GreenRoom: June 2008

Gov. Sonny Perdue has launched a new “Conserve Georgia” campaign to promote better use of the state’s natural resources. A website, ConserveGeorgia.org, provides conservation tips and a list of state agencies intended to help the average Georgian reduce his or her impact on the environment.

That the Department of Trans-portation is listed among those agencies, however, reveals an implicit conflict in this latest conservation strategy.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has been defending the Senate’s narrow failure to pass a bill allowing a Transpor-tation Special Local Option Sales Tax by saying the private sector would provide a better solution to the state’s traffic problems – a line pushed hard by the federal administration that cripples transit initiatives, which would compete with the private sector.

The best example of how this conflicts with conservation efforts is the conversion of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes – which encourage carpooling, into toll lanes, eliminating one of the only DOT programs that encourages the conservation of gas.

This is only the beginning of the state’s privatization of Georgia’s transportation network, letting the market drive important public policy decisions that will result in more traffic and less transit, because tolls will make more money for road builders. (Transit may spur economic development, but in and of itself may take years to show a profit from rider fees.)

Similarly, developers will continue to push residential housing outside Georgia’s cities because it’s cheaper to build on farmland, even though such development creates more traffic and kills the quality of life for its residents in the long run. Private interests aren’t always in the best interests of the public, which is why government regulations and incentives exist.

Depending on a vote in Novem-ber, the Senate’s only accomplishment this year in the interest of conservation may be a bill that would protect Tax Allocation Districts, which encourage development closer to city centers and pedestrian infrastructure. School systems always have been able to opt out of this funding mechanism but often choose otherwise; as gas prices rise, it behooves them to transport students more efficiently, and sprawl only creates the need for more bus routes.

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