Trimming Around The Edges On Fuel Economy
by Scott Shields, Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 09:11:30 PM EST
Some rare good environmental news came out of the Bush administration on Wednesday. Well, "good" is probably an overstatement. But with Bush, it's all relative. The Department of Transportation announced new CAFE standards that require light trucks to meet a minimum of 24 miles per gallon and, for the first time, regulate the fuel efficiency of large SUVs like the Hummer. Of course, these aren't huge changes, but I'm personally shocked this administration is addressing CAFE standards at all.
Now, contrast this with the situation in Brazil. CBS News has an interesting story about the fact that the Brazilians are about to complete their transition from gasoline as an auto fuel to sugarcane ethanol. I'm not talking here about a pilot project, or ethanol becoming the dominant fuel. By the end of 2006, Brazil should be an all-ethanol nation. Mind you, this has been a long time in coming. Brazil ramped up publicly-funded studies of sugarcane ethanol in reaction to the oil crises of the 1970s. But they also started putting their academic work into practice, by requiring gas stations to also offer ethanol and requiring refiners to mix ethanol into gasoline. This in turn led to innovations like so-called flex vehicles, which run on either a gasoline/ethanol mix or pure ethanol, that are enabling the complete shift to ethanol that Brazil's undergoing today.
Unfortunately, the best the United States can seem to do is trim around the edges of our fossil fuel problem, raising CAFE standards to levels that easily could have been met decades ago. And of course, at the core of the problem here is politicians cowering before oil companies and auto manufacturers who liked the inefficient status quo. But it's not as if Brazil didn't have to deal with industrial opposition themselves. "Basically, the people who produce oil," one Brazilian official explains, "they don't like us ... because we are getting their markets. It's very simple."
If the United States is going to continue to subsidize corn ethanol for agribusiness, and if auto companies are going to engage in greenwash marketing about ethanol, why not use the power of government to actually make ethanol more widely available? Corn ethanol may not be as cost-effective as sugarcane ethanol, but what about biodiesel? More obviously, why not mandate a certain percentage of a manufacturer's fleet to use hybrid gas/electric technology? There are a number of options that are better than the current course. The point here is that there is an incredible lack of leadership in Republican-run America on energy policy and as a result, we're falling behind nations like Brazil. It's pathetic.