ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Meanwhile, In Europe

USA Today had this article in my freebie hotel paper.

Gas woes worse in Europe
By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY

BRUSSELS — Eric Niakissa knows putting cooking oil in his gas tank is illegal in France, but with pump prices at $5.90 a gallon for diesel, he's willing to take the risk.

Prices in Paris Sept. 6, when gas first topped 1.50 euros per liter. They are the equivalent of $6.94 to $5.40 a gallon.

"When I started to put (colza) oil in my car, I only used one or two liters because I was afraid, and I didn't know if it would work," says Niakissa, a student who drives a 2002 Skoda Fabia car.

"After several weeks, everything was fine, so I chose to use more oil. And since December 2004, I've been putting 50% oil in my car and have had no problems," and he saves at least $30 a month.

Americans cringe at the average $2.80-a-gallon pump price, but people in Western Europe haven't seen prices that low in almost two years.

Because European governments tax gas so heavily (taxes account for 70% of the price of gas here, vs. 27% in the USA), the recent rise in oil prices has people here looking for creative, if not always legal, ways to save money when they fill up their cars or heat their homes.

Fabien Kay, who works for the bio-diesel company Prolea in France, says drivers who add cooking oil to their gas tanks are risking "a lot of technical problems in newer cars."

In addition to putting cooking oil in their diesel cars (half of passenger cars sold in Europe now are diesel because the fuel is cheaper and the cars get better mileage), more people are riding bikes to work or taking public transit. They also are crossing borders in search of cheaper fuel, refusing to pay heating bills and switching to wood-burning stoves.

The governments in several countries, including France, Germany and Poland, are giving tax breaks on heating oil to low-income families. France also distributed $450 million to businesses that have been especially hit, such as fishing, trucking and farming.

In France, the price of premium gasoline is $7.18 a gallon.

But Francois Loos, the minister of industry in France, said the government decided against lowering taxes on fuel because people are driving more slowly and less often, and fuel consumption is down 3% this year from last. "Two months ago, everyone thought there could be higher revenues for the state and that we could give this additional revenue to the people ... but we have none."

Higher fee to drive in London

In London, the mayor has tried to discourage driving into the city by doubling the size of the "congestion zone." Drivers must now pay 8 pounds, or almost $16 a day, to drive into London.

"It's outrageous," Edward Stankovic says after paying 54.50 pounds (then about $100) to fill the tank of his Seat Leon sedan at a Shell station in north London last month. "Most of it is going to the government," he says, complaining of how British citizens pay among the highest rate in taxes per liter of fuel: nearly 63% of the price of a liter of gasoline. Stankovic now rides his bike to work.

In Germany, drivers living near the borders of Poland and the Czech Republic drive across to buy gas for about $4.85 a gallon, almost $1 less than they pay at home because fuel taxes are lower.
It's so bad that a number of small community governments are refusing to pay their gas bills or are unilaterally refusing to pay the higher prices. And many Germans are turning to old-fashioned, wood-burning stoves this winter to heat their homes.

"A growing number of people are calling and asking where they can get wood," says Jan Engel, a German forestry service spokesman. "It's really quite economical compared to other heating sources at the moment."

He said the town of Eberswalde, about 35 miles north of Berlin, was even building a wood-fired power plant to supply heat and electricity to some 50,000 homes in the area.

But not everybody is grumbling about their heating bills. In east Germany, tens of thousands of people still use coal predominantly to heat their apartments and homes. Inconvenient and dirty, coal is considerably cheaper than either natural gas or heating oil.

"People always make fun of you for having (coal) heating, but now they're getting theirs," says Franziska Rieder, a 28-year-old graduate student at Berlin's Free University. "A lot of my friends now can't afford to heat their apartments. They're going to freeze the whole winter."
Well, this is just great... Europe is reverting to the middle-ages and turning back to burning wood. I'm sure this won't have any impact on the environment, because trees are eco-friendly right? Oh, wait... they are until they're torched. And this will do wonders for the already fragile European economy.

And for all of the hand-wringing of the Left over the rising costs of gas, this is exactly what they have been calling for over the past 2 decades. (Read AlGore's Earth In the Balance.) It's also interesting that the French minister doesn't realize that when you tax something punitively, you get less of it (and subsequently, lower tax revenues, prompting some to call for even higher taxes).

BTW, I am blogging from an undisclosed location again... en route back to STL. Oh, and this guy happens to be on my plane, too. He assured me that they'll pull another one out on Wednesday.

Here's a pic:

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler