The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have reduced their gasoline usage to about a gallon lower than the national average, according to a study I found in my inbox this morning:
Measured per capita, gasoline consumption in
the Pacifi c Northwest states has fallen to its lowest level since 1966. Per-person gas consumption in the region has declined in seven of the last eight years; and climate-warming CO2 emissions from gasoline have fallen by six-tenths of a ton per capita in the region since 1999. That decline in per capita gasoline consumption—11 percent, overall—is the equivalent of every driver in the Northwest taking a five-week holiday from driving in 2007.
That’s good news, no? I know exactly one family that lives in one of those states, so I called their house to verify the results.
Lise, mother of three and a computer programmer, answered the phone. I asked her about her gas consumption without revealing the results of the study so as to avoid tainting her answers.
“I fill up my tank about once a month,” she said. That’s confirmation, I thought.
Of course, her consumption may not be representative of the entire tri-state area. I asked if her consumption had dropped off in recent years.
“I work at home, so I go less places, but otherwise no.” Sigh. I guess it’s close enough for 24-hour cable news.
I, however, get gas every other day when I’m driving to work regularly. Does that mean we Californians are gas guzzlers?
I consulted the study.
Funny thing about California. Idaho ranks 18th most economical in per-capital fuel consumption, with 8.4 gallons per person per week. Washington and Oregon rank ninth and 10th at 7.8 and 7.9 gallons, respectively.
At 8.2 gallons a week, Californians’ gas consumption ranks 11th best in the nation, tied with Wisconsin and Massachusetts. When you consider our reputation as the epicenter of car culture, for urban and suburban sprawl and our disdain for public transit, this figure is astounding.
Compared to the wide-open spaces of the Southwest, California is “a pretty dense place,” said the study’s author, Clark Williams Derry. “San Francisco is one of the more walkable cities in the country,” he continued, and then remembered who he was talking to. “Also, in the East Bay, places like Berkeley, those are the kinds of places where people don’t drive as much.”
Derry was kind enough to send me a complete data set going back to 1950 showing gasoline consumption per capita, derived from Federal Highway Administration stats.
In 1950, when Californians were still fairly transit-dependent, the consumption was only 5.5 gallons per person per week. New York State, which is currently best in the nation, starts out at 3.2 gallons.
California’s number climb fairly steadily until it got to 9.8 gallons in 1978, the year I got my driver’s license and the year before the post-Iranian Revolution oil crisis.
Then consumption quickly drops and remains in the 8.0-8.5 range through the 1980s, which one could logically conclude was from federal fuel economy standards that haven’t changed since.
The decline continues, bottoming out at 7.8 gallons in 1991 and doesn’t rise above 8.2 throughout the decade. Oddly enough, after Sept. 11, 2001, consumption shoots UP to 8.4 gallons in 2002 and remains as high as any year in the 1990s until the last year in the study, 2006.
I’m not expert, but it seems like a good argument for stricter economy standards.
Meanwhile, the worst states are those that are more rural and/or lower income, such as Wyoming and Louisiana at 11.4 gallons each and Vermont, Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama all above 10 gallons in 2006.
While we have a long way to go, we can at least take pride in the fact that we’re not nearly as bad as we thought.