cb: Zoning to conserve fuel and reduce carbon

Guest blogger Molly Davis at Casaubon’s Book gives a report on the ASPO conference that considers high speed rail the magic key to solving the problems of the planet. The work of

But Dr. Anthony Perl, co-author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil, in an ASPO-USA panel today, suggested that the government could use its existing authority to make major strides in reducing oil dependence.

Oh, great. Still proposing Peak Oil solutions with that underlying assumption of enduring affluence. Move the fossil fuel use from the (visible) gasoline station to the (hidden) (coal fired) power plant, that makes sense. Oh, and introduce transportation needs to concentrate the rail customers and products to make the rail cost effective (i.e. with hidden costs pushed onto the community). Essentially, airports without the runways. Wonderful.

Let us not forget converting farmland, crossing and interfering with existing infrastructure, and working out union agreements and jurisdiction disputes.

Dr. Perl’s proposal made sense – twenty years ago, when Europe bought into high speed rail. With Peak Oil here, now, and cheap energy gone, that might have been used to build those trains and rails and lay the tracks and power lines, build the depots and repair bridges and roads that the new lines need – not to mention tunnels under rivers and through mountains. I note that the local scrap yards are preparing (tearing apart) old farm and industry implements, cars, and anything else steel, to sell as scrap for export to China. Not only with China have the technology on trains for us to buy, they will have our steel resources to sell us in the form of rails, etc. And if you are concerned about atmosphere CO2, China is replacing their coal fired plants with modernized, lower emission coal-fired power plants. But they are still burning coal and oil to produce products – like Dr. Perl’s trains and rails.

Yesterday’s wooden ties laid over gravel, still a useful design for modern trains – what will take their place, in the realm of high speed trains? Will forests need to be denuded to provide the thousands of miles of rail envisaged, or will concrete (with seriously high energy requirements to make) or steel, or some other means be need to support the trains? Maybe geographically rigid wind tunnels, perhaps?

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My own take on zoning and taxing practices that would help?

I like the zoning approach for a first approximation.

1) Lay out high speed corridors, and deny all improvements or construction in those corridors. Exempt all taxes on sales of property in those corridors to encourage voluntary exodus. After five years, begin increasing real estate taxes on properties within the corridors, to double the tax rate within the ensuing five years. Permit purchase of properties within the corridors, at fair market value (compared to similar adjacent properties outside the corridors), only by the community or the high speed corridor entity, if organized. Until developed, use as a green zone/park system with minimal infrastructure. Disc golf, anyone? Perhaps (specified temporary) allotted garden space, too, even fruit and nut trees.

2) Establish zoning requirements that no urban or suburban residence can be built more than one mile from grocery and hardware stores, from public school facilities, and from employers sufficient to offer 90% employment of those residing in that radius.

2a) Establish a commute tax. Employer (only) pays 1 cent per mile per employee, for the distance the employee lives from work, and uses private transportation to attend the workplace on that day. Tax at 1/4th cent per mile per day for employees using mass transit that day. 50% of tax collected is to be returned to the community. This way the Feds and the state and community planners, as well as employers, get a fair idea of the amount of commuting going on, and the effect of hiring practices on community fuel and road usage. Employers and employees today seldom consider commutes in their planning. That should be addressed, and the responsible parties (employers and employees, community planners) should actually take responsibility.

2b) Housing development projects, planned for the sole benefit of the developer, without regard to impact on community fuel and road usage, commute to shopping and work, has to be turned on its head.

3) Provide for zoning and regulation relief for a new type structure: Owner occupied small business, mostly for urban areas. Where the owner resides in the business structure, with no dedicated parking provided – this can be scattered into residential areas, inviting walk-up shopping, and meet the above walking distance requirement for groceries and hardware. Perhaps a slight modification would suffice for public school facility, in rural areas.

3a) Presume that owner-occupied entities, from farms to small businesses, will require vehicle use in the course of doing business.

3b) School consolidations in many rural and semi-urban areas have pushed inordinate commute costs onto the community, in conveying students to and from schools, and in engaging in away-from-campus extra-curricular activities. Schools need to have to report, by student, by day, the mode of transport(s) used for each transport need, both regular school days and extra-curricular activities. This is a cost taxpayers in the school district deserve to know, in detail.

4) PassivHaus residence construction and general building practices should be encouraged for all new, and where appropriate, modified structures.

5) Change the profit motive for selling a home. Levy a 40% excise tax on the sale of a home, phased in over the next ten years in 6% increments each year. Assess the tax on homes sold within 30 years of most recent purchase. Where inherited, from date of inheritance, if inherited directly from previous occupying owner. Tax is levied on the total sale price, before accounting for costs of sale or remaining mortgage or other encumbrance.

5a) Exempt owner-occupied homes transferred directly by inheritance to new owner, from estate / death taxes.

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