Archive for December, 2010

Gas taxes being hiked in Oregon

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Oregon drivers may get an unpleasant shock when they pull up to the pump in the new year.

Drivers there are already paying an average of $3.06 per gallon, but in the new year the state Department of Transportation is hiking the gas tax by 6 cents. That will bring the state tax to 30 cents per gallon.

Taxpayers in the rest of the nation, however, can breathe a sign of relief. Oregon’s gas tax increase is one of the few hikes taking place on Jan. 1.

State officials across the country have shied away from raising taxes this fiscal year, which began July 1, increasing them only $6.2 billion after hiking them nearly $24 billion a year earlier.

And though states are still suffering from budget shortfalls, officials probably won’t raise taxes much over the next year.

“New governors ran on platforms of not increasing taxes,” said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The exceptions include Washington D.C., which increased its gas tax by 3.5 cents in 2009; Minnesota, which is raising its tax by 8.5 cents over several years; and Rhode Island, which upped its tax by 2 cents in 2009.

Also, voters have derailed lawmakers’ plans to raise revenues in some states. In November, residents of Washington and Massachusetts, for example, repealed taxes on candy and alcohol, respectively.

First hike since 1993

In 2009, Oregon’s legislature approved rate hikes on a host of motor vehicle fees to pay for improving city, county and state roads and highways, as well as manage rest stops. As part of that, they raised the gas tax, which had remained steady at 24 cents since 1993, and scheduled it to take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

In total, the measures will raise $300 million a year for the state’s Department of Transportation, which is funded mainly by such levies. The department, which has been hurting for money, has had to slow or delay projects.

Drivers who use 600 gallons of gas annually will pay about $35 more, said Dave Thompson, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“The purpose of the gas tax is a user fee for damage you do to the roads,” said Thompson, noting that consumer prices have risen 51% since the levy was last increased. “Sooner or later we have to face the crisis of not having enough money to fix the roads.”

Still, some anti-tax advocates are not pleased with the measure.

Oregon’s unemployment rate stood at 10.6% in November, the seventh highest in the nation and above the national 9.8% rate. Many people are already suffering from higher property taxes and utility costs, said Jeff Kropf, director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for limited government.

That means the gas tax could prove a weighty burden.

“For the working person, in particular, it will take more money out of their pocket or it will cut their opportunities to get around,” said Don McIntire, president, Taxpayer Association of Oregon. To top of page

Ex-Shell president sees $5 gas in 2012

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, says Americans could be paying $5 for a gallon of gasoline by 2012.In an interview with Platt’s Energy Week television, Hofmeister predicted gasoline prices will spike as the global demand for oil increases.

“I’m predicting actually the worst outcome over the next two years which takes us to 2012 with higher gasoline prices,” he said.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with Oil Price Information Service says Americans will see gasoline prices hit the $5 a gallon mark in the next decade, but not by 2012.

“That wolf is out there and it’s going to be at the door…I agree with him that we’ll see those numbers at some point this decade but not yet.” Kloza said.

“The demand is still sluggish enough in some of the mature economies.”

Check gas prices in your state

Gasoline prices have been steadily rising. Last week, gas prices crossed the $3 mark for the first time since October 2008. According to AAA figures, prices are up 4% from a month ago and 16% from the $2.585 average a year ago.

A study from the Oil Price Information Service estimates drivers will spend $305 on gasoline in December. According to the study, fuel prices are up 13.6% from last December and 76% higher from December 2008.

Gas prices eased off last week’s gains but still remained around the $90-a-barrel mark, settling at $91-a-barrel. Prices were down 51 cents from Thursday’s close after China unexpectedly raised interest rates over the holiday weekend for the second time in two months.

Oil prices settled above $90 a barrel for the first time since October of 2008.  To top of page

Don’t Anger Santa and Mother Earth, Go Green This Holiday Season!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The season of giving has arrived, which can unfortunately be a season of waste and environmental degradation as well. Turns out the holiday season produces more waste than any other time of year, so while we humans are feeling extra cheery, Mother Earth is feeling extra dreary. Here are just a few tips to help perk her up!

No holiday season is complete without a decorative holiday tree. So the question is: What’s better, a real tree or a fake tree? That depends. In many parts of the country, holiday trees are trucked in from great distances, used briefly, and then chucked into landfills (what a depressing final destination for such a bringer of holiday joy!). (more…)

Can streetcars save America’s cities?

Friday, December 17th, 2010

 This story started on

By Katherine Dorsett, CNN

December 17, 2010 2:43 p.m. EST

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Obama administration touts streetcars as a way to vitalize urban economies
  • Feds offer $130 million to cities in Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio
  • Supporters: Streetcars will create jobs, cut pollution, reduce traffic, shrink oil dependence
  • Opponents: Streetcar programs waste tax money that could be spent on road improvements

(CNN) — In a down economy, pursuing the American dream can be challenging, but restaurant owner Todd Steele was willing to take a chance.

For nearly 20 years, Steele worked all levels of the restaurant game, from dishwasher to general manager, before partnering with his mom and opening his own eatery called Metrovino on Portland, Oregon’s, 11th Avenue streetcar line.

“I would not have picked this spot if it weren’t for the streetcar, and my business has certainly benefited from our location,” Steele said. “Streetcars are also a romantic way to travel, and they are fun to watch from inside Metrovino.”

While America lost much of its love for streetcars as public transportation during the 1960s, a few cities have kept the romance burning. The heart of San Francisco includes its nearly 140-year-old electric cable car system. In New Orleans, the location for Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” many tourists are drawn by the picturesque St. Charles Avenue Line.

The Obama administration recently offered some U.S. cities a piece of a $130 million federal fund for streetcar projects aimed at reducing traffic congestion, cutting pollution and reliance on foreign oil, and creating jobs. Transit systems in Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Charlotte, North Carolina, are slated to share grants from the Federal Transit Administration’s Urban Circulator program.

Other cities have plans and other funding for streetcar projects, too.

See map for key projects

But not everyone is a fan of streetcars. “This is a waste of money,” said Ron Utt of The Heritage Foundation.

“Streetcars certainly create jobs, but they are a poor investment and create little lasting value,” he said. “Because it requires extensive ongoing subsidies, it is also unsustainable. Improving roads would be the better bet in most communities.”

CNN iReporter Raymond Becich is a supporter. “Sure, Portland paid incentives to businesses to build along the streetcar (line),” he said. “But how is this any different than any governmental jurisdiction giving tax breaks and other incentives for businesses to relocate to a city or state?”

Streetcars have transformed a “blighted warehouse district … into a vibrant area of shops, grocery stores, restaurants and apartments that provide entertainment and employment,” he said.

But there’s nothing streetcars can do that buses can’t do better, faster, safer and for far less money, said CATO Institute senior fellow Randal O’Toole. “Even though a single light-rail train can hold more passengers than a bus, a bus route can move more passengers per hour than any light-rail line.”

Portland’s streetcar system attracts about 12,000 daily riders at an average ticket cost of $1.47. Its creators credit it with $3.5 billion in surrounding development, including shops, restaurants and 10,000 new housing units.

Also, streetcars that run on either hydro or coal-generated electricity spit out less greenhouse gases per passenger mile than diesel buses, according to University of California researchers.

So, what is a streetcar, exactly? The transportation community generally defines it as a rail-based passenger tram that shares streets with cars and trucks.

Becich said he rides his city’s system so often he’s considering selling his car.

“Riding public transportation in Portland is quick, easy and enjoyable,” he said. “It’s absolutely easier than driving, and streetcar operators go out of their way to be helpful.”

But is it faster than driving? “If you count the time from point A to B, it is slower to ride the streetcar,” Becich said. “But if you factor in time to find a place to park and the cost of parking, it is more convenient and cheaper to ride the streetcar.”

It’s no secret that public transit offers commuters an escape from hectic traffic and a chance to read, make phone calls or snooze.

These transportation issues were recently at the heart of an $85 million question faced by leaders and residents of Fort Worth, Texas: Should they green-light a proposed three-mile streetcar line from LaGrave Field through downtown and into the near-south side?

After much debate, city leaders decided “no” earlier this month “because of the timing and questions regarding how it would be fully funded.”

As many as 2,250 people were projected to use the system daily, according to a city study. Utt says that’s not very many riders, considering the cost of building and maintaining the line. “Most ridership projections are overly optimistic,” he said. “There are good reasons why most cities got rid of their trolley systems in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Read state-by-state data on how commuters get to work

A federal transportation official acknowledged that ridership is often low, according to industry studies.

In Michigan, supporters are working to bring a light-rail line to revitalize downtown Detroit, a city among the hardest hit by the recession.

But on Capitol Hill, a House transportation committee spokesman acknowledged that there may be less federal money available for streetcar projects as Republicans prepare to take control of the House in January.

Transportation blogger Yonah Freemark agreed. “Based on recent decisions by party members at the state and national level, that will mean a renewed emphasis on roadway projects and less proposed funding for transit.”

BEST: Building the Economy through Sustainable Transportation

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

 

Building the Economy through Sustainable Transportation (BEST) is the first coalition in the state of Oregon with the sole purpose of advocating across modes for freight related projects and policies. Comprised of local businesses and business advocacy groups, BEST was formed to help facilitate economic growth, highway safety and reduced environmental impacts by ensuring an adequate infrastructure for the efficient movement of freight in the region.

In a time of constrained financial resources, critical freight projects are underfunded in the Portland metropolitan area and throughout the state. While the freight community has made strides in establishing policy groups such as the Portland Freight Committee and the Metro Regional Freight Committee, the need to create an advocacy voice for freight led to the formation of BEST.

BEST objectives will be reached through a mix of advocacy, educational outreach, and grassroots mobilization.

 

 

“Facilitating economic growth, highway safety and reduced environmental impacts by ensuring an adequate infrastructure for the efficient movement of freight in the Portland Metro region.”

“252,000,000 tons of goods are moved in the Portland region annually, accounting for 82% of the statewide volume.”

“Failure to invest in the transportation system for freight means potential loss to the economy of $844 million annually – That’s $882/household each year.” — Regional Cost of Congestion Study

Nissan Delivers Oregon’s First 100% Electric Nissan LEAF

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

– Tonkin Wilsonville Nissan delivers all-electric car –

WILSONVILLE, Ore., Dec. 15, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA) brings sustainable mobility to Oregon with arrival of the state’s first all-electric Nissan LEAF, when John Duncan takes delivery of his silver Nissan LEAF SL at Tonkin Wilsonville Nissan. This groundbreaking moment represents the state’s first delivery of an affordable, mass-market, all-electric car.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20080506/NISSANWORDMARKLOGO )

Duncan, 61, is a semi-retired college teacher living in Wilsonville with his wife and two sons. Duncan’s family has lived in Oregon for four generations, mostly in Eugene. He was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Oregon, where his grandfather once served as a dean.

“Electricity is the new fuel for cars, and the Nissan LEAF has the potential to transform the automotive industry and the way people drive,” said Carlos Tavares, chairman, Nissan Americas. “Starting today, drivers in Oregon have the freedom to choose a future that produces zero tailpipe emissions, moves away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and represents the end of trips to the gas station. This Nissan LEAF delivery signifies the dawn of a movement that brings sustainable mobility to within our grasp.”

For more than two years, Nissan has been working in partnership with the State of Oregon and the City of Portland to foster the development of electric vehicle-friendly policies and an EV-charging infrastructure.

“This is an exciting day for Oregon,” said Gov. Ted Kulongoski. “The first electric vehicles are quietly rolling off the lots and onto our roads – showing the rest of the nation that we can make this transition to emissions-free vehicles.”

“Portland’s national reputation as a proving ground for progressive transportation ideas is confirmed with the arrival of our first Nissan LEAF,” said Portland Mayor Sam Adams. “This public-private partnership shows again that our local governments remain supportive of innovative companies working to create new, environmentally friendly markets.”

Portland General Electric (PGE) also has been leading regional efforts for electric-vehicle adoption. Nissan and PGE are collaborating to serve their common customers such as Duncan.

“To be selected as one of the first launch markets for the Nissan LEAF speaks volumes to Oregonians’ commitment to sustainability,” said Jim Piro, PGE’s president and CEO. “We’d like to thank Nissan, the state of Oregon, and all our partners who are collaborating to make EVs a reality for our customers like John Duncan who can now charge up his emissions-free vehicle at home for much less than he’d pay at the pump.”

Oregon is a primary launch market for the Nissan LEAF, as well as a participant in The EV Project, a research and charging infrastructure deployment project. The largest of its kind ever undertaken, The EV Project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by electric-vehicle charging company ECOtality.

The Oregon delivery is part of more than a week of festivities, as Nissan delivers the first Nissan LEAF vehicles to each of its primary launch markets in Northern and Southern California, Arizona, Oregon, Seattle and Tennessee. Nissan also is donating $25,000 to the World Wildlife Fund to mark the occasion.

The initial Nissan LEAF deliveries will be followed by a second shipment of Nissan LEAF electric cars scheduled to arrive on Dec. 20 and destined for consumer driveways in time for the holidays. Nissan is on track for a nationwide launch of the Nissan LEAF by 2012, with Hawaii and Texas next to roll out in early 2011. In order to fulfill interest and meet demand in initial launch markets, Nissan plans to reopen reservations in the first half of 2011 as well as shift timing of additional markets until the second half of 2011.

In North America, Nissan’s operations include automotive styling, engineering, consumer and corporate financing, sales and marketing, distribution and manufacturing.  Nissan is dedicated to improving the environment under the Nissan Green Program 2010 and has been recognized as a 2010 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More information on Nissan in North America, the Nissan LEAF and zero emissions can be found at www.nissanusa.com.

SOURCE Nissan North America, Inc.

San Diego Airport Shuttle Expands Natural Gas Green Fleet

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

green fleet airport shuttleThis week, the San Diego Airport announced they have added a new green fleet of parking shuttles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The addition of eco-friendly parking shuttle buses is only the latest step in San Diego’s evolving commitment to cleaner renewable fuels.  Including this new fleet,  San Diego has a total fleet of 24 CNG powered vehicles.

The all-new “green” Airport Shuttle Fleet transports passengers between the terminals and the airport’s nearby SAN Park parking lots. The airport also has  other alternative fuel vehicles in its fleet, including those powered by electricity and bio-fuel, according to Airport officials.

By showing leadership in adopting green practices, San Diego is demonstrating that you can still have the best of both worlds, green fleet transportation powered by a fully hybrid fleet and utilization of the latest technologies. The airport plans to continue to reduce fleet emissions and implement a green fleet tracking strategy. The San Diego Airport Authority provides air transportation services to the region with safe, effective facilities…in a manner that promotes the region’s prosperity and protects its quality of life. Transportation options near San Diego airport are limited. People almost entirely must rely on using a car or shuttle service.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) costs about 40% less than gasoline, it emits up to 90% less emissions than gasoline, there’s an abundant supply and it’s produced right here in America. So it’s affordable, clean, abundant and American. Natural gas powers more than ten million vehicles on the road today. Unfortunately, only 150,000 of these are being used today in the U.S. The average growth rate in the U.S. shows a 3.7% per year since 2000, as contrasted with a booming global growth rate of 30.6% per year.

The Leaf is Coming…to ecoShuttle and Portland Streets

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Nissan’s new 100% electric car is finally here. Amid much interest and speculation, Nissan’s Leaf (AKA- Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car) has hit the market here in the U.S. as well as Japan. The Leaf represents the first mass-produced electric car to be introduced by a major auto manufacturer.

Green minded-automotive enthusiasts have been salivating at the prospect of an affordable long-range all electric vehicle since GM’s EV1, a model which GM canceled  while also instituting a policy of having nearly all road-going test models crushed and shredded in spite of its popularity among those privileged to have leased one temporarily.

(more…)

Senate Bill Aims to Improve Geothermal Leasing

Monday, December 6th, 2010

SustainableBusiness.com News

Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), James Risch (R-Idaho), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) are introducing the Geothermal Production Expansion Act of 2010 in an effort to improve the leasing and development process for geothermal energy projects.

The bill amends the Geothermal Steam Act to allow the Interior Department to issue geothermal leases for adjacent lands on a noncompetitive basis, based on fair-market value, and has a companion bill sponsored by Representative Jay Inslee in the House of Representatives.

“This [bill] would allow a geothermal developer to expand a successful geothermal lease without being forced into a bidding war with speculators or uncooperative competitors who might threaten project expansion or even prevent the project from reaching commercial scale,” Wyden said in a statement.

Daniel Kunz, President and CEO of U.S. Geothermal Inc. provided the following support: “We are grateful to Senators Wyden, Risch, Crapo and Merkley for introducing this important bipartisan legislation which, when passed into law, will provide the geothermal industry with the necessary tools to protect the long term viability and increase sustainable development of geothermal reservoirs after they are discovered.”

In February, GEA Board member Doug Glaspey provided testimony for H.R. 3709 to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. He said: “The Geothermal Energy Association strongly supports H.R. Bill 3709, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act. Very simply, it allows a developer that has invested capital and taken exploration risk that results in the discovery of a geothermal resource, the ability to assemble the whole resource so a power plant can be financed and built without exposing the project to the high cost of speculation and delays. We believe H.R. 3709 is an important policy adjustment that should be available to the geothermal industry and will accelerate the development of our geothermal resources, create new jobs, and provide additional revenue for the United States treasury.“

Glaspey outlined the following benefits:

  • Developers that have invested substantial capital and made high risk investments would be allowed to secure a discovery.
  • Development of the geothermal resource would accelerate the creation of drilling, construction, supply and operating jobs.
  • The financing capabilities of geothermal projects would increase.
  • All non-competitive leaseholders would be required to pay a market average “bonus” fee and thereby increase the short term fees paid to the federal government.
  • Increased development will provide higher revenue to the federal government with the payment of production royalties over decades.

“The hope is that with the strong senate leadership this proposal has behind it, Congress will be able to move on this legislation before it adjourns,” said GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell.

In Related News…

Senate Republicans on Saturday blocked a vote on a tax bill proposed by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that would have–among many other things–extended the Treasury Department’s 30% cash grant program for renewable energy projects.

Republicans made a fillibuster stand in an effort to keep Bush-era tax credits from expiring for upper-income earners.

Baucus’ bill also called for a one-year extension of the ethanol tax credit–though at a 20% reduction to 36 cents per gallon. It also included a one-year extension for the 54 cents per gallon tariff on ethanol imports, and the reinstatement of a $1-per-gallon production tax credit for biodiesel, among other renewable energy provisions.

If Democrats and Republicans are able to come to terms on a tax bill this month, Baucus’ proposals have a good chance of passage.

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