What if you live in Wyoming and NEED that gas-guzzling SUV?

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Commenter caitlilly asks a couple of good questions:

I live in Wyoming – and live, as most people do in Wyoming – a lifestyle that truly benefits from SUV’s and trucks. Come to any rural area like this and the streets are dominated by gas guzzlers. But here it’s not a status symbol – it’s a way to live the life we’ve chosen: one that embraces camping trips over shopping centers and hunting over the opera. Most of the access roads are absolutely impossible to navigate without an SUV – not to mention the fact that we all usually cart around our fleets of retrievers and sheep dogs. Many people need these trucks for their agricultural related work and countless other needs associated with life in Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, etc. To aggravate the problem, you have to drive distances for absolutely EVERYTHING – I travel 30 miles to a nearby town to see my dentist and doctor. The nearest airport to board most major flights is a full 3 hour drive away.

I own an SUV – old and used. I’ve used it to haul many, many dogs in. In the winter, the 4-wheel drive has been invaluable. However, with gas the way it is I would dearly, dearly love to trade it in for some gas efficient miniature car. But I’ve staked my own little claim as a sufferer of the credit crisis, and can in no uncertain terms afford to get a new car – paying for gas at 3.50 a gallon doesn’t help either. Most of the people who live here are in about the same shape. I understand that the U.S. needs to be weaned off oil in no uncertain terms – but can’t this issue be more nuanced? Is there seriously no other remedy in our immediate future?

Or will you all just consider us clinging to our trucks out of bitterness?

The first answer is that, even in Wyoming, most people probably don’t NEED huge pickups and SUVs. I was in and around the Norwegian city of Tromsø a few years ago and was struck that, despite the fact that it’s a mountainous place 200 miles north of the Arctic circle where the ground and roads are covered with snow much of the year, there were fewer SUVs to be found in the entire area than you’d see in the average Southern California strip mall parking lot.

The second answer is that, if gasoline had been appropriately priced for the past couple of decades (and no, I don’t know what the appropriate price is; it’s just a convenient hypothetical) fewer people would have chosen to live in Wyoming. Same if we didn’t subsidize living in Wyoming by giving the state $1.11 in federal largesse for every dollar in federal taxes paid by Wyomingites (according to the Tax Foundation), by the way.

Of course, given the numbers involved here (Wyoming’s population as of mid-2006 was about 515,000), reducing Wyoming’s population by a few percent wouldn’t exactly end our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. And how the heck was caitlilly supposed to know that the gas prices of the 1990s were a temporary anomaly? And who knows if they were? Maybe it’s today’s prices that are the anomaly.

So no, caitlilly, I don’t think you and your neighbors are hanging on to your trucks out of bitterness. I also don’t have any good answers for your current predicament. I certainly don’t think we ought to raise gas taxes in the middle of a maybe-recession, but I also think we’d only lose by giving in to the McCain-Clinton Gas Tax Pander of 2008.

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