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PD Editorial: Banning new gas pumps won’t reduce emissions

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

News item: Sonoma County and six local cities are weighing whether to follow Petaluma’s lead and ban new gas pumps.

“This is a really important signal that we are transitioning away from the internal combustion era and into the future,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins told Staff Writer Mary Callahan.

Yes, even oil companies have largely stopped denying that burning fossil fuel is the primary cause of climate change, and a transition to renewable energy has begun. California and at least four other states will end sales of new gas-powered motor vehicles by 2035. Sales of zero-emission vehicles are surging, and automakers are introducing electric versions of sports cars, pickups and other popular models — even the Mustang, Ford’s trademark muscle car — to meet anticipated demand.

But gas-powered cars will be on the road for a long time — probably for years after the last new one is sold — and motorists will need places to buy fuel.

While prices for electric vehicles are falling, it’s likely that the last converts will include those least able to afford a new car, however it may be powered.

Moreover, forcing people to drive farther for gas burns more fuel, if only marginally.

But if your car runs on gas, don’t fret: Local laws prohibiting new or expanded gas stations won’t stop anyone from filling up anytime in the foreseeable future.

Indeed, a staff analysis prepared last year, before the Petaluma City Council enacted its first-in-the-nation ban on new gas stations, determined that every local resident lived within a five-minute drive of an existing station. That’s almost certainly true in Sonoma County’s other cities, though not in many rural areas.

We share local officials’ commitment to combating climate change, but there must be more effective ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Here’s one possibility: Idling cars are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a waste of costly fuel. Yet local traffic lights are poorly synchronized, creating their own stop-and-go situations at otherwise deserted intersections, especially during noncommute hours.

Meanwhile, new drive-thru lanes for coffee and fast food are popping up all over the county, followed by motorists lining up for a vegan burger or an iced latte with soy milk. Is this small convenience worth the added emissions?

Here’s another idea: Enforcing speed limits — or even persuading drivers to ease off the gas a little bit — would reduce fuel consumption and, in turn, carbon emissions.

If talk radio’s reaction to Petaluma’s ordinance is any measure, banning new gas stations is great fodder for an American tradition — bickering. But the law of supply and demand already is changing the landscape. Between 1994 and 2013, as vehicles became more fuel-efficient and urban real estate became more expensive, the number of gas stations in the United States declined by a quarter.

Sonoma County has seen a handful of recent proposals to build new gas stations or add pumps at existing locations. But drive around and you can see many old gas stations that have been converted to other purposes, even a bagel shop.

With higher gas prices, stricter fuel economy standards and more plentiful (and more affordable) zero-emission vehicles, more gas stations will close, with or without government intervention. Banning new pumps now may pack a symbolic punch, but it leaves the hard work of cutting emissions for another day.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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