Gasoline consumption across the U.S. has steadily declined during the last decade. Analysts have chalked up the drop in gas usage over the last ten years to the rise in more efficient technologies, better public transportation, the stalled economy and steadily increasing gas prices.
While most of the U.S has stayed consistent with the trend of reduced consumption, the Sightline Institute reports that the Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington have bucked the trend. These three states have shown an increase in personal gas consumption, leaving analysts perplexed. Idaho led the way with a four percent per capita increase in gas consumption in 2009. Oregon's consumption increased just under one percent, and Washington was not far behind.

Though the increases appear minor, all three states had shown steady decline for more than a decade and any jolt in gas consumption is unexpected. In addition, diesel fuel consumption in these Northwest states dropped off last year, further confusing those who are trying to make sense of the rising gasoline consumption figures. The Sightline Institute suspects a recent drop in gasoline prices in the Northwest likely contributed to increased consumption. To counter the increased consumption, the institute recommends imposing pollution fees or enforcing a strict energy and climate policy. But we feel that if low gas prices are to blame, then that often-argued-about gas tax might just be the perfect solution. Click here to view the entire report (PDF) and don't forget to follow the jump for more info.

[Source: Sightline Institute | Image: FutureAtlas – C.C License 2.0]

PRESS RELEASE

Northwest gasoline consumption up, despite struggling economy

Lower prices at the pump gave a boost to per-capita gasoline consumption in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 2009--reversing a decade-long trend of decline.

Lower prices at the pump gave a boost to per-capita gasoline consumption in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 2009-reversing a decade-long trend of decline.

Total gasoline consumption in the Northwest states rose by 2 percent, or 100 million gallons, according to new research from Seattle-based Sightline Institute. That bucks a nationwide trend of declining gas use in the United States.

Idaho drivers-already the highest per-capita consumers in the region-led the Northwest by increasing their gasoline purchases by nearly 4 percent. Washington and Oregon saw per capita increases of less than 1 percent, which is a departure from the states' nearly uninterrupted decline since 1999.

The increase is surprising, considering the US economy remained stalled during 2009.

"It looks like the real culprit in increased gasoline consumption was lower prices," said Eric de Place, senior researcher for Sightline Institute and author of the report. But while gas use went up, last year also brought a decline in the Northwest states' consumption of diesel-a fuel closely related to trucking and other commercial activity.

The most startling data came from north of the Canadian border. Despite promises of a low-carbon Olympics, the economic activity spurred by the preparations for the Winter Games contributed to a 10 percent increase in per capita gasoline sales-the largest single-year gain in at least 30 years. The report notes that the increase occurred despite BC's groundbreaking carbon tax, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Over the long term, putting a meaningful price on pollution from fossil fuels is a key step toward reducing climate-changing emissions and our dependence on unstable, dirty sources of energy," said de Place, noting that, for consumers, the roller-coaster effect of global fuel prices can overwhelm more modest policy options.

The report also describes how different policies could put the Northwest back on track for cutting gasoline consumption-ranging from pollution fees to comprehensive energy and climate policy, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.

"Since we produce only a tiny amount of petroleum here in the Northwest, every year billions of dollars leave the region as we buy fuel for our cars," says de Place. "The best way to keep that money in the local economy is to reduce the amount of gasoline we need to use."

Policymakers looking to reduce oil consumption should also scrutinize the big ticket highway expansion projects, said de Place, including a bigger Port Mann Bridge east of Vancouver, BC; the Highway 520 floating bridge replacement between Seattle and Bellevue; and the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing between Oregon and Washington, which are likely to deepen the region's dependence on petroleum for decades to come.

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