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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Well how the frack d'ya like me now?

I'm not going to say "toldya so", since many who will be reading this diary said much the same during the "Drill, Baby, Drill" absurdity in 2008 ... but the undersea oil volcano underlines, boldfaces and highlights in red the basic facts of the situation that we face:

  • Our country produces about twice as much crude oil per person as the world average
  • Our country consumes about five times as much crude oil per person as the world average
  • And we have been producing oil a long time, have passed our peak of domestic oil production, and aint ever getting back to it.

And, anyway, we already tried Drill, Baby, Drill. Its played itself out already.

Obviously, the direction to go to insulate ourselves from oil price shocks and the recessions they cause is to cut our consumption. Which means, in part, Train, Baby, Train.

So, what is it about trains, anyway?

I would admit that I have a big model train set in the basement - except its not mine, its my stepfather's. For me, trains are transport, a way to get from Point A to Point B. Indeed, the mode of transport that has a special place in my heart over and above their functional utility is not trains so much as bikes (and living in NE Ohio, I must hasten to explain "Bikes like Schwinn's are Bikes, not Bikes like Harley's are Bikes").

No, this is why trains. We consume 28% of our energy in the transportation sector. If we are going to reduce our oil consumption by 5% a year each year for the next 20 years, that means we have to cut the consumption of petroleum by transport by 5% a year, each year for the next 20 years.

We also have to get off mineral coal, but it turns out that trains can contribute to that as well.

My focus here, today, is how to use the process of breaking our oil addiction as a means of providing the jobs that our economy needs, and does not and will not otherwise have, over the next decade.

Of course, when we focus on oil, transport is even more important. To get more specific, according to the government numbers, transport consumes about 2/3 of our petroleum. We produce about 40% of our oil consumption, and even if we cut our oil consumption by 5% a year ... by the time we have cut 60% of our present oil consumption in 12 years time, we will be producing less oil than we are producing now.

And once we get to the point where we are getting the majority of our transportation energy from sources other than oil, we can start looking to the future. One of the bright, glaring points about "Drill, Baby, Drill", why Drill, Baby, Drill represented the complete abandonment of Republican pretensions about being the grown ups in the room, is that when you pump out and burn oil, its just gone, never to come back.

After all the Republican pretensions I remember hearing ever since being a kid in the 60's and 70's about the Republicans being the party of "responsibility" - their approach to our non-renewable natural resources is "Burn It All As Fast As Possible and the Devil take the Hindmost!".

So, to cut our oil consumption by 5% a year over the decade ahead ... which will still leave us an oil importer, but take us off the front line for being the demand reduction via recession in future oil price shocks ... we need 7 of those 5% reductions to come from transport. And each and every one means more work over the coming decade.

I'll look at three of the seven, today.

1. The Steel Interstate

I described the Steel Interstate approach to Electrified, Rapid Freight Rail a couple of months ago, and then polished up the network map a bit the following week.

So, broad brush strokes here:

  • 15,000miles+ of STRACNET corridors electrified with rail improvements that allow scheduled slots for 100mph Rapid Freight Rail
  • Built primarily in existing freight rail rights of way by distinct government owned, not for profit "Line Development Banks"
  • Those using the infrastructure pay Access and User fees that cover up-front capital costs
  • Interest costs covered by a $0.01/gallon tax on imported petroleum, rising to $0.05/gallon over five years

This is based on the full scale plan offered by Alan Drake and studied by the Millenium Institute, and projected to be able cut our petroleum consumption by about 7%. And of course, the "first half" will result in more than half of that, provided it provides a rough grid that covers the bulk of the long-haul transport markets in the country ... so I'll slate this in as the first of the seven transport "5%/year" projects.

Note that the way I have sketched it out, the Access and User fees are ongoing, on a simple formula, and that a Line Development Bank has completed its line, it would be chartered to devote any capital surplus to the funding of energy-independence transport within its broader service area. So on the back of that funding, the Steel Interstate proposal is also one of the seven required 5% reductions in the second decade of our Freedom from Oil in Twenty Years program.

2. Local Electric Transport

Back in March of 2009, NBBooks wrote $3.195 trillion TRILLION for urban RAIL transit.

Where this is derived from is a target for rail transit density:

Building 50,757 kilometers of new rail transit lines, at a cost of $3.195 trillion. is based on building urban rail mass transit systems to the same service density found in New York City, in the next 38 largest urban areas. I began by assuming a desideratum of having a rail transit line no more than 2.5 miles from any point in an urban area. That is, if you took a square of urban area five miles on each side, we want to have a rail transit line running directly across the middle of that square. Slice that 25 square mile area into one mile strips, and you get one mile of rail transit line for every five square miles of urban area, or a density of 0.2 mile of rail transit line for every square mile. Converting square miles to square kilometers, and miles to kilometers, what we are looking for is a density of 0.124 mi {sic.=km} of rail transit line for every square kilometer of urban area.

This is a fine density for densely populated areas, but I am of the view that moving to a sustainable settlement system from our current system that is dominated by sprawl-suburban settlement (in terms of representing half or more of all residential population, just as over half of the nation's residents at the previous turn of the century lived in urban rather than suburban areas) will require both rebuilding residential population in core urban areas and establishing urban density walkable neighborhoods along dedicated transport corridors running through suburban areas.

This "clustered network city" approach of suburban transit villages connected to urban centers would seem to permit a looser rail network complemented by a mix of local transport access - by foot, bike, neighborhood electric vehicle, battery/trolleywire trolley bus, etc. So I ease this back to a rail transit line no more than 5 miles from any point in the urban area. That is then, above, a 10 mile square line with a line running down the middle, or a density of 0.1 miles of rail transit line for every square mile ... or 0.62 km line per sq. km.

However, taking the rest of NBBook's estimates, that is $1.6T (trillion with a T). Spread across ten years, $160b/year ... about 1% of our national economy.

How to finance that? Most directly, impose a 5% payroll levy on earned and unearned income received by those making over 7 times median income, roughly $280,000.

In order to achieve broad based oil independence, this would be allocated on a per capita basis to municipalities, counties and reservations, which they could annually allocate for construction or improvement of dedicated transport corridors and dedicated support facilities for electric common carrier transport. Since not all municipalities or counties cannot allocate their share, the annual surplus would be re-allocated to those able to invest their original share.

Is this a 5% piece? I think it likely will be, but I will have to look into that more closely. In any event, it is a piece that will be generating 3.75m jobs per year, every year for a decade.

3. Personal Transport

The third piece I would offer today is Personal, or "Active" Transport: Walking and Cycling.

The objection might be raised that this is not a rail project ... but in reality, it is the flip side of the local rail project above. A bike is a fine thing to ride for a couple of miles, but a ten mile ride is not a commute for a regular transport cyclist.

So the focus of increasing Active Transport sufficiently to save 5% of our petroleum imports is the establishment of a walkable zone around stops along the dedicated transport corridors, with a mandatory easement to allow three story, mixed used and stacked townhouse development within a quarter mile of the stop on the corridor.

Given the capital-efficiency of these modes of local transport, the funding can piggy-back onto the above system as well: for all funds drawn from the municipal, country and reservation accounts in support of dedicated transport corridors, 1% must be allocated to qualifying projects in support of Active Transport.

OK, so those are my three ...

... what are yours?

The Headliners: Midnight Oil with Truganini!

There's a road train going nowhere / roads are cut, lines are down ...

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:42 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  'Blue collar work don't get you nowhere (23+ / 0-)

    You just go round and round in debt
    Somebody's got you on that treadmill, mate
    And I hope you're not beaten yet"

    And the World Won't Stand Still

    Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

    by BruceMcF on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:42:42 PM PDT

    •  Capital is Easy, Operating is Not (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, Stranded Wind

      Bruce, you know I'm all about spending enough money to get a transit density of NYC in every major city in the United States, but as of now I'm a bit jaded.  How are we going to pay for operating all these lines after we build them?

      It's Electric -

      by The Overhead Wire on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:57:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The two options for that are ... (5+ / 0-)

        ... to make it inconvenient and expensive to drive, or to subsidize the rail operations as deeply as we subsidize auto transport.

        Assuming that its the latter, one source of revenue is a property tax on the incremental value of property due to the zoning easement.

        A second is a per space tax on commercial parking.

        And of course, where the operations are petroleum-independent and carbon-emissions reducing, there should be a Federal match to state and local operating subsidies.

        Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun May 09, 2010 at 06:17:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  How much is the cost of operating automobiles (5+ / 0-)

        that will be avoided by folks riding convenient transit?

        Interesting things happen when folks are already using stuff; they tend to have less trouble paying for it than when they think they are paying for others to use it.

        It would be interesting to see what operating deficits for transit were over the past 100 years.  And how they were covered.  Has there ever been a period when transit operating costs were unsubsidized?

        I know that a lot of trolley systems were loss leaders to lock municipalities with emerging regional power companies.  The trolley systems essentially ran off of the unused generating capacity.

        The second thing to do is de-subsidize automobiles.  And redirect the funds to transit operation.

        50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

        by TarheelDem on Sun May 09, 2010 at 06:23:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  And note that 'Capital is Easy' ... (5+ / 0-)

        ... is not a consequence of any physical distinction between the two. For local transport that have the operating deficits on passenger revenues that they ought to have ... the operations can be "partially subsidized" by the farebox, if we wish to look at it that way, but there is nothing left over for capital spending.

        What makes "capital easy" is purely institutional rules that we have imposed on ourselves, that capital spending can be subsidized at a rate of up to 80:20 federal:local, while operating subsidies have to be provided entirely by state and local authorities.

        But there is no natural law at work there, that is just the way we decided to do things in order to pander to suburban voters in the 1980's. If suburban voters are getting dedicated transport corridor common carrier services that they actually wish to use, as opposed to what is seen as a welfare-subsidy bus service, that can be reversed.

        Further, making capital easier also makes operating deficits easier to cope with - with a capital account system, with the choice between funding different qualifying accounts up to the local authority, then local authorities can choose routes for their prospective operating account performance. It is not uncommon to face a trade-off between size of capital spend and size of operating deficit - that is precisely the bind that Caltrain is in, needing to find some way to electrify to cut operating costs and increase farebox revenue as a result of reduced trip times ... or else face the prospect of shutting down.

        And of course if state transit authorities are not working out how to come up with state and local capital matches of sometimes over 50%, then the same funds can be devoted to operation. One part of the qualifying benchmark would have to be an acceptable and fully committed business plan for actually providing services on the corridor to receive funding.

        Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun May 09, 2010 at 06:39:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Managed to rec at the last minute, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, BruceMcF

      too late to tip.  I'll just have to give you mojo elsewhere. is unfortunate that the opposition to the Democrats in this country now consists entirely of crazy people. - NNadir

      by RunawayRose on Mon May 10, 2010 at 05:48:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was just watching (6+ / 0-)

    the Story of Us on History Channel. I finally got around to catching it, and it is a good watch. What struck me was that after we settled out our Revolution and got this country going we began experiencing a series of economic booms and busts.

    So much of what we are made of came from those cycles, but we don't look at them like that most of the time. The steam boats opened up the frontier at the time, the Erie Canal made New York the main port in the country. The Califoria gold rush lasted 5 yrs and changed everything, the cotton gin changed the economic balance and started the women's movement.

    Something would come along and change the game and we would move on it and then that thing would play out and we would wait it out until the next thing. Meanwhile the sharks made more and more money. We could use building this as a boom, but we need to break this cycle. We need to change the way we do things on a very fundimental level. We need to quit booming and adopt a more sustainable course.

    We have to address our problems now, we need to break our dependence on fossil fuels and get our economy moving and we need to take the long view. We don't have a new frontier, we can't build a bunch of houses made of sticks, we need to build a sustainable economy that doesn't rely on booms and busts.

    "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

    by high uintas on Sun May 09, 2010 at 06:30:54 PM PDT

    •  Yes, 'pioneer' economies that ... (4+ / 0-)

      ... live on moving into tapping new resources inevitably go through booms and busts. For one thing, innovation is intrinsically cyclical, and each new package of resources being tapped is intrinsically an innovation. And economies that are growth-addicted inevitably go through serious economic problems when the growth periodically slows or goes away.

      Though note that while we have three Depressions between the Civil War and the 1930's, we had none between the 1940's and the turn of this century. That was the difference that the New Deal reforms of the finance system made, that ensured that economic slowdowns would not cause such massive damage to the finance sector that the damage itself would then perpetuate the slowdown.

      But getting back to what we had is not enough. While we have to "grow toward sustainability", longer term we also have to develop economic institutions that accommodate purely technological growth but also are perfectly livable during periods of slow or no growth.

      One aspect of a sustainable economy will be a Job Guarantee (University of Newcastle Center of Full Employment and Equity - CoFFEE), which allows the private sector of the economy to go through swings without throwing massive numbers of people into unemployment when there is a downturn in the private economy.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun May 09, 2010 at 07:48:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How do I like you now? (6+ / 0-)
    As great as ever.  And, Bruce, since it's mother's day, can I offer a train song in honor of Mom, who commuted four years from Chicago to Atchison?

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Sun May 09, 2010 at 06:41:41 PM PDT

  •  whatta a diary.. 10! (0+ / 0-)

    sorry, the wife is watching the dancing contest show. I really enjoy diaries like this, it's like a brain massage.

  •  Congrats on getting rescued. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Wish I could still tip & rec, but it's too late.

    This summer I won't have to drive my daughter to the bus stop. Which means I can resume bike commuting!

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon May 10, 2010 at 09:19:30 PM PDT

    •  But why not cycle her to the bus stop? (0+ / 0-)

      Mind, its a bit cheeky to be ordering Xtracycle extensions for others, when I can't afford one for myself.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue May 11, 2010 at 07:57:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wife convinced it's crazy dangerous. (0+ / 0-)

        Our house to bus stop: approx 6 miles, must travel one 5-lane road & cross another. Also, daughter is 17 -- maybe a bit much for Xtracycle. We could use the tandem I suppose, but then I'd have to ride it solo approx 15 more miles round trip. Yes, daughter could lock solo bike at bus stop and bike home, but wife convinced it's crazy dangerous, and that's really the bottom line. After 27 years of marriage, I know my limits.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Tue May 11, 2010 at 09:42:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, 6 miles, I'd probably not want to do that ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... without an electric helper.

          But if the wife thinks its crazy dangerous ...      I set this down as another argument for Bicycle Boulevards

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Tue May 11, 2010 at 10:14:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They're working on that, actually. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Part of the route is Silver Comet rail trail. Part of the route is wide sidewalk multi-use trail. They plan to extend the multi-use trail along most of the rest of the route one of these days, but probably not before daughter graduates from high school. A part of route that gives my wife the heebiejeebies may never get anything but road.

            Me, I've come around to thinking cyclists are safer in the road anyway. My logic and experience do nothing for wife's heebiejeebies.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Tue May 11, 2010 at 11:58:49 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  A Bicycle Boulevard is shared with cars ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ... and designed to keep traffic down to 35mph or slower.

              A fully separated bikeway is a bit safer on the through way and normally a bit more dangerous at intersections. Since most of the danger is intersections, it needs to be longer stretches to balance out safer.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Tue May 11, 2010 at 04:50:40 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Rescued! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Congratulations on being rescued.  It is too late for me to tip or recommend, but I always try to catch your diaries whenever I can.

    IMHO, electrified freight rails are a big component in our future.  Rail freight is much less expensive, but is not time competitive with truck freight.  Electrification changes all that.  IMHO, passenger will follow freight.  Keep writing these great diaries.

    Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity! - Anon.

    by gulfgal98 on Tue May 11, 2010 at 05:39:39 AM PDT

  •  What is the cost? (0+ / 0-)

    The real cost of burning fossil and biofuels isn't ever factored in, even when cleaning up oil spills is considered.  (They can never be completely cleaned up, anyway.  The dead animals don't come back - the ecosystem doesn't recover.)

    The real cost of burning fuels would have to include the cancer, emphysema, and asthma caused by emissions.  The lost productivity, and the medical costs, and the human tragedy.

    The real cost should include the impacts of ozone on vegetation.  Ozone damages the stomata of foliage, interfering with the ability to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.  Exposure to extremely high, episodic levels in the atmosphere as well as long-term exposure to inexorably rising background levels of tropospheric ozone causes billions of dollars of crop losses and is killing trees all over the world.

    Trees are the foundation of our terrestrial ecosystem and just like the coral reefs, they are in decline.  If we are to have any hope of retaining their nuts, fruits, shade, habitat, and lumber, not to mention maple syrup, we need to switch to clean, renewable energy NOW.

    It would help if people would conserve, too.

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