Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

May 3, 2006

Fuel Economy Standards: Set a High Bar

Category: Editorial – Tom Harrison – 9:26 pm

A strong country is a robust country. Our economy is strong, and appears to be resilient to sometimes even rather significant changes. Ford and GM are in trouble because they got caught with their pants down, in which position they weren’t very nimble. I’m really not a big believer in legislation to “help” business; it seems like it almost always ends up hurting them in the long run, perhaps saving some short-term pain.

So when it comes to fuel economy standards why not set a high bar? We can pretend to make little adjustments in fuel economy standards, or we can just have some big balls and do something really bold. So what are we protecting by rewriting fuel economy standards? We’re not protecting our car companies — sorry guys, a little too late for that.

Ford woke up and smelled the coffee last year, and while it happened later than it should have, they are finally taking a stand to build more efficient vehicles and even more efficient manufacturing facilities. They realize that the company that builds better, more efficient, cleaner transportation is the one that will be on top in a few years. The current administration seems to feel otherwise. And again, their strong desire to “help” companies is exactly the opposite of the help they need.

Making really tough fuel economy standards could be a boon for the industry. Any company healthy enough to go through change should be able to respond, on a fair footing with other competitors to new standards. And not the pathetic 8% over 4 years starting next year that was the most recent fuel economy standard laid down. Why not really lay it down and set a high bar.

This final few words of an editorial in today’s New York Times says it just right:

Representative Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican from upstate New York, has suggested a simpler, more transparent approach. While building some flexibility into the system, he would abolish the distinction between S.U.V.’s and ordinary passenger vehicles and require a fleetwide average of 33 miles per gallon. This, he estimates, would save about 2.6 million barrels of oil a day by 2025, nearly a third of the current consumption for cars and light trucks.

If that sounds radically ambitious, consider this bit of history: In 1990, two senators — Slade Gorton, a conservative Republican, and Richard Bryan, a liberal Democrat — proposed raising fuel economy standards to 40 miles a gallon over 10 years. They actually got 57 votes for their proposal, which lost to a filibuster.

Had it passed, we would probably be consuming half the gasoline we use now and be in better shape to deal with today’s price squeeze. There’s still time to prepare for the next one.

There’s still time. And that’s why saving a little here, a little there and whatever it takes is so important. It takes a long time for us to finally realize what the right things are to do … and then do them. Until then, we can all buy ourselves a little more time. Our economy is robust and our companies are in a position to take a leadership position. And the good ones already are. There’s still time.

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