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Taking Three Big Steps to Cut Imports and Shield Us From Gas Price Spikes

Deron Lovaas

Posted March 10, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil

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Last week I blogged about smart ways to save gas now. These are good tips to put a little money back in your pocket, but the truth is, taking the junk out of your trunk ain’t going to solve America’s energy crisis. We need big, bold moves in policy to cure us of the dangerous oil addiction that links our fate to the turbulence in the Middle East.

Broadly speaking, there are three things we can and should do to break America’s oil habit – and Congress is actually debating the first two right now.

  1. Increase the average fuel efficiency of our fleet to 60 miles per gallon by 2025. This move alone would save nearly three million barrels of oil a day by 2030, slashing imports. We can do this by putting millions of hybrids, plug-in vehicles and electric cars on the road, and improving the fuel efficiency of new cars. And don't overlook all the cool non-hybrid technology these standards would push into the marketplace. As Peter Whoriskey writes in today's Washington Post such technologies are already advancing auto fuel economy. And we need the EPA and the DOT to use their authority to raise the bar. Building cars is an American tradition, and we can do it better.
  2. Pass a 21st century transportation bill. Our existing transportation policy is a mess. It’s an inefficient, earmark-lover’s dream with its sensibilities stuck in the Mad Men era. We need a strong, focused policy that will fix our crumbling infrastructure and make critical investments to improve and develop rail and transit. Right now, public transit riders across the nation are saving an average of $850 a month over car drivers. We need to give more Americans this option, whether they live in urban, rural or suburban areas. And we need to invest our hard-earned taxpayer money wisely, into the projects that create jobs, increase mobility and protect the environment. President Obama’s proposed transportation bill eliminates a lot of the waste from the old program, and puts us on track to make smart investments that produce results for our communities – no more bridges to nowhere.
  3. Electrify the transportation sector. Combustion engines are inefficient. Only two out of every ten gallons of gas in your tank actually work to move your car – much of the remainder is wasted or idled away. Getting more electric vehicles on the road is key to breaking our dependence on oil for transportation. The president has set an ambitious, but achievable, goal of getting 1 million pluggable cars on the road by 2015. As my colleague Simon Mui points out, about 45 new electric vehicles are already in the pipeline. This would reduce gasoline use, and it would provide us with the much-needed ability to switch energy sources on the fly, in response to price spikes. We need to provide the incentives and financing for consumers and manufacturers to make the President’s goal a reality.

My colleague Luke Tonachel tallies up the oil these steps and a couple of others could save here; they could cut imports in half. And, as noted above, not only do we reduce our overall dependence on oil, by providing consumers with more energy and transportation options (i.e., so we can plug in instead of gassing up, or ride a train or bus rapid transit instead of driving) we make our transportation system and our economy more flexible and resilient.

The simple truth is that we deserve more choices so we can decide to skip trips to the pump when prices get out of control. Now we just need to demand that policymakers, companies and entrepreneurs deliver them. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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