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Re: Four Wheel Drive SUV popula



I've bitten my tongue till now as well.  The discussion is a little off 
the usual P2TECH path but it's interesting and touches on some 
economic/market and policy issues that are fundamental to P2 and 
environmental policy.

The most recent post asked if there is are subsidies to motor fuels. The 
answer is yes.  However alternative fuels are also subsidized and many 
social benefits accrue to having widely available personal vehicles.  
Some readings on this include:
R. Repetto, et al. "Green Fees: How a Tax Shift Can Work for the 
Environment and the Economy" (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 
1992), and
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, "Saving Energy in U.S. 
Transportation," (Washington, DC: US GPO, July 1994)  [Full text avail at 
http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/]

As far as driving subsidies are concerned, consider--
1) Infrastructure: contrary to popular belief, in most states, fuel 
taxes, tolls, registration fees do not come close to covering the costs 
of road construction, maintenance, policing.

2)  Energy security:  significant military capability and deployment 
expenses are associated with keeping Persian Gulf oil available--over 
half of U.S. oil use is for transportation (largely cars and 
trucks)--these costs are not reflected in pump price 

3) Environmental and health costs: vehicles are the major contributor of 
smog in most U.S. ozone non-attainment areas; high smog incidences are 
associated with asthmatic attacks and other pulmonary problems and, I've 
heard, increased mortality among older pulmonary patients (don't quote 
me--please check the data).  Motor vehicle use contributes to problems 
ranging from oil spills, criteria air pollutants, and greenhouse gas 
emissions to noisy neighborhoods, polluted stormwater, and disruption of 
lands that are paved.  These costs are notoriously hard to monetize but 
they are real.   While fuel prices reflect some costs of oil spill 
clean-up they hardly approach the other environmental problems at all.

3)  Congestion:  drivers bear much of the cost themselves, however there 
are externalities of lost productivity and increased probablity of 
accidents (although fatal accident rates have been creeping downward 
generally).

4) Fiscal subsidies:  free parking at the workplace is a tax-free perk 
that is quite valuable in major urban areas; however employer subsidies 
of employee mass transit fares are taxable as income if they exceed a 
certain level. (The tax free level was $21 a month a few years ago, 
though this may have changed--I was glad to get $21 a month from my 
employer toward my over $100/mo. transit fares but my driving colleagues 
got on the order of $140 to 200 a month in free parking based on local 
market rates for parking. ) 

I may have missed a few subsidies and "negative externalities."   There 
are also certainly great benefits to widely available personal 
transportation and driving rates increase globally even where gasoline is 
expense by U.S. standards, but motor fuels really are cheap and 
subsidized here in the United States.  

Before I get off the soapbox, if people feel safer in bigger vehicles and 
the average vehicle in the nation's fleet gets bigger then will we have 
an "arms race" and all end up in HUMVEES?  The (presumed) increased 
safety of bigger vehicles comes at the expense of injuries and fatalities 
of people in smaller vehicles--Amory Lovins, trained in physics, once 
said "Safety is conserved."

Regards,

Rodney Sobin
sobin@ctc.com