With gas prices averaging $3.00 per gallon and greenhouse emissions passing the most extreme predictions, the United States needs a drastic shift in energy policies in order to aid consumers, combat global warming, and reduce reliance on oil. As The New York Times reports today on a National Petroleum Council Report, “energy consumption globally is expected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next 25 years. But finding supplies to match that growth is going to be increasingly tough.” Congress is engaged in debate to tackle these issues, working towards increasing fuel economy and the use of alternative energy. In light of the debate in Congress, this week the Center for American Progress Action Fund is launching the “Clean My Ride” campaign, bringing together environmentalists, businesses, and activists urging Congress to adopt “provisions that require cars and light trucks get 35 miles per gasoline by 2020 and to require some service stations sell ethanol for flexible fuel cars.”
- Congress must raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks in the United States. In June, the Senate passed an energy bill that would raise the minimum mileage average fuel economy for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the first in over two decades. At least 150 lawmakers have signed onto legislation proposed by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) requiring a combined average of 35 mpg by 2018. While automakers have vigorously opposed these efforts, better fuel standards should be a boon for both them and consumers. “Increasing the average fuel economy of America’s new autos to 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2018 would save consumers $61 billion at the gas pump and increase U.S. employment by 241,000 jobs in the year 2020, including 23,900 in the auto industry,” according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, as stricter fuel economy would force large automakers to invest in new, cleaner technologies and machinery. Already, the debate in Congress is helping the environment, as Chrysler announced it would “scrap plans for a luxury sedan that would have represented a bigger, heavier and less-fuel-efficient version of its Chrysler 300C,” partly in response to the threat of tougher fuel economy standards.
- Weak alternative legislation will achieve significantly reduced savings in oil consumption. Some lawmakers have signed onto automaker-backed legislation proposed by Reps. Baron Hill (D-IN) and Lee Terry (R-NE) that calls for “softer increases” than what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called for, requiring “companies to increase fuel economy to at least 32 miles per gallon by 2022 for cars and trucks combined.” With the goal of buying automakers more time to comply with fuel standards, the Hill-Terry legislation would only achieve a saving of 1.1 millions of barrels of oil per day by 2030. By comparison, the Markey legislation would save between 2.5 and 4.3 millions of barrels of oil per day — amounting to a reduction in the rate of carbon emissions by 18 percent by 2030.
- A comprehensive approach to energy policy must include cleaner alternative fuels. The increased use of “flex-fuel vehicles” designed to run on cleaner fuels would greatly relieve U.S. dependence on foreign oil and decreasing harmful emissions. But E-85 pumps, which run on a combination of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, are scarce across the country. The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition reports that…only one out of every 170 stations sells E-85″ fuel. For instance, California drivers have 257,318 flex-fuel vehicles but the state has only two public stations with E85. New Jersey has none. Subsequently, “more than 99 percent of the flex-fuel cars run on regular gasoline because E85 is rarely available to the everyday driving public.” As Center for American Progress fellow Dan Weiss notes, the solution for this problem is “immediate and forceful measures to increase the availability of the fuel.”