Monday, May 09, 2005

Energy Policy

Having touched on some of the things that Bush's proposed energy policy didn't address, let's look a bit more into a few of those things. Specifically I'd like to talk about other ways of going about lowering our fuel consumption.

Some of you may have heard about CAFE, though most people on the whole haven't. CAFE stands for corporate average fuel economy. Here's a little history to go with that, taken from Corporate Average Fuel Economy, a government web site:

The “Energy Policy Conservation Act,” [EPCA] was enacted into law by Congress in 1975, and established Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The Act was passed in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. The stated near-term goal was to double new car fuel economy by model year 1985.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 required passenger car and light truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less manufactured for sale in the United States, to meet CAFE standards. The CAFE standards are applied on a fleet-wide basis for each manufacturer; i.e., the fuel economy ratings for a manufacturer's entire line of passenger cars must average at least 27.5 mpg for the manufacturer to comply with the standard. [If a manufacturer does not meet the standard, it is liable for a civil penalty of $5.00 for each 0.1 mpg its fleet falls below the standard, multiplied by the number of vehicles it produces. For example, if a manufacturer produces 2 million cars in a particular model year, and its CAFE falls 0.5 mpg below the standard, it would be liable for a civil penalty of $50 million.] For light trucks (including vans and sport utility vehicles), which make up the majority of new vehicles sales, the 2004 CAFE standard is 20.7 mpg.

... In April of 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration promulgated a final rule establishing the average fuel economy standards for light trucks that will be manufactured in the 2005-2007 model years (MYs). The standards for all light trucks manufactured is set at 21.0 mpg for MY 2005, 21.6 mpg for MY 2006, and 22.2 mpg for MY 2007. This rule is effective May 5, 2003.

So SUVs and light trucks are given a special dispensation for mileage, while the SUV in particular became the dominant vehicle on the U.S. road today. This runs totally counter to the mindset that took over the American psyche during the fuel crisis of the 70's --- that crisis clearly demonstrated our vulnerability to foreign oil interests and we were going to do something about it, to wit we started to build more fuel-efficient cars and imports of smaller cars with higher fuel efficiencies and we decreased the national speed limit; then we completely fell off of the wagon.

Europeans had the same sense of vulnerability that we did, and then in turn did something about it by building and importing more fuel-efficient cars, heavily taxing fuel, and in general making it more expensive to drive a car, though with the difference that they pretty much stuck to the changes. Clyde Prestowitz, in his book Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions, shares with us the following:

If America had the same energy efficiency as the European Union, it could not only do without oil imports from the Persian Gulf, it could do without oil imports period. This would cut $100 billion a year off the U.S. trade deficit, stop the flow of U.S. money that gets recycled through oil-producing countries in the Middle East to fund terrorism and the spread of radical Islam, and greatly reduce the need for U.S. military deployments in the Persian Gulf, This deployments, which cost $60 billion annually, raise the real cost of Gulf oil to about $200 per barrel.

And you thought $50 a barrel was expensive? We aren't aware of the "true" cost of our oil because it's essentially hidden from us. Money spent on the military in the Gulf is not written off to the cost of oil, which you pay for at the pump --- were you aware of how much is really coming out of your pocket for that gallon of gas likely have a bit more to say about it. The cost is absorbed in DoD's cost of doing its day-to-day business, which we all still pay for but it comes out of our taxes and where that money goes we're normally not aware of, not to mention that we're not overly inclined to think about it. So you'd think that pushing Detroit to raise gas mileage, penalizing drivers of vehicles of gas guzzlers, and lowering the speed limit (more on this to follow) would make a great deal of sense from a national security perspective. The problem is that we don't view national security in this country as being particularly well served by common sense policies, we'd rely on a large military, which we'll likely have a wonderful chance to use at some point against the Chinese, who are shaping up to be our biggest potential challenger with regard to oil consumption and dominion over the Pacific. At least we'll get some action for our money, right?

I mentioned "lowering the speed limit" --- I hate the idea myself, to be honest, but if I'm to in fact strive to be honest about this whole thing the fact remains that lowering the national speed limit back down to 55 MPH would, indeed, save fuel, which is why it was done during the first fuel crisis. This was addressed in a NY Times article, Unmentioned Energy Fix: A 55 M.P.H. Speed Limit. Here's what consumption looks like over the years:


If the idea is to look out for the national interest, then lowering the speed limit would be the right thing to do.

We do need an energy policy in this country, and I give Bush the credit for at least taking the steps to elucidate one. But beyond that he's put together something I can't speak very well for what he's doing given all the things that he doesn't address that, frankly, do indeed need to be addressed. We can't afford to maintain the status quo with regard to how we use fuel in this country and Bush's policy suggestion not only maintains the status quo but encourages more of the same when he talks about talking oil-producing countries out of their oil reserves and doesn't address the need for increased fuel efficiencies from the standard internal combustion engine which, no matter how much we put into fuel cells, is going to be the standard bearer for the family or private car for at least the next 25 years.


Blogger Africanuck said...

You might find this link interesting...

12:12 PM  

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