Anthony Perl says America doesn’t have to wait for Congress in order to reduce oil consumption from the transportation sector.
by guest blogger Molly Davis
**my second and last blog entry from the ASPO-USA conference**
Discussions on Capitol Hill over the need to reduce fuel consumption often end up offering solutions that require significant movement on the part of policymakers. Pass a climate bill that puts a price on pollution? Pass an energy bill that mandates a high renewables supply? Pass a transportation bill that shifts highway funding to public transit? Easier said than done.
But Dr. Anthony Perl, co-author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil, in an ASPO-USA panel today, suggested that the government could use its existing authority to make major strides in reducing oil dependence.
Perl’s talk focused on transportation, which he said is critical to heading off a peak oil crisis, in part because transportation leads all other sectors of the global economy in its dependence on liquid fuels, but also because it’s so interrelated with other sectors.
“Because [transportation]’s so embedded in so many other processes and elements in our economy, if we’re not able to deal with that leading edge, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Perl discussed a plan, laid out in his book, for establishing a new “transportation redevelopment agency” that he says wouldn’t require authorization from Congress.
That’s important because — as he pointed out — he doesn’t have faith that the current Congress can accomplish the level of change needed. He’s not alone in that thinking. The surface transportation law expired in 2009, and House efforts to pass a new, game-changing bill stalled under an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm in the Senate.
“I think we are at a fork in the road, and if we’re going to survive this decade’s coming challenge, then we’re going to have to fast track a transportation system that can perform without oil,” Perl said. “I can’t see a way for us to get through the transition smoothly or even without a breakdown of our current living arrangements unless we have significant ability to move people and freight without oil.”
Perl’s proposed transportation agency would set the goal for the overall system, deciding how much to reduce liquid petroleum use over a certain period of time. The agency would then estimate current transport activity and energy use, anticipate future available transportation modes and their associated energy use, then develop a strategy for meeting the goals. Over time, the agency would follow up by continually improving the estimates and strategy.
In his talk, Perl also pointed to the development of high-speed rail as a solution that America can already start working on without passing a transportation bill.
Part of the reason we can do this, he said, is that China is paving the way by significantly expanding its own high-speed rail infrastructure — and thus driving down the costs for the rest of the world.
“Five years from now there’s going to be a blue light special on high-speed rail in the world because China will have built the capacity,” Perl said. He added later, “If we start planning now, and if we don’t get hung up at least in the short term on trying to reinvent what they’ve already done, we can take a page out of their book.”
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