I received an email from one of Colorado’s state legislators, Rep. Claire Levy. One of the things she discussed was her interest in improving energy efficiency as her focus on climate change policy. First off, a big tip of the hat to Claire for making climate change policy something she pays attention to at the state level. I think Americans are going to see a lot of good policies enacted at the state level in the next few years due to the pent up demand for action thanks to the Bush “administration”. Further, I am glad that Rep. Levy is examining energy efficiency as the starting point of needed actions. I approve of this not only because I want to see some kind of action toward addressing the crisis, but because energy efficiency is one of the least expensive solutions to making a difference. Note that I don’t think climate change policy is too expensive to consider, as many Cons are doing. Just the opposite: I think the only way we’re going to really break out of the severe Bush recession is by addressing climate change and the economy together.
Back to Rep. Levy, this is what she had to say:
I am working on legislation to help people reduce number of miles they drive (known in the field as “vehicle miles of travel”). Reducing vehicle miles of travel is a tough nut to crack because many people are locked into their driving habits by their housing options. Other than fuel, people are not generally tuned in with the cost per mile of their driving. In addition, transportation infrastructure generally is built to serve new development wherever it may be located, thereby stimulating yet more driving. Reducing vehicle miles of travel requires efforts to reduce sprawl and, as importantly, not facilitating sprawl through transportation policies.
Sprawl is indeed a huge obstacle to reducing miles traveled and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the transportation sector. I recommend an increased focus on mass transit and telecommuting. Something else Rep. Levy doesn’t mention is that true cost-per-mile hasn’t factored in the costs of greenhouse gas emissions. Accounting for those very real costs will almost certainly force people to search for alternative methods of transportation.
I have three proposals in this area. I am taking a second crack at legislation to get local governments, which are in charge of land use policy, and the Colorado Department of Transportation together so we make more efficient use of existing highways rather than creating demand for new ones. I am also researching legislation to promote what is called “Pay as You Drive” automobile insurance, which would allow people to choose an insurance product that rewards them for driving less. (After all, if you aren’t driving you can’t cause a car accident.) Currently, we pay a lump sum regardless of how much we drive. Insurance becomes a sunk cost. But if you could reduce your insurance premium by reducing your driving, there would be an incentive, along with the saved fuel cost, to combine trips, walk, take transit, shop closer to home, etc.
Unfortunately, one of the things holding any solution dealing with transportation back is the dismal financial bind with which the Colorado Cons have saddled the state. Because of their anti-investment beliefs, Colorado is severely limited in options to pursue. The Cons want everybody to pay for everything themselves, as part of their “You’re On Your Own” dogma. As a result, it will prove very difficult to shift financial resources around to deal with the crises we currently face.
Energy efficiency outside of the transportation sector should also be on Rep. Levy’s goals. Buildings built in the 20th century and so far in the 21st century largely are horrible energy sinks. Reducing that waste (reducing demand), would stall the pro-fossil fuel burning folks’ plans of building new and still polluting power plants. Every ton of coal or cubic foot of natural gas that isn’t burned is a little carbon that doesn’t get emitted into the climate system. Again, programs to increase efficiency in cars and buildings are the cheapest available. Creating and assisting new programs would make increased energy efficiency even more the norm and would be a positive step in addressing climate change. It’s something Rep. Levy and others should be aggressively promoting. I hope the next session of Colorado’s legislature is productive in this area.