Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trucks v. Bicycles

Will trucking in the United States suffer because Ray LaHood wants to focus on alternate transportation? Should it?

The Infrastructurist pulls from the American Trucking Association Blog:

Economic catastrophe aside, the trucking industry’s argument centers around the use of TIGER funds, which they worry will be diverted to new bike lanes instead of projects with “national importance” (aka highways). “Secretary LaHood’s comments suggest that an important sector of our economy will suffer in order to boost bicycling and walking, which always will be overwhelmingly recreational pursuits,”

Yes, it seems impractical that bicycles will ever be the medium of transporting large-scale freight. But to argue that they will always be recreational pursuits ignores quite a bit about the sustainability of our current infrastructure. Predictions are now that the US oil surplus will disappear in 2 years and global shortages will occur in 5. No, giving a little focus to bicycles is not a replacement for freight, but it is certainly a demonstration of a little bit of wisdom to have a little bit of infrastructure in place for when driving can no longer be supported as a primary form of transportation.

The ATA's real concern (which they conflate with the concern about bicycling) is that the DOT's policy will "shift more freight to barges and rail." Is there any reason aside from the short-term employment effect not to make this switch? Our economy is largely dependent on trucking freight today because of lobbying by GM and the energy industry in the postwar period – because if we have to drive cars and trucks on highways to get around rather than take trains, they make more money – not because it's any demonstration of market efficiency.

If it seems dismissive to refer to the lag in the trucking industry as "short-term unemployment," I would refer you first to the broken window fallacy before then additionally suggesting that if a lot of freight is diverted to barges and rail, would not most of the required labor also be diverted? That industry could then have greater revenue to spend on employees, since much will be saved by shifting toward energy efficiency.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What a Toothless Climate Bill.

No wonder it has bipartisan support. From Mother Jones:

  • The bill would remove the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, and the states' authority to set tougher emissions standards than the federal government.

  • There will be no fee—or "gas tax"—on transportation fuels. Instead, oil companies would also be required to obtain pollution permits but will not trade them on the market like other polluters. How this would work is not yet clear.

  • Agriculture would be entirely exempt from the cap on carbon emissions.

  • Manufacturers would not be included under a cap on greenhouse gases until 2016.

  • The bill would provide government-backed loan guarantees for the construction of 12 new nuclear power plants.

  • It will contain at least $10 billion to develop technologies to capture and store emissions from coal-fired power plants.

  • There will be new financial incentives for natural gas.

  • The bill would place an upper and lower limit on the price of pollution permits, known as a hard price collar. Businesses like this idea because it ensures a stable price on carbon. Environmental advocates don't like the idea because if the ceiling is set too low, industry will have no financial incentive to move to cleaner forms of energy.

  • The energy bill passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year will be adopted in full. This measure has sparked concerns among environmentalists for its handouts to nuclear and fossil fuel interests.

  • Agriculture is exempt? "Manufacturers" are temporarily exempt? Oil companies are regulated in a separate market? That doesn't leave much. What about when agricultural industries buy from oil companies? This seems to leave loads of room for loopholes.

    I suppose there's a tough line between what is politically feasible for progress and what is ideal. I would think that a flat carbon tax or 100% auctioned carbon permits (if a cap-and-trade system must be used – but it seems that this is even mere terminology to appease free-market mindset at times) would be the least bureaucratic way to go about it, and also the most productive. Make people internalize the damage they do to the planet in the price. It's also the one that would carve deepest into the energy industry's profits. Thus, both parties support a bill that does next to nothing.

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    I will save up for that cheeseburger.

    Not only to we fail to charge for the destruction of natural resources, we actually pay you to do it instead, with discounts funded by the government:
    Two hundred dollars for a hamburger. A gallon of gasoline, $15. The price of clothes: double. Milk, $6 a gallon. These are what things would really cost without subsidies, according to some estimates.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Three-fer, er, Four-fer

    New research gives us a little bit of a problem for the presumption that we behave rationally in economic thinking. Think of this when people argue that increasing agricultural regulation is stripping our freedom of choice.

    I had a religion professor in College who used God's instructions for distribution of Manna as an argument that God is a socialist.

    When Dan Gilbert wrote his iteration of "the Sentence' – the one that starts with "Humans are the only animal that..." – he predicted he would someday be proved wrong. His assertion, that only humans think about the future, was (satirically) challenged.

    Also, I think it's safe to say I'll be doing this in the Fall.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Take that, LaHood detractors.

    I try to avoid (unsuccessfully) the practice of reposting without comment, so let me at least point out that LaHood should feel vindicated in his assertion that "this is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized."

    Source: Smart Growth America