PLUG OK license plate
NRDC vehicles director endorses plug-in hybrids
Apr 30, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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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 bleeding-three-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 consumption-like driving next generation cars and using clean-burning non-petroleum fuels. Now it's 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 oil-as opposed to burning it-beginning 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 sector-which 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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