Study: Raising Price of Driving Is Key To Reducing GHG Emissions

Buying a hybrid or electric car might allow you to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but any gains achieved by adopting new vehicle or fuel technologies in the US will be wiped out by societal increases in travel and population growth.

That’s the starting point of Moving Cooler, a new study by the Urban Land Institute and a diverse group of organizations including Environmental Defense Fund, National Resources Defense Council, the US EPA, Federal Highway Administration, and Shell Oil.

According to the study, the most effective way to achieve the proposed long-term goal of 80 percent reductions in US greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050 is to reduce the number of miles we travel. And that’s critical because transportation contributes roughly 28 percent of the US total greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation emissions have been growing faster than those of other sectors.

Moving Cooler outlines a number of bundled strategies for discouraging travel in personal vehicles:

  • create more transportation­-efficient land use patterns
  • encourage greater levels of walking and bicycling as alternatives to driving
  • support ride-sharing, car-sharing, and other efficient commuting strategies
  • subsidize public transportation fares, expanded routes and new infrastructure
  • improve intelligent transportation systems to make better use of the existing capacity and encourage more efficient driving
  • expand capacity and relieve bottlenecks to reduce congestion

But none of these steps will be as effective as establishing “strong economy-wide pricing measures.” For example, adding $0.60 to the price of a gallon of gasoline, starting in 2015 and increasing to $1.25 per gallon in 2050 could result in a 17 percent reduction of GHG in 2050, according to the study. If we introduced a fee similar to current European fuel taxes, starting at $2.40 a gallon in 2015 and jumping to $5.00 a gallon in 2050, we could see a 28 percent reduction in 2050. (These fees presumably would be added to the market price for gasoline.)

The study’s authors say these pricing measures would have two effects: to cut back on vehicle miles traveled and to accelerate implementation and purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles—like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.

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  • manti

    jumping to $5.00 a gallon in 2050 ????
    5.00$ a gallon will be the price in 2015 without any tax.
    If somebody thinks that in 2050 we will have a price of 5$ per gallon they are very simple minded. We will be lucky if we have any oil in 2050 for transportation, and if we do the price wil be very high at least 10-15$/gallon.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    manti, at first I was going to say you are crazy. But after thinking about it a moment, you probably are just faulting to the high side estimates. Is what you are saying possibly accurate? I would have to be the crazy to say it is not possible.

  • CRut100

    This article is just stupid. America’s transportation system is not equipped to hand mass transit and the cost to install it would be crippling – especially after the spending spree our fearless leaders have been on. People who need to work and have to drive to work can’t suddenly stop driving. All this absurd tax would do is drive down real wages for EVERYONE, crush the working poor and give the government even more tax revenue which they would not use for carbon reduction but would put towards some other use. Net, net is a poorer America with the same amount of pollution and a government collecting even more of our hard earned money and us with nothing to show for it. Build electric cars. I would think for a tiny fraction of the infrastructure cost we could have cars that could go 300-500 miles on a charge by 2050 and with a very small ICE engine you could probably bump that up to 700 miles. More than you can drive in a day so recharge when you stop for the night.

  • DaveR

    Forbes writer Christopher Steiner is just out with a book “$20 Per Gallon”. In it he states that supply/demand (mainly because of increased driving in China and India) will push gasoline to $20 per gallon over the next 30 years.

  • Anonymous

    The only real solution is a high gas tax ($2.00 per gallon) with a dollar-for-dollar tax dividend. or an income or payroll dollar-for-dollar tax reduction.
    Give the money back. @ the end of the year so peple can spend or pay bills.

  • nycsolar

    Guys… It meant a tax of $5.00 a gallon… So the total cost would be $5.00+normal market price. Making the minimum price of a gallon of gas $5.00 if the oil company gave out gas for free..

  • crookmatt


    I disagree that the article is “Just stupid”. I think the most major factor, more than anything else, in encouraging people to adopt more environmentally friendly transportation methods is through price. Just look at what happened last year at this time (with $4.50/gal gas), people flocked to mass transit, hybrid cars and so forth. With sustained high gas prices people will automatically adopt less expensive transporation options, even with no special programs by the government.

    Taxes always discourage behavior while subsidies encourage behavior. It’s one of the basic laws of free trade economics, neither the left nor the right dispute that. So if you impose taxes on behavior that causes emissions, people will naturally adopt “cleaner” behavior and habits.

    It’s just common sense.

  • Samie

    One comment in the article I don’t understand “expand capacity and relieve bottlenecks to reduce congestion” The point of relieving bottlenecks is usually what spurs greater development in the burbs, add another lane or two & more growth will follow.

    Also I take issue w/ the HVAC lanes, we can pretend that they work but in reality lots use it w/ only one person in a vehicle as another left line. So instead of more HVAC lanes I would love to see more light rail along interstates where possible w/ only the necessary stops, to park & go areas. Also since I’m grumpy lets not pretend subsidizing more bus fares is going to solve many problems. I challenge anyone to buy groceries for a family & say conduct other business across town while riding on a bus all day.

    There is where I differ from most, I do not believe in restricting mobility at all! That differs from what I think we need for reducing greenhouse gasses but for economic & socioeconomic reasons I can’t support that idea w/c I think could only divide people even more.

    One thing I think could go along way is if States want Federal money for local road projects, States through the Fed would make certain requirements to improving say adding bike lanes, walking paths, or just expanding sidewalks to 6ft in heavily used areas. But lets not kid ourselves this is a tough question do you add another two lanes to a road or provide alt. mobility? You add the lanes & commuters think the state is spending tax dollars wisely but if you take up space to add bike lanes people will tend to complain even more….. Also adding another two lanes to a road in a developing city may attract more low paying retail/service jobs but may help improve the local tax base w/ new chains or stores along side the expanded road.

    This is where the Fed should require regional planing & require certain ordinances to be met before funds are available, this is to think in terms of a region & not act as stand alone cities that try to get as much tax revenues as possible or say resources like water in the West. One last thought we have to think of how we can create more mixed zoning w/c can include an outside of the box idea of say taking box stores or restaurants & add a second floor w/ say office space or maybe apartments or condos above.

  • veek

    The study has a couple of excellent points: First, driving is a major element of GHG’s (and so very much of our driving is elective),
    and Second, a predictable and gradual increase in the price of fuel is the way to go. We will know this cost ahead of time (unlike most past fuel cost increases, which were sudden and unplanned) and then we can prepare accordingly. The adjustment will be difficult — no kidding — but so will the price of non-action.
    I’d rather have the cost increase go to our government, as bad as is is, than to the usual beneficiaries.

  • Mr.Bear

    The article isn’t stupid, but it does deserve the Captain Obvious Award.

    If you want to reduce how much people use something, you make it more expensive. Really? No one ever figured that out before. Thanks for that brilliant insight.

  • Bob Guimarin

    As long as we ignore the realities of the general driving public, then nothing that is done to promote greener transportation will make more than a ripple in an ocean of continued fossil fuel consumption for transportation needs.

    If we put our focus on converting some of the 245 million gas cars to 100% electric cars, at a reasonable price to the general public, then we could truly make incredible reductions in GHGs.

    Don’t tell the American public to drive less, or drive a car that doesn’ t fit their needs. Let them have the same cars they drive today, at a reasonable costs. and help the earth…. Providing a battery exchange infrastructure, that negates the need for the “most optimized EV technological” design and vehicle build, will greatly accelerate the adoption of 100% EVs. Does it really matter if a converted Gas-Car can only travel 100miles on a $2 charge and then swap out for another battery that was charged by green energy sources, if we can get 10,000s of folks to get completely off gasoline decades ahead of the current., “Gas-Electric Hybrid” mantra?

    Hybrids are not the answer, battery exchange capable cars are the answer.

  • Anonymous

    This is 20 years away.
    If you wanna speed it up raise the gas tax and it wll happen in 5 years

  • Anonymous

    Battery exchange infrastructure is 20-30 years away. NGV is here NOW

  • Halo9x

    First of all, the article is worried about a man-made hoax perpetrated by Gore, Pelosi, Reid and other politicians. CO2 is a gas that plants need in order to live. Second of all, we in the U.S. do not have a shortage of oil or NG. What we have is an abundance of stupidity in our political leaders who refuse, against better judgement, to allow our companies to responsibly go after all of the resources that we have. Russia is inking a deal with Cuba to drill for oil in OUR backyard!!! Does anyone think they are going to do a better job than our own companies would do? Does anyone think they are going to “respect” the environment?
    The environmental religious zealots are responsible for the propaganda that is crippling this country!!!
    If anyone would think they would realize that it is no hotter now than when they were kids. I lived in El Paso during the 50’s, it was hot then and it is hot now! No change. In Texas, it always gets hot in the summer, period! You could cook eggs on a sidewalk then and you still can. Wise up and quite being suckers! Gore is in it to become a billionaire if the stupid Cap & Trade passes. Pelosi is set to make millions as is GE and others. The losers are going to be the rest of US.
    Much as I would like to “convert” a gas car to all electric, the truth is it would cost $20,000! Converting my Prius to a PHEV would cost a minimum of $10,000. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t have a spare $10K laying around. The Volt is going to cost about $40K which puts it out of the reach of all but a few. So, lets get real, gasoline is going to be the fuel for the long haul. Hybrids will help to stretch the gasoline until some miracle solution that is actually affordable comes to market. Till then don’t drive any more nails into our economic coffin. The rest of us would really appreciate it.

  • Dj

    I have notice one thing that American`s are selfish……We want to be free of oversea oil but we as a counrty wont take the right steps to do it.Complaining about price……complaining about the poor can`t afford it.First of all nobody in the U.S is poor, might not
    have alot of money but most of American are better off than most people in the world.To all American`s get your high horse and
    think about what good it would do for are kids and our kids….kids


  • Lost Prius to wife

    Halo9x, greenhouse gases do not have a political party. For you to state so shows that you have not really looked into the data concerning global warming. And you are just taking someone else’s word as fact. I have never seen Al Gore’s film and do not really care what side he takes. Nor do I care what Pelosi, Reid and other politicians have to say either. Based on what I have found on global warming (arguments/data both for and against global warming), I find that global warming does exist (mankind’s percentage is still in debate) and I do care about what the politicians do about global warming. “Saying” and “doing” are two different things.

    Greenhouse gases such as nitrogen trifluoride, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons do not occur naturally. They are manmade gases and some have high global warming potential (GWP) even when only present in very small quantities. They have only occurred since the 1800’s. Carbon dioxide, which exists at the ~0.3% level in the atmosphere, affects ~50% of our global weather and global warming (note: this percentage changes to ~25% if one includes water vapor in with the greenhouse gases). The ices of Greenland and Antarctica have shown that the levels of carbon dioxide have remained relatively steady in at least the last 100,000 years until the 1800’s. Since the 1800’s, carbon dioxide has increased ~35% with no known natural events to cause those increases. Do you know something that has escaped the eyes of the 2000+ IPCC scientist, the tens of thousands of scientist in related fields, and the many, many millions of the scientist, news journalist, politicians, and others? Please be forthcoming with that information.

    I think Matt the Un-stupid (I hope…) is correct. “Taxes always discourage behavior while subsidies encourage behavior.” But it has to be a proper balance. Taxes always hurt the poorest people the most while subsidies will help the poorest people the most. Taxes and subsidies have less of an effect on the wealthy since the taxes and subsidies are a much smaller percentage of their wealth.

    I also think Bob Guimarin’s idea of “battery exchange capable cars” is a good idea and has some business potential for the future. But Anonymous is right: a battery exchange infrastructure is 20-30 years away. It would have to be some sort of battery standards and designed replaceability, agreed upon by all the manufactures, before the concept can reach any acceptance.

  • David Roland

    I grow increasingly tired each day of people saying how far we are away from a future of cleaner energy. A clean energy economy is not going to take longer than 15-25 years if we can just put our minds to it and get it done. But if this bickering keeps going and nothing gets done it’s just going to keep being talk and more talk while the problem doesn’t get solved and we keep letting ourselves get screwed by OPEC.

  • qqRockyBeans


    But Moving Cooler needs only one strategy: all we need to do is raise the gas tax (and I know it has been mentioned before, including by me)

    I think it should be phased-in like this:

    Gasoline/E10 (only 93+ octane would be sold)
    Increase the tax by 1c per week over 2 years
    Total would be $1.04 extra

    Increase the tax by 1c every two weeks for 2 years
    Total would e 52c extra

    Diesel, B5, and B20
    Increase tax by 1c every other week for 3 years
    Total would be 78c extra

    Increase tax 1c every other week for 2 years
    Total would be 52c extra

    No tax increase

    Half to the feds
    half to the state in which you purchased the gas

    Also, we can eliminate self-serve gas to create jobs
    but keep self-serve diesel