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A Progress Report on State-Level Oil Dependence

1:39 PM PDT on August 11, 2009

states460.gifNRDC's depiction of how hard states are hit by gas costs, ranked by percentage of income spent.

America's oil addiction is readily acknowledged, even by its biggest enablers. But what is the nation actually doing to kick the habit and embrace a safer, healthier, more realistic energy future? 

An attempt to answer that question was released today [PDF]
by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has ranked the
"oil vulnerability" of the 50 states for three years running.

On
its face, the list is unsurprising: Mississippi remains in first place,
with the average driver spending more than 9 percent of annual income
on gas, while Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut were rated the
least oil-dependent states. Yet NRDC's analysis also offers some
instructive tidbits:

    • New York is the overwhelmingleader in transit -- but not much else. The state dedicated 41 percentof its federal transportation money to transit as opposed to roads in2007, making it the benchmark by which NRDC measured all others. Yetthat was only enough to hit No. 6 on the overall scale of sustainableenergy use, thanks to the state's lack of a low-carbon or renewablefuel standard, action on smart growth, and incentives for hybridvehicles.
    • New Jersey's transit spendingmay not be getting through to some of its drivers. The state rankedsecond behind New York with 30 percent of transport cash used ontransit, but the state's average driver spent $2,286 on gas last yearcompared with $1,654 in New York. It's not due to a high state gas tax;New Jersey's is one of the lowest in the nation. 
    • CapitolHill can set the pace for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Onlysix states have set targets for shrinking their VMT, a goal thatTransportation Secretary LaHood has called essential to fighting climate change. Without congressional passage of legislationmaking VMT reduction a national priority, it's difficult to see amajority of states taking action individually in the near term.
    • Reputations may be deceiving. Georgia, where all but 23 of 5,400 DOT employees focus on roads, saw its federal transit grants frozenthis month due to financial mismanagement and spends less than 7percent of its transport budget on transit. But the state ranked 17thon NRDC's list, just ahead of Minnesota -- the progressive-leaning homeof House infrastructure committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D).

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