« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Gas guzzlers


If you’ve been feeling the pinch at the gas pumps, and wondering how drivers in other states are faring, you might be interested in a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. It looks at what portion of their wallets drivers across the nation empty at the pumps, as well as how states are working to wean themselves off of oil.

The report uses data from 2011 -- a year that saw drivers in every state spending more on gas than they did in 2010. When it comes to what the report’s authors call “gasoline price vulnerability,” the percentage of personal income the average driver spends on gas, Western drivers don’t do terribly compared to parts of the South.

As the map below shows, drivers in New Mexico, Utah and Idaho were hardest hit, doling out 7 percent or more of their earnings to put in miles. Drivers in Colorado and Washington got off lightest, spending just 4 percent or more of their income on gas.


 Map courtesy NRDC.

The report also ranks states on their strategies for lessening oil use, including policies that promote alternative vehicles like electric cars, or introduce low-carbon fuel standards. It also examines laws restricting vehicle idling, and the funding and development of public transit infrastructure. (As I wrote in August, Western states on average spend 21 percent of their transportation budgets on transit projects, although this varies greatly by state). When it comes to this ranking, the report notes that “California, Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Washington have been in the top 10” for the past six years. Wyoming, meanwhile, is “the only state to have been in the bottom 10 all six years.” Incidentally, Wyoming plans to spend just 3 percent of its transport dollars on transit projects between 2011 and 2014.

Here’s a table showing how Western states performed in reducing their oil use.

Living car-less in a small town on the Western Slope has made me realize how necessary it is to have a vehicle for navigating the long, open roads that characterize the West. Bicycling or hitch-hiking are not always attractive options for long-haul travel. And while long-distance driving will always be part of life in the West, especially in rural areas, the federal government’s new fuel-efficiency standards should bring some relief at the pumps in the not too distant future, as well as help curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The new standards require carmakers to almost double the fuel efficiency of new vehicles by 2025. As a nifty table at Car and Driver explains, this means an average sedan would need to be hitting between 50 and 60 mpg by 2050, while light-duty trucks would be getting between 30 and 50 mpg. However, in actuality, this will probably result in new models averaging 40 mpg out on the roads. The news standards are expected to lead to an average saving for drivers of new vehicles of more than $8,000 over a car’s lifetime and reduce oil use in the country by about 12 billion barrels. They will, however, tack an extra $2,000 to $3,000 onto the price tags of new models.

Brendon Bosworth is a High Country News intern. 

Image: Gasoline pump from Shutterstock.