Lower prices at the pump gave a boost to per-capita gasoline consumption in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 2009—reversing a decade-long trend of decline.
Idaho drivers—already the highest per-capita consumers in the region—led the Northwest by increasing their gasoline purchases by nearly 4 percent. Washington and Oregon saw per capita increases of less than 1 percent, which is a departure from the states’ nearly uninterrupted decline since 1999.
Total gasoline consumption in the Northwest states rose by 2 percent, or 100 million gallons, according to new research from Seattle-based Sightline Institute. That bucks a nationwide trend of declining gas use in the United States.
The increase is surprising, considering the US economy remained stalled during 2009.
“It looks like the real culprit in increased gasoline consumption was lower prices,” said Eric de Place, senior researcher for Sightline Institute and author of the report. But while gas use went up, last year also brought a decline in the Northwest states’ consumption of diesel—a fuel closely related to trucking and other commercial activity.
The most startling data came from north of the Canadian border. Despite promises of a low-carbon Olympics, the economic activity spurred by the preparations for the Winter Games contributed to a 10 percent increase in per capita gasoline sales—the largest single-year gain in at least 30 years. The report notes that the increase occurred despite BC’s groundbreaking carbon tax, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Over the long term, putting a meaningful price on pollution from fossil fuels is a key step toward reducing climate-changing emissions and our dependence on unstable, dirty sources of energy,” said de Place, noting that, for consumers, the roller-coaster effect of global fuel prices can overwhelm more modest policy options.