Bush's Energy Plan: A Reality Check
President Bush's plan to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent within 10 years includes expanding the use of plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles and "to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks."
Last March the Bush Administration increased the fuel economy standard for light trucks, and the change is expected to save hundreds of millions of gallons per year. Increasing the CAFE standards for passenger vehicles in some meaningful way (at least 30 mpg) could potentially save a few billion gallons of fuel each year.
However, there would be great opposition from the U.S. auto industry, and the SUV Owners of America (SUVOA) is already on the offensive claiming that increasing fuel economy standards will kill many people. But many of the safest cars on the road also get good gas mileage, proving that you can have both.
The President's support for plug-in hybrids includes funding for battery technology, but the current funding level of tens of millions per year for research won't provide the breakthroughs necessary to see plug-in hybrids adopted in volume. The United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) that administers the battery research has been slow in delivering results as most of the batteries powering hybrids today were designed in Japan.
If we want to see plug-in and hybrid vehicles available in large volumes, we should be spending more than a $100 million per year on research for plug-in batteries and the necessary electric power infrastructure, and include the utilities and other battery companies.
We would have to replace about half of all of the vehicles on the road today with a plug-in or hybrid vehicle to have a chance at reducing total consumption by 20 percent. A 50 mpg vehicle saves 300 gallons of fuel per year compared to a 25 mpg car (based on 15,000 miles driven), so that would be a fuel savings of 30 billion gallons per year for 100 million vehicles. That's not likely to happen.
If the President were serious about energy independence, he would ask us to drive less and use public transportation more. Unlike John Kennedy, who asked that people do something to make the country a better place, Bush thinks that technology will give us a free ride, and that just ain't so.
Is it too much to ask people to take fewer trips in the car just to get coffee or return a movie? Is walking, biking, or riding the bus too much of an imposition to enhance our national security by slowing down the flow of billions of dollars per year to non-democratic nations that support terrorism?
The plan for energy independence should also include: eliminating the gas guzzler loophole that promotes the use of SUVs, provide economic incentives for fuel-efficient diesel vehicles that would put them on par with hybrids, and provide money so that states and cities can upgrade their public transit infrastructure.
If not, Bush's big vision will be empty rhetoric.
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February 28,2006 address to National Governor's Ethanol Coalition.
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