Tuesday, 18 July 2017 20:35

5 ways Americans can save money despite budget cuts to energy, transportation

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With Republicans calling for budget cuts to energy and transportation, average Americans can expect increased costs to fall on them. With Republicans calling for budget cuts to energy and transportation, average Americans can expect increased costs to fall on them. Adobe Stock Image

Now that we know Donald Trump's budget would increase the deficit and do little to improve the economy according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, you can expect fixed costs like energy and transportation to cut into the average American’s income even more so than in the past. In fact, the Trump administration made a $3.7 trillion mistake in its budget, which is far larger than the $776 billion and and $303 billion mistakes the Obama administration made with its budgets.

Energy cuts focus on energy-efficiency research

While the bulk of Trump’s proposed cuts in energy are research programs at the Energy Department ($3.1 billion, an 18 percent cut in budget) seeking ways to decrease carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and more efficient batteries for electric cars, programs that actually help Americans save money on energy will also be eliminated.

 

The Energy Star program, with which you’re likely familiar, costs about $50 million annually, but will be cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget despite the EPA estimating that the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion in energy costs and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That little blue label won’t be there to tell you whether the appliance you’re looking to buy meets the EPA’s standards because those standards no longer exist.

 

The same goes for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which funds energy audits of homes inhabited by low-income Americans and the installation of energy efficient additions like attic insulation and plastic over windows. Those workers are doing a lot more than installing plastic over windows, though. They also address health and safety issues by fixing broken windows, replacing faulty water heaters, repairing holes in roofs as well as installing other protective measures.

 

WAP cost $193 million in 2015, and the it estimates that for every dollar invested in the program, it returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. In the past 31 years, 6.2 million low-income families have taken advantage of the program, which also produces “non-energy” benefits of an additional $1.07 per dollar invested. By lowering energy bills on average of $413 per year, low-income Americans have more income with which to stimulate the economy. But not anymore, which is likely why the CBO doesn’t see any improvement to the economy in Trump’s budget.

 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $280 million in 2015, and its budget will also be cut entirely. ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment, so cutting it would put more strain on technology businesses, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

 

The loan program that has made fuel-efficient vehicles more affordable, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, would also be cut. Luckily, according to its website, the program has $16 billion in loan authority remaining, despite loaning Ford Motor Company $5.9 billion in 2009. The scrapping of the program will also make it harder for the average American to afford fuel-efficient vehicles.

 

Finally, Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks through the issue of loans. Those loans will no longer be made available.

 

So that’s what’s happening to the U.S. energy budget. No more investing in American energy unless it comes in the form of decayed dinosaurs. But with fossil fuel exploration and drilling increasing, the price of fuel should go down, right? Well, the real price of gasoline and diesel fuel is already below nominal prices, which means they’re likely to increase to at least the nominal price.

Transportation budget cuts make Americans more dependent on cars, fossil fuels

Then there’s the U.S. transportation budget, or lack thereof. While shifting air traffic control to a nonprofit organization would transfer thousands of workers off the government payroll, it could impact smaller airports providing cheaper flights, which means more expensive rates for you. The elimination of $175 million in subsidies for commercial flights to rural airports will hurt rural Americans especially.

 

Also being eliminated is funding for many new transit projects and support for long-distance Amtrak trains, which, of course, would make Americans more car-dependent, and by design, more fossil-fuel dependent. Worst yet, the roads Americans will be forced to drive won’t be getting any better. The Republicans’ budget would cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program despite skyrocketing demand. The Department of Transportation received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding in 2016.

 

So how do we as Americans manage to get to and from the places we need or want to go with energy costs, both in the form of electricity and fuel, and transportation costs, both in the form of planes and trains, increasing? Well, here are 5 ways to save money despite budget cuts to energy and transportation.

1) Bicycle

If your roundtrip is under 10 miles, you need not drive. Get out the bicycle, put on the padded underwear and a helmet and take your share of the roads. I recommend wearing padded underwear if you intend to cycle for an hour or more. It generally only takes an hour to go 10 miles on a bike, and with a caddie and saddlebags, you can carry a towel and fresh clothes to change into once you arrive at your destination. Do not wear a backpack! You’ll regret it the moment you get a mile from home.

2) Carpooling

Not all of us live close enough to the places we frequent to do so on bicycle. But there are other people taking a similar trip. Mobile devices with unlimited data have made social circles a whole lot bigger than the water cooler at the office. Just because no one in your office goes by your house on their way to work doesn’t mean you can’t carpool.

 

Carpooling apps are becoming more popular in metro areas, with New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. already being served by Via. But growth of carpool communities is dependent on us as Americans to make them viable options. Apps like Duet and Waze need demand to be useful, and if we’re all set on wasting money and killing the Earth by driving our cars to work everyday, they might never be available in your area. So sign up to either drive or ride with all the carpool apps and share them with your friends on social media so we can grow the carpooling communities and all save on transportation.

 

In the future, your self-driving car will simply go out and drive people to work while you’re at work or asleep. Until then, we’ll have to take the wheel, both figuratively and literally.

3) Work from home

More and more Americans are working from home these days, as employers look to cut costs like rent and energy, and employees look to cut transportation costs. If you do most of your work on a computer or over the phone like me, you can probably negotiate a work-from-home agreement with your boss. You might not be able to work from home everyday, but a few days per week will still save you money on transportation costs. And there’s nothing really like working in bed to the sounds of Rick James on vinyl.

4) Buy an electric vehicle

This isn’t going to be feasible for the average American, but for the first time ever, a car doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. Buying an electric vehicle is an investment that will pay for itself. The payback period depends on the car, of course, but it could be as little as eight years for a Kia Soul EV and as many as 30 or more years for the mysterious Tesla Model 3. And if the average American drives 13,474 miles annually, a Model 3 owner will have paid for her car in 30 years. That’s seven years before Model 3 owners will have to worry about investing in replacement batteries given the 484,669-mile projection for the batteries’ ability to retain at least 80 percent of their capacity.

5) Invest in solar or wind energy

Regardless of where you live, there’s likely an opportunity for you to harness solar or wind to create energy and lower your energy bill. And until Republicans pass a budget, there are still tax incentives and rebates available to you for installing solar arrays and wind turbines. You might as well take advantage of them while you still can, as both technologies have become more affordable to install. Solar installations have dropped nine percent in a year, and wind turbines have dropped more than 60 percent in price since 2009.  

 

The energy companies are doing their best to deter customers from installing renewable energy sources, though. Many are charging flat fees just for hooking up a solar array or wind turbine, and then they’re taking the extra energy you don’t need, but that you provide, and selling it to others. That’s why you should consult an electrician and find things you can run directly from your renewable energy sources if your energy provider is looking to take advantage of you.

 

Maybe your solar panels charge a battery or generator that runs the lights and electricity in your newly built shop or garage. You can always rewire your solar array or wind turbine into the grid, so don’t give in to paying those flat fees to use your own energy. If we discovered farting in a can could run lights for an hour, the energy companies would find a way to suck the fart out of that can and make you pay rent on the can. Don’t let them get your farts.

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