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Toward Alternative Transportation Fuels and Incentive-Based Regulation of Vehicle Fuels and Emissions


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel, Mark A. DeLuchi, Michael Q. Wang (1991) Toward Alternative Transportation Fuels and Incentive-Based Regulation of Vehicle Fuels and Emissions. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RP-91-11

Transportation energy issues are moving to the forefront of public consciousness in the United States and particularly in California, and gaining increasing attention from legislators and regulators. The three principal concerns motivating this interest in transportation energy are global warming, oil import dependency, and urban air pollution. Transportation fuels are a principal contributor to each of these. The transportation sector, mostly motor vehicles, contributes roughly half the urban air pollutants and one-third of carbon dioxide in California, and consumes almost three-fourths of all petroleum.

One promising strategy for resolving pollution and energy problems is the use of alternative fuels. Alternative fuels are an appealing technical solution. They require much less change in personal behavior than mass transit and ridesharing, and ease the pressure to coordinate and manage growth on a regional level. They are politically and institutionally easier to implement than strategies based on the reduced use of single-occupant autos and changes in land use. Indeed, because alternative-fuel vehicles could eventually prove to be environmentally benign, alternative fuels tantalize us with the prospect of never having to restrict motor vehicle use.

Moreover, using practically any set of conceivable assumptions, it can be argued that alternative fuels are inevitable. They are surely an important part of any long-term solution to energy security, global warming, and urban air pollution. But are alternative fuels also a short-term solution? Should government intervene now in support of alternative fuels? If so, on behalf of which fuels and when? And what form should this intervention take?

The authors conclude that definitive evidence cannot be marshaled to justify a massive near-term introduction of a particular alternative fuel or of alternative fuels in general. But neither can definitive evidence be marshaled to justify the contrary. Because the different fuels have very different and in some cases very large social benefits, the choice of fuels and the sense of urgency for introducing them depends on one's values, forecasts of future energy prices, predictions of future political events and technological advances, and increased knowledge about the greenhouse effect.

The decision to emphasize one social goal over another—for example, energy security over air quality and global warming—would dramatically alter the relative attractiveness of particular fuel options and the urgency for introducing them. Different views and expectations regarding energy prices, political and military conflicts, and technological improvements will similarly lead one to very different conclusions.

Nonetheless, decisions and choices must be made in the face of limited knowledge and foresight. Judgments based on certain values and visions of the future suggest the recommendations that follow.
Published by California Policy Seminar, 2020 Milvia Street, Suite 412, Berkeley, CA 94704.