NRDC vehicles director endorses plug-in hybrids
From Gas Crisis To Cure
Deron Lovaas and Gal Luft
April 27, 2006
Deron Lovaas is the vehicles campaign director
for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Dr.
Gal Luft is executive director of the Washington,
D.C.-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security .
With oil trading near $75 a barrel, one can only
wonder how much higher prices might get should
this year's hurricane season be as lethal as last
year's, should a full-blown civil war erupt in
Nigeria or Iraq, should terrorists attack a Saudi
facility or should a standoff with Iran results
in a disruption in oil shipments through the
Strait of Hormuz. Each of these scenarios could
take oil prices to the three-digit domain with
profound implications for the U.S. economy and the world economy at large.
As it is, the U.S. economy is
bleedingthree-quarters of a billion dollars
leave our country each day in exchange for
imported oil. That's more than $450,000 a minute.
Worse, a portion of the money ends up in the
coffers of undemocratic, unstable and/or hostile
regimes, which doesn't add to our ability to win
the war on terrorism. At the same time the U.S.
finds itself embroiled in a potentially
aggressive competition with emerging Asian powers
like China over access to energy resources.
The best account of the damaging impact energy
has on U.S. foreign policy came from America's
top diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, who recently told the Senate: "We do have
to do something about the energy problem. I can
tell you that nothing has really taken me aback
more, as Secretary of State, than the way that
the politics of energy is warping diplomacy
around the world. It has given extraordinary
power to some states that are using that power in
not-very-good ways for the international system,
states that would otherwise have very little power"
This reality has not escaped the While House. In
his State of the Union, President George W. Bush
took a significant first step by admitting that
America's oil addiction looms as one of the most
serious challenges of our time. He departed from
the traditional position that the U.S. can drill
its way out of its oil predicament, suggesting
that we should embrace technologies that will cut
our oil consumptionlike driving next generation
cars and using clean-burning non-petroleum fuels.
Now its time for Congress to follow up on the president's words.
A significant step in putting America on the road
to energy security is a proposal that is
gathering momentum in both houses of Congress,
with broad bipartisan support, including three
likely 2008 presidential candidates: Senators
Evan Bayh, Sam Brownback and Hillary Clinton. The
companion bills, Vehicles and Fuel Choices for
American Security Act (S. 2025 and H.R. 4409),
start with specific ends in mind. They establish
targets for saving oilas opposed to burning
itbeginning with a 2.5 million barrel a day
reduction in demand within 10 years, which is
about what we import from the Middle East today.
The bills also assign roles and responsibilities
to specific government agencies, and include
deadlines and requirements to adjust the plan if
it looks like it will fall short of the targets.
The proposed legislation, if enacted, would take
three strides toward energy security. It would
lead to far more efficient use of oil, give
consumers more vehicle and fuel choices, and
promote investments in mass transit programs.
The first step, squeezing waste out of our
economy, is vital and doable, particularly in the
transportation sectorwhich accounts for
two-thirds of U.S. oil demand and is 97 percent
oil-dependent. Take, for example, tires on new
cars. They are designed to be "low-rolling
resistant" which increases fuel-efficiency.
Automakers make them so in order to comply with
federal fuel-economy standards. Yet there are no
standards for replacement tires.
Replacement tires also don't come with
fuel-efficiency labels to allow
comparison-shopping by conscientious consumers.
Simply requiring fuel-efficiency standards for
replacement tires would reduce gasoline
consumption by as much as 3 percent. And there
are many other small savings that, if added up,
will reduce our oil bill to the tune of billions.
The second step is to increase fuel choice by
moving the country en masse toward plug-in
hybrids and flexible-fuel vehicles. In Brazil,
most drivers can pull up to pumps that offer
sugarcane-derived ethanol or a mixture of
gasoline and ethanol. In the U.S., however, most
motorists aren't even aware of the availability
of ethanol. And those who drive such
flexible-fuel vehicles have trouble finding
stations that offer alternative fuels.
Domestically produced electricity can also be
used as a fuel. Plug-in hybrids which, unlike
standard hybrids, can draw charge not only from
the engine and captured braking energy, but also
from America's electrical grid, are particularly
appealing since only 2 percent of U.S.
electricity is generated from oil. If, for
example, by 2025, all cars on the road are
flexible fuel hybrids and half of the hybrids are
plug-ins, U.S. oil imports could drop by over 10
million barrels per day, which is about what we import today.
The final step is to boost transit investments.
The use of public transportation now saves us
almost 125,000 barrels of oil a day. But if we
increased reliance on public transportation to,
say, the level of our neighbors in Canada, we
would save more oil than we import from Saudi Arabia every six months.
An America unshackled to foreign oil no longer
needs to be a pipedream. And the good news is
that there is no need to wait for technological
breakthroughs, invest billions in research and
development or embark on a massive infrastructure
change. The technology and know-how, the keys to
our liberation, already are sitting on the shelf.
What is needed is for our leaders in Washington
to grasp those keys and begin setting America free.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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