Category: Environmental Education

Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality

Traffic congestion is a growing problem in many metropolitan areas. Congestion increases travel time, air pollution, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fuel use because cars cannot run efficiently.

Based on wasted time and fuel, the Texas Transportation Institute estimates that congestion in 439 urban areas cost the nation about $87.2 billion in 2007. The costs of congestion were concentrated in the most populous regions:

  • Approximately 2.8 billion gallons of fuel were wasted – metropolitan areas with populations greater than 3 million accounted for more than half of the total, or 1.6 billion gallons.
  • The amount of wasted fuel ranged from 11 gallons per traveler per year in smaller towns to 35 gallons per traveler per year in the largest urban areas.
  • The average annual travel time delay during peak periods was 35 hours per driver, but ranged from 19 hours in small towns to 51 hours in the largest urban areas.
  • The average cost per traveler due to wasted time and fuel was $757 in 2007, up from $680 in 2004 (measured in constant dollars).

An inordinate amount of air pollution is emitted from cars in rush hour traffic because trips take longer and car engines are operating inefficiently. For example, one gallon of gas produces about 8.8 kilograms of CO2, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Thus, in large urban areas, more than 300 kilograms of CO2 per car is emitted into the air annually from wasted fuel alone. 

Limits of Traditional Toll Roads. Revenue for highway construction and maintenance is declining, yet demand is increasing. Instead of building more traditional freeways, most state transportation departments are building toll roads or toll lanes beside or above traditional freeway lanes. Thanks to new technology, such as two-way radio receiver/transmitters programmed to respond to an activation signal, collecting tolls is economical and does not cause backup from tollbooths. Though toll roads almost always pay for their construction and maintenance, they are less effective at reducing congestion than they could be if they were managed more effectively.

Read the full NCPA Brief Analysis, “Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality.

Green Jobs: Hope or Hype Redux

On the campaign trail in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama announced a plan to create five million new “green collar” jobs. Since becoming president, he has repeatedly touted his support for green jobs; for instance, in his 2010 State of the Union address and Earth Day remarks on April 22, 2010. In addition, recent stimulus legislation and appropriations bills have contained provisions to subsidize or promote green job creation.

Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that government support of green industries will cost more jobs than they create. 

Spain. President Obama has identified Spain as a model for a new economy driven by green jobs. But a 2009 study from Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University showed that for every green job the Spanish government created, 2.2 jobs were lost as energy-intensive industries either closed down or moved to other countries with lower energy costs:

  • The government’s green job push created approximately 50,000 jobs, but resulted in a loss of more than 110,000 jobs in other industries.
  • Only 1 in 10 of the new green jobs was permanent.
  • Each green job created since 2000 has required about $774,000 in government subsidies. [See the figure.]

Denmark. On Earth Day in 2009, President Obama cited Denmark as another country that has benefited from subsidized green job creation. Like Spain, Denmark’s green industry – primarily wind-powered electricity generation – was heavily subsidized and likely would not have existed without government support. According to “Wind Energy: The Case of Denmark,” a 2009 report by the Center for Political Studies, a Danish think tank:

  • The Danish government spent $90,000 to $140,000 to create each wind job.
  • About 28,400 people were employed in the Danish wind industry, but only about 1 in 10 were new jobs – the remaining 90 percent were simply positions shifted from one industry to another.
  • From 1999 to 2006, the average government-subsidized clean energy technology worker added $10,000 less to the Danish economy than did the average employee in other industrial and manufacturing sectors. 
  • As a result, Danish gross domestic product was about $270 million less than it would have been if the wind industry work force were employed in other sectors.

Thus, a 2006 report from the Danish Economic Council concludes, “The wind power expansion in the 1990s is an example of a policy that was unprofitable from society’s point of view, even taking the economic advantages that the wind business enjoyed into consideration.”

Read the full NCPA Brief Analysis, “Green Jobs: Hope or Hype Redux.”

Nuclear Power Development: Removing Roadblocks

The use of nuclear power to generate electricity is growing worldwide. More than 100 nuclear power plants are under construction or in various stages of planning, and many existing plants are expanding.

President Obama recently announced an $8.33 billion federal loan guarantee for the construction of a pair of nuclear reactors in Georgia. The president also said he wants to triple the amount of loans the federal government guarantees in order to jumpstart seven to 10 new nuclear power projects over the next decade. The  guarantees should lower borrowing costs and make financing easier to obtain. However, until the government meets its legal obligation to provide storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, only a few new nuclear reactors are likely to be built. Fortunately, solutions are available if the government is willing to embrace them.

Politics and Nuclear Waste. The most problematic nuclear waste in the United States is spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors. The problem is largely a creation of the federal government. In the early 1970s, the now defunct Atomic Energy Commission tightened regulations on the nascent U.S. nuclear recycling industry, which increased costs and made recycling uneconomical. As a result, the sole recycling plant in the United States closed and construction on a second facility was halted. In 1977, due to fear of nuclear proliferation, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order that officially banned nuclear fuel reprocessing.

With waste building up, Congress passed the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (amended in 1988) to ensure proper long-term storage. The act required the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and maintain an underground storage facility for nuclear waste:

  • The site had to meet strict criteria, including the ability to safely contain 77,000 metric tons of material for up to 10,000 years. 
  • The material had to be accessible for 50 years in the event President Carter’s ban was reversed and a recycling program was allowed. 
  • To pay for storage, a tax was levied on the nuclear power industry. 

After 26 years and more than $8 billion (collected from nuclear operators), the Energy Department determined that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was a satisfactory storage place. However, despite scientific evidence that Yucca Mountain is safe, lawsuits and political wrangling have prevented use of the site as a storage facility. In fact, the Obama administration recently zeroed out spending on Yucca Mountain, announcing that the program would be terminated.

Read the full NCPA Brief Analysis, “Nuclear Power Development: Removing Roadblocks.”