkers & the CAFE Standards — instead, enact Credit for Guzzlers, a tax credit for trading up to a new vehicle that gets at least 50% better gas mileage than the trade-in.  This would let consumers directly know and experience that our country is supporting fuel efficiency (versus the CAFE mpg standards that often do not affect light trucks and SUVs and are not directly felt by the car purchaser). If we want to discourage gas guzzlers, put a guzzler tax on all cars that get less then X mpg city/highway. A bonus will be that the car companies will make better small cars as sales swing in that direction.

2. Gas Powered Lawn Mowers No More

According to the EPA, one traditional gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each driven 12,000 miles. Electric or battery-powered lawn mowers create no exhaust emissions and run much cleaner than their gas-powered counterparts. The non-profit Electric Power Research Institute reports that replacing half of the 1.3 million gas mowers in the U.S. with electric models would save the equivalent amount of emissions of taking two million cars off the road. Surely if we can phase out incandescent light bulbs, we can phase out gas powered mowers, edgers and trimmers.

3. Gas Tax – and Use the Money to Weatherize Homes & Put People to Work: OK, this one would be more controversial, and requires some balancing of equities, but hear me out. If gas prices were never allowed to drop below $3.50/gallon (the difference between what the oil companies charge and $3.50 would be the tax), consumers would begin to shift their car buying habits and car companies could be fully engaged long-term in making smaller, more efficient, but quality cars. Granted, a gas tax is highly regressive (hits lower income people hardest) — BUT car ownership/operation/ maintenance, which runs $6,500 – $9,000/car/year, is even more regressive. In our car centric built environment, it would be very hard to not have a car in most places, but being a 50% mass transit commuter, I have determined that even driving a short distance to the park-and-ride and taking the bus is far less expensive than driving to work every day. And a gas tax credit and/or transit subsidy for lower income people would offset the regressive nature of the tax. However, to complete the circle, the extra revenue should be used for three purposes that would help the economy and the environment — to repair our aging infrastructure, and support mass transit expansion and employ out of work Americans to do home weatherization (and to offset the costs to homeowners with a tax credit). The gas tax should lower energy use, and using the tax revenue to weatherize homes would further reduce energy use — all while supporting mass transit and decreasing the unemployment rate.

So, what are your simple ideas to cut US carbon emissions?


About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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