Location: Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA—Total gasoline consumption in the Northwest states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho fell about 180 million gallons between 2007 and 2008, the largest drop since 1980—according to a new report by Seattle-based Sightline Institute.

High prices contributed to a larger than usual decrease in total gasoline use last year, but a decade long decline in per capita gas consumption indicates it was not an anomaly: per capita use has dropped eight out of the last nine years and is now at its lowest level since 1965.

“It may seem like soaring prices were the sole cause of the 2008 drop, but looking back over the last decade it’s clear northwesterners have been consuming less gas each year. Last year was yet another step toward getting our economy off of the fossil fuel roller coaster,” said Roger Valdez, Sightline researcher and author of the report.

The report, “Easing Off the Gas,” is an analysis of the latest gasoline consumption data, covering all of 2008. It shows that northwesterners consumed, on average, 7.4 gallons of gasoline per person per week in 2008, down from 7.8 in 2007—a drop of 5 percent. The region is about 10 percent below the national average.

“Cutting our gasoline consumption is an important trend for the region. This isn’t just good for the climate; it’s good for our health and our pocketbooks too,” said Roger Valdez, Sightline researcher and author of the report.

The report also notes that northwesterners are driving less despite gas prices leveling off. In the first three months of 2009, Northwesterners drove 643,000 miles less than they did in the same period in 2007.

“Certainly the cost of gas last year was a factor, but even now that prices have fallen we’re still driving less than we have since 2004,” said Valdez. “People chose alternatives to driving because of high prices, but for some these healthy and cost-cutting changes have stuck.”

Valdez attributed the declines to several factors: “People recognize that high prices last year weren’t an exception, and we’re likely to see more of the same in the future; as a result, they’re buying more fuel efficient cars and choosing to take public transportation.”

But the news isn’t all positive. Northwesterners still consume nearly twice as much gasoline per day as the average for high-income countries.

“We’re making progress, but we can do even more by making smart investments in vehicle fuel efficiency, public transit options, and walkable communities,” said Valdez. “Providing choices besides driving that are both cheaper and convenient will give us better choices about our commutes, ease traffic, and help reduce climate-warming pollution.”

Sightline Institute, the Northwest’s sustainability think tank, tracks key trends critical to the region’s future. The report is part of Sightline’s Cascadia Scorecard project, a sustainability report card for the Northwest.

Download a pdf of the full report.

June 29, 2009