Why don’t we drive 55?

Samuel Tenenbaum is one of the most ardent members of the Energy Party, and he continues to push, with his characteristic energy, his own favored solution. I got this e-mail this morning:

Time for a national speed limit of 55 mph. Chevron says that it will save us 22
BILLION gallons of gas which would reduce the price of oil by the barrel by 8-10
dollars which would reduce on a per day basis millions of dollars to the
petrodictators and save lives here on our higways. It also reduces trade
deficits , reduces inflationary and interest rate pressures, health care costs
and care insurance with the reduced accident rates and it will be the the only
thing that we as a people have sacrificed for the wars. Can the
American people give up speed to honor those who have died fighting ? Do we have
any leader who will lead ? Where is the American media ?  If not now , when ?
Remember, Ch[a]vez, Putin and Ahmadinejab are laughing all the way to the bank .
Are you ?

I confess that, knowing my own impatience as a driver, I balk at this one, too — but Samuel’s right. I push for the higher gas tax, he pushes for this. We should do both. They are indeed the least we could do.

30 thoughts on “Why don’t we drive 55?

  1. Bill

    I hear Sam’s wife doesn’t even listen to him, so why should we? Sam just needs more $2000 VISA cards to hand out like he did after Katrina.

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  2. Doug Ross

    How about taking a position against all the sprawl development that has left our roads choked with traffic? Driving 5 m.p.h. on Two Notch or Harbison is as bad as driving 70 on I77.
    Brad, would you support a freeze on building in Northeast Columbia and Irmo until the roads are upgraded to support the traffic? That’s actually something that could be done locally. What the big developers have done to this area over the past decade is borderline criminal. We’re already seeing the symptoms of what is to come with the water ban this past weekend and the overcrowded schools in Richland 2.
    What kind of car does Sam drive?

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  3. Weldon VII

    So you favor a higher gas tax AND a 55 mph speed limit?
    So we should pay more to spend more time on the roads that DOT maintains so inefficiently?
    Are you making so much money you have no fear of it ever running out?

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  4. Brad Warthen

    No, but our soldiers also have a limited supply of blood.
    And we could raise the gas tax to fix those state roads, which would help even further in encouraging conservation by raising the tax further… but I don’t want to do that until we fix DOT.
    That doesn’t mean we can’t raise the federal gas tax to pay for the war, and for some SERIOUS research into fuel alternatives, and for public transportation…

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  5. Doug Ross

    I’d support raising the gas tax at the federal level to pay for the war. Why don’t you ask McCain if he would support the idea as well? You think he might be a little reluctant to discuss anything that hints of raising taxes over the next 18 months?
    At the state and local level, I would also support raising the gas tax to a level that would both help pay for roads AND eliminate the ridiculous car property tax. A person who owns a newer 4 cylinder car and drives it 10,000 miles per year pays more in taxes than someone who owns a beatup V* truck that is driven 30,000 miles per year. And that makes sense how?? Add on top of that all the local government overhead to calculate car taxes, distribute bills, and collect the payments and you have just thrown several million dollars down the drain that might have been used to repair bridges and roads.
    Brad – do you think traffic issues in congested areas should be addressed to help save gasoline? What is the Energy Party’s position on this? More sprawl = more wasted gas, right?

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  6. Brad Warthen

    Good point on the car property tax.
    And I think we should repair the roads we have rather than building new ones, because that doesn’t relieve congestion in the long run — it just brings more cars.
    A smart energy policy would discourage sprawl, and promote public transit (preferably COOL public transit, such as high-speed light rail, as long as I’m stating my druthers).

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  7. Brad Warthen

    Oh, and on McCain, I’ve noticed something. People are always posing such questions to him, asking him to take risky-but-principled positions (on the flag, car taxes, etc.) and not asking the same of his rivals. Or so it seems to me. And I think there’s a reason for that. People expect more from McCain, on an ethical level, than they do of other candidates. And they should; I just find it interesting that, or instance, alleged “moderates” will tear him down for doing things like even SPEAKING to the religious right, no matter how other candidates genuflect to that faction.

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  8. Herb Brasher

    You are asking a German to drive 55? That is hard, Brad. Can we have at least a few Autobahnen with a higher speed limit?
    Eliminate the property tax on cars, and instill a horsepower tax instead. The hotter the engine, the higher the tax.

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  9. Mike Cakora

    How about we just allow the energy companies to explore and drill off the coast? There’s oodles of domestic oil out there just waiting to be extracted, refined, and burned.
    Of course, there is the cost to taxpayers to consider: nada, zilch, nichts, nichego. The stinking oil companies would beat each other over the heads in their rush to dump money into exploration and extraction.
    Now if you really want to cement the deal, pass a law stating that the Palmetto state is prepared to smooth the acquisition of land for a refinery. The legislature could help speed environmental impact statement in several ways; they don’t have to focus solely on shooting protestors, although that’s a start.
    This is not entirely my idea. Rep. Michael Thompson, R-Anderson asked for a commission to study whether building an oil refinery would make sense here. It would, especially since refining is currently a bottleneck, but kick in some derricks off Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and Georgetown county, and we have a winner!
    In writing about this earlier, I suggested that we add an LNG terminal. I’m a nuke booster too. The really great thing about all this is that our great corporations are prepared to explore for and extract oil off the coast, build an LNG terminal, and construct nuclear power plants with their own funds, what we call “profits.” What a country!
    Why force folks to do stupid things like drive 55 mph? Time is money in more ways than one. Take tourism, where folks from some wealthy northern state are traveling 500 miles down here for vacation. At 70 mph they get here two hours sooner and can leave two hours later than if they had to drive 55! With our increased sales tax, that’s four more hours for the state, not to mention for the state’s businesses. Their higher cost in fuel at the faster speed is lower than the value they place on their time.
    The economics are pretty simple, as is the allure of letting folks choose what’s of value to themselves. Folks can always drive slower to save money. Don’t forget that fuel is actually but one component of the overall cost. For any trip of a given distance, the ownership costs (insurance, property taxes, license fees, etc.) are fixed, as is the time value of depreciation, as is mileage. As it turns out, the only variables are time and fuel costs, the latter being greater because miles-per-gallon are lower at higher speeds. But since fuel may be cheaper than time in many folks’ minds, let’s hustle so that happy hour comes sooner.

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  10. Herb Brasher

    Forgot the trucks. Let’s slow the semis down to 55, yes, please. Lower the weight limit, too, just copy Illinois state law, and enforce it. We’ve had a few too many semis dumping their loads all over I-20.

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  11. Ted Sbardella

    Brad you know you really “should” move to Mass. You would like it there so much they would love you and respect you there and you would not feel so bad about where you live. They have the 55 speed limit there to this day. Please go there, enjoy your last years in peace knowing you are where you belong.

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  12. Ted Sbardella

    Oh and by the way I have a 55 mile an hour speed limit on my car and when I need to go faster I press a little harder on the little lever and well, I go a bit faster – if I need to. I like to save gas as well so I do go slower unless I need to go faster then well I press a little bit more firmly on the lever and I go faster, saving gas is only smart in this day of high prices but if I need or want to go faster my goodness I am glad I do not live in a nanny state next they will want to tell me how much paper to use to wipe my butt.

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  13. ed

    I’d like it much better if obstinate and ridiculous people like Tenenbaum would simply get the hell out of the way and allow the exploration for and development of our domestic petroleum resources. We have petroleum reserves in the ground right now that could go a long way towards eliminating our dependence on foreign oil. This isn’t 1930 ~ we now have extraction technologies now that are clean and environmentally responsible, and yet we have liberals in congress who absolutely refuse to allow their use. It makes no sense whatsoever except when looked at from the purely self-serving liberal perspective: It’s about maintaining control over every facet of american lives, and it’s about keeping up a sense of crisis in peoples’ minds so that these liberals are able to villify and raise taxes on oil companies that make a profit every ten years or so. I know the enemy…he is us. Until we vote to stop the nonsense, it will continue.
    We don’t need windfall profits taxes (which would only raise prices). We don’t need to slow down the activity of citizens in the pursuit of happiness by restricting highway speeds. We certainly don’t need to increase taxes on consumers as a solution to anything. We simply need liberals to get their a$$e$ out of the way. This summer when gas supplies get tight and you are paying $4.00 a gallon, thank a liberal won’t you? And the next time you vote, vote for the right people, or else continue to suffer. Ed

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  14. Trajan

    While I agree with many of Ed’s points, I would suggest that no one is suffering just yet.
    Americans are too fat and lazy to suffer.
    We have all of the natural resources we need to last for generations to come, but liberals and tree huggers who feel that God (are they acknowledging a God now?) can’t take care of his creations or endow man with the sense to know how, stop every effort to utilize those resources to supply our energy needs.
    I just laugh at these Chicken Little greenies who talk about alternative fuels like it’s something to purchase at Earth Fare.
    As to Brad’s idea of light rail, that’s really interesting. It works in large metropolitan areas that have a huge infrastructure and tax base to support it, i.e., rails in place, parking lots to park idle cars, 1 million plus folks to subsidize it.
    But, light rail could never work here for two reasons.
    No money to pay for it, and no collective public will to give up their “freedom” to drive themselves where ever they choose.
    If you want some interesting reading on light rail, follow Charlotte’s efforts in establishing their proposals. There is a huge outcry right now about a transit tax that has been collected for a few years now to pay for it, and how that’s working out.
    Let’s continue the hand-wringing over the spotted owl. Meanwhile, Hillary and the jihadists are coming.

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  15. bud

    How about a ban on the publication of paper newspapers? Think of all the energy we would save. With fewer trees destroyed we’d have more to soak up the greenhouse CO-2.
    The public would embrace this idea before a new 55 speed limit.

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  16. Herb Brasher

    For one thing, trees are a renewable resource. Timber generally needs to be harvested and replaced, or it just rots. I don’t have the facts at my fingertips, but I would imagine that, given the will to do so, we can achieve a balance between the use of timber and its replacement (my understanding is that rape of the Amazon forest system has a different origin).

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  17. bud

    The energy issue defines better than any other just how completely out of touch conservatives are with reality. ed for instance writes this gem:
    “We have petroleum reserves in the ground right now that could go a long way towards eliminating our dependence on foreign oil. This isn’t 1930 ~ we now have extraction technologies now that are clean and environmentally responsible, and yet we have liberals in congress who absolutely refuse to allow their use.”
    The fact is oil production in the United States peaked in 1970 and has declined relentlessly ever since. Oil production has spiked a few times since. In the early 80s after Prudoe Bay came on line production went up sharply for a few years. But it never reached the 1970 level. Thanks to more than 1 trillion dollars in investment by the oil company in part made possible by huge tax breaks, new discoveries have been made. Yet overall production continues on it’s downward slide.
    The reason for this is simple. The easiest oil to extract from the ground has already be extracted. In spite of greatly improved detection and extraction techiniques, and huge profit incentives oil companies are falling further and further behind consumption. Oil is a great example of how free market systems work but cannot completely solve certain problems.
    It’s actually worse than this though. Until now we’ve been able to important enough oil to make up the difference between what we produce and what we consume. Soon. Very soon, world oil production will also peak. When that happens we’ll be longing for the day when gasoline was just $3/gallon.

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  18. Mike Cakora

    Trajan –
    For light rail to work, you need to move a lot of folks along a network of paths. I don’t think the Midlands has the volume to justify the huge infrastructure costs, but public transportation is a specialty of its own.
    At first glance it does look like there are a lot of folks living in the northeast and northwest who work downtown, and I have noticed the single rail line running along Two Notch. A speedy connection from downtown to Sandhills mall might make some sense, but then downtown retailers and eateries would pitch a fit, no?
    Regional transportation outfits themselves have their own brand of politics and are unaccountable. Look at DC’s Metro’s “secret pension” system. Is something stinking there?

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  19. bud

    One more quick point. The United States military extracts a huge burden on our energy supplies. Cut back on that and we reduce our need for energy of all types. A good start would be to bring the troops home from Iraq.

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  20. Mike Cakora

    bud –
    Nice try on the peak oil theory, a favorite topic of those who really believe that they could do better if only they were in charge. Mexico’s, Venezuela’s, and some other countries’ oil production is declining because governments run their industries and skimp on investment in order to maximize revenue for public (?) spending,
    It’s no surprise that oil production has leveled off given the restrictions that Big Oil faces in exploration. Here at home part of the Gulf Coast and much of eastern and western seaboards are off limits. Oil companies are willing to spend what it takes to explore and extract here at home, but we won’t let them.
    That’s why these superbly managed enterprises are spending billions going after the tough stuff overseas with unreliable partners like Russia; where else can they invest their skill and profits? .
    Nor should it be surprising that crude prices have gone up give the proven fragility in daily distribution: war and weather have wrought spot shortages in the past and will do so again. The markets factor that in.
    The experts see no shortage of oil. You are also overlooking the tar sands, some in the Rockies and loads in Canuckistan. That they can turn a profit at $35 per barrel is accelerating development.
    I’d rather leave energy development up to the folks who know what they’re doing, whether as part of a huge energy gargantuan or as a new guy on the block with a great idea and venture-capital backing.

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  21. Ready to Hurl

    A speedy connection from downtown to Sandhills mall might make some sense, but then downtown retailers and eateries would pitch a fit, no?

    I guess that they would “pitch a fit”– if the train only ran one way. I haven’t seen many train systems that operate that way, however.
    Since more people live in the Northeast than downtown, a fairly reasonable assumption would be that more people would ride into the city center to work, shop, recreate etc. than would ride out to Sandhills for the same reasons.
    A better solution for the northwest would be an HOV lane combined with express buses.
    An even better idea would be to institute steep impact fees for building new subdivisions or large scale commercial development. Adding $20,000-$25,000 per new suburban home would change many of our wasteful practices– including energy usage.

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  22. Brad Warthen

    Actually, bud, I’ve been for going completely on-line and saving all those trees since the early 1980s. Trouble is, people still want the paper. That’s actually quite a millstone for the industry. Newsprint and delivery make up close to half of our costs.
    Trouble is, no one has figured out how to support a newspaper’s newsgathering apparatus with an online model. Seems like we could, but no one has. And as long as people keep wanting a paper, we’re stuck with that huge cost.
    Oh, and to all: The Energy Party position is to explore, drill, refine, while at the same time conserving like crazy, raising the oil tax, building nuclear plants… Basically, we have to get over the ideological objections of both left and right and do EVERY pragmatic thing we can to get independent of foreign oil, and stay that way.
    If the spotted owl gets in the way, that’s sad, but we can build a statue to it after the war is over. Maybe my grandchildren will see that day.
    We’ve got to GET SERIOUS.

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  23. Karen McLeod

    Does anyone have the nerve to locally tax the hang out of gasoline, and use that money to a) fund a good mass transit (local area busses, express busses to various areas, frequent buses)? The only way many people can be persuaded to ride mass transit is if it is convienient and cheap. But this might do it, and, in the process, save a lot of oil. And the money would go here, not to nations that dislike everything about us but our money.

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  24. Mike Cakora

    Taking a gander at them Yurripeans, we find that their major cities have pretty good mass transit funded in part by high taxes on fuel oil, diesel and gasoline. Their cities are pretty compact compared to ours, in part because some had walls around them at one time or another, some more recently than others.
    SCE&G tried to rationalize the bus system here and failed, but not for want of trying. Perhaps some other organization can figure out how to move lots of paying customers from points A-Z to points Z-A efficiently. The big problem is probably one of enough folks — density along projected commuting paths — to enable the system to recover its subsidized costs. Remember that the costs involve not just equipment over routes, whether rail or bus, but the terminals too. That means that moving folks from a Sandhills or Irmo terminal requires a lot of parking at that terminal so that folks will use the transportation.
    If Sandhills, Lexington, and Irmo are the starting points, where’s the termination, where do people work? Sure there’s downtown, but there’s also Dutch Square, Colonial, Shop Road, Forest Acres, and other places.
    The problem is not trivial, but surveys and studies can help define the issues so that the politicians can then make their sausage. Getting a system that’s “convenient and cheap” has, to my knowledge, never been accomplished. I know of no place where reasonable fares support the transit system; subsidies are always required.
    It may be good policy to tax whatever to subsidize a transit system, but that involves politics, and economics, a dangerous mix. Exhibit A is Amtrak, an agency I’d not mind seeing wither away because it’s a great case of the many subsidizing the few.
    Will this save oil?
    A “carbon tax” — you may call it a mass transit tax — is a policy that will save oil if the tax is high enough, but as a matter of politics and economics, you’d have to phase it in and make all sorts of alternative rebates to avoid the resulting chaos.
    To influence folks to drive less, at today’s prices you’re probably talking at least $2 per gallon in additional fuel taxes to have a measurable impact. That will not immediately fund additional public transportation — there’s a time lag — so you will have to consider some sort of rebate for those folks in the bottom two or three income quintiles. Whatever method you choose will be inefficient — costly — but that’s just the start because the tax affects everything transported over the highway: food, clothing, building supplies, cars on carriers, people, whatever. In a way you can ameliorate that by reducing the sales tax, but that means that the carbon tax will not be dedicated to transit, some amount will have to be diverted to fund whatever the sales tax used to. And so on. You can make great plans, but there will be unintended consequences as folks try to cope with the increased costs.
    The bottom line is that people have only so much money and politicians have to find clever ways to grab it without them objecting. Increasing one tax sometimes means reducing another so that the electoral bloc perceived to have more votes feels like a winner and will support the politician it believes helped them. That’s not only politics, it’s reality.

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  25. Mark Whittington

    “Whatever the cause of the present increase in prices, there is no question that refineries are benefiting greatly as a consequence. On May 4, gross profit margins on gasoline refining rose 57 percent from the start of April to $31.22 a barrel. This is the second widest margin recorded in history, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange, and is double the margins from a year ago. The profits per barrel nearly surpassed the record set on September 1, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with a per barrel gross profit margin of $31.71 per barrel.
    The profits of the major oil companies are presently at record levels. Of the five top oil companies all but BP show an increase in first quarter profits from the previous year. First quarter profits for ExxonMobil were $9.3 billion, up 10 percent from last year. Royal Dutch Shell reported $7.3 billion, up 6 percent; Chevron reported $4.7 billion, up 18 percent. ConocoPhillips reported $3.5 billion, up 8 percent from last year. Over the past six years the five top oil companies have taken in a staggering $440 billion in profits.
    These profits are coming directly out of the pockets of the American population as a whole. Lacking alternatives in transportation, workers have had to accept the higher gas prices. According to the Labor Bureau of Statistics, transportation costs account for 18 percent of average household expenditures—the third largest component. From 2000 to 2005 average expenditures on gasoline and oil rose by 56 percent to $2,013 in 2005. As a percentage of total household expenditures the amount spent on gasoline and oil rose from 3.4 percent in 2000 to 4.3 percent in 2005.”
    Mark Rainer

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  26. Ready to Hurl

    after the war is over. Maybe my grandchildren will see that day.

    Brad, this “war” that you speak of… how long do you think it would last if we closed our mid-eastern bases and quit actively propping up mid-eastern dictatorships?

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  27. Karen McLeod

    We have density in most areas. It’s just that our buses are inconvienient, time consuming, and expensive. That’s why anyone who can either drives their car or catches a ride. Therefore, few ride the buses. Since few ride the buses, bus routes and times are cut some more and prices go up. Therefore, fewer ride the buses. Do you see where this is going? I have been in a city that had good bus service coupled with impossible down town parking. Lots of people rode the bus.

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  28. bud

    “It’s no surprise that oil production has leveled off given the restrictions that Big Oil faces in exploration. Here at home part of the Gulf Coast and much of eastern and western seaboards are off limits. Oil companies are willing to spend what it takes to explore and extract here at home, but we won’t let them.”
    -Mike Cakora
    Actually Mike oil production in the U.S. hasn’t leveled off, it’s dropping. The years when production drops outnumbers the years it increases by a better than 2-1 margin. That’s in spite of the fact that the number of oil wells is the highest in the world due to the trillions spent looking for the stuff. In 1970 oil production in the U.S. peaked at 3.517 billion barrels. By 1980 that was down to 3.146. By 1990 2.685. 2000 – 2.131 and in 2005 – 1.890. source: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/mcrfpus1A.htm
    There are 885,000 oil wells worldwide. 534,000 of these are located in the United States. Source:
    http://www.worldoil.com/magazine/magazine_link.asp?ART_LINK=01-08_world-staff_T2.htm
    That is hardly an indication that environmentalists are thwarting oil company’s efforts to drill. Much of the “off-limits” areas you speak of are in difficult to reach areas that will require enormous amounts of energy to bring the oil to market. The ‘net’ oil production from these areas is likely to be far less than the easy-to-reach fields in east Texas that are rapidly being exhausted. So these ‘promising’ so-called off-limits areas can at best slow the decline down.
    An example is the Prudoe Bay oil. Production peaked in 1987, 17 years after the overall peak. It’s now down 70% from peak and will continue to fall slowly for another 40 years. It’s very doubtful that we’ll have another Prudoe Bay in the U.S. But even if we did it would suffer the same fate.
    As for the much ballyhooed shale and tar pit oils these are very difficult and expensive sources to bring to market. Again, these sources can only slow the decline, not stop it.
    This much is clear: Oil production in the U.S. WILL continue to decline regardless of what we do in terms of environmental policy. Whether it declines 40% per decade as was the case in the 90s or 20% really doesn’t matter that much. We will still have to import huge amounts of oil from tenuous (at best) overseas sources. Prices will go up dramatically. That is unless we can learn to use less, far less, of the stuff. We currently important 60% of our oil. This cannot continue much longer. My advice to policy makers is simple: relax restrictions on drilling, including the Anwar. That will address 10% of the problem. Press hard, very hard, for a variety of conservation measures. That will address another 40%. The remainder can only come from alternative sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.

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