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Energy Independence and Transportation Spending

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 31, 2005

WASHINGTON - Households in communities with few transportation options—most of them in sprawling metro areas in the South—are forced to send more of their gasoline dollars to Middle Eastern countries where an unknown amount of oil money flows to anti-American extremists. Amid record high gas prices and calls for energy independence, the analysis suggests the need to broaden transportation options for gridlocked commuters in order to decrease dependence on Middle Eastern oil sources and increase national security over the long haul.

The report by Environmental Working Group (EWG) features a first-of-its-kind analysis that combines U.S. data on driving and energy to show how much the average driver in the 50 largest metropolitan areas spent on Middle East oil at the pump. Drivers in highway-dependent southern metro areas that have grown rapidly during the past 30 years sent the most money per driver to Middle East oil producers. In areas with a commitment to rail and other transit systems, people send far less money to the Gulf in the form of gasoline dollars.

An average household in the New York metro area sends about $132 a year to the Middle East for gasoline—less than half what average households spend in five southern cities: Nashville, Tennessee ($314); Jacksonville, Florida ($302); Charlotte, North Carolina ($301); Dallas, Texas ($299); and Atlanta, Georgia ($289). The full list is available online here

"Major shifts in transportation priorities are essential to achieving energy independence and maintaining national security," said Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President at EWG. "A serious commitment to rail and transit has been a missing element in the U.S. strategy to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil." Reports from town after town indicate that once trains or buses are a vital transportation option, commuters ride them in numbers that exceed planners' expectations.

Policy needs to change at the federal and state levels. For decades, federal transportation dollars have gone overwhelmingly to road projects. The recently passed transportation bill actually worsens the historic 80/20 imbalance in federal highway and transit funding by shaving transit's share by a quarter of one percent, or about $700 million over the life of the bill. State transportation spending has also favored roads over transit. "We built the national highway system in the 1950s to protect us from Cold War threats," said Wiles. "But the world has changed and the threats to our security have changed. We need to change our transportation system to reflect 21st century security needs."

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group's research on energy issues is available online at Who Owns the West?

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