San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gov’t Gas-Saving Measures Rely on Citizen “Goodwill”

WITH international oil prices exceeding$60 a barrel as of Monday, PresidentAbel Pacheco, as promised, signed adecree Wednesday to reduce the country’sfuel use by limiting driving during peakhours and requiring public employees toenter work an hour earlier.However, the measures will rely on the“goodwill” of drivers, because the ExecutiveBranch cannot place fines or sanctionswithout the approval of the LegislativeAssembly, Pacheco and Environmentand Energy Minister Carlos ManuelRodríguez told the press Tuesday after thePresident’s weekly Cabinet meeting.The measures, which are expected to gointo effect within three weeks, will restrictcirculation of vehicles on San José’s busieststreets during rush hour based on licenseplate numbers. Vehicles will be restrictedonce a week between the hours of 8-9 a.m.and 4-5 p.m. on main arteries.By reducing congestion, Costa Rica’suse of, and dependence on, oil will bereduced, according to Rodríguez.“At the end of the day, what makes adifference is the culture, and (citizens’)willingness to cooperate,” he said. “It’s nosecret that a huge impact on our economyand quality of life right now is the highprice of oil on the international markets.”The Environment and Energy Ministry(MINAE) estimates the measures couldallow the country to save 10-15% of whatit spends on petroleum, which amounted to$710 million in 2004 and is expected toreach $900 million this year (TT, June 24).ALTHOUGH fines will not be levied,approximately 80 transit police will regulatethe measures and inform drivers of theimportance of collaborating to reduce traffic.A public information campaign willnotify the public when certain licenseplates numbers are restricted.The Executive Branch will push forlawmakers to approve sanctions in thefuture, according to Rodríguez.The decree, signed by Pacheco andLabor Minister Fernando Trejos, alsorequires some public employees in thegreater metropolitan area to enter work onehour earlier than their current schedule – 7a.m. versus 8 a.m. – and leave one hour earlier– 3 p.m. versus 4 p.m. – to furtherreduce traffic and save gas.“If not everybody enters at the same timeit will increase fluidity,” Rodríguez said.During the next two weeks, the country’sministries will evaluate which publicemployees will be subject to the changewhile still allowing services to continue asusual, Rodríguez said. For example, schoolhours will not be altered, he said.The measures will remain in placeregardless of whether oil prices return tobelow $60 a barrel.OFFICIALS have long promised themeasures would be put into effect oncefuel reached the $60 benchmark.“We have seen this crisis coming for along time,” President Pacheco said.He stressed that the measures are notthe only steps being taken to reduce thecountry’s dependence on oil. In the longterm, Pacheco said Iceland is helpingCosta Rica study the production of hydrogenfrom the water used in hydroelectricdams; Mexico is helping the country studyalternative fuels; and Brazil is willing tosell Costa Rica biofuels at a low price aswell as assisting production here.The National Oil Refinery (RECOPE)is launching a $15 million, 18-month programto analyze and produce biofuels. In apilot program, a fuel derived from a mixtureof gasoline and ethanol will be distributedin gas stations in the Central Pacificand in the northern province of Guanacaste.“What is important to understand isthat the resource of oil is not renewable.Eventually it will run out,” Rodríguez said.“Costa Rica should be a country that transcendsadministrations in its energy politicsand searches for measures that willhelp reduce the vulnerability we have withdependence on fossil fuels.”

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