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Automobile fuel economy: How the party perspectives differ

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert’s (R-N.Y.) talk on “The State of the Environment” in 2005 singled out three related issues as “most salient for the future of our nation and our planet.”
These — energy use, land and water use, and global climate change — he judged to be “really determining our future.”
The public should be up in arms about an energy policy, Boehlert stated, that doesn’t seek to reduce demand through efficiency measures.
In transportation, he held unwillingness to raise fuel efficiency standards as our biggest failure, especially since “we know they work and know how to make them better” than in the 1970s.
The Congress at that time established the first CAFÉ standards.
Cars were averaging 13.5 miles per gallon (trucks 11.6 mpg) as an Arab oil embargo caught the United States unprepared and gas prices skyrocketed.
The standards doubled car mileage and nearly doubled that for light trucks.
However, given cheap gas prices off and on, there the standards remained.
Two-thirds of all oil consumed in the U.S. continues to fuel our motor vehicles.
After the first Gulf war again demonstrated our vulnerability in oil imports, the Clinton administration repeatedly sought to upgrade the CAFÉ standards.
Its efforts were rejected three times by the GOP controlled Congress, which even sought to “freeze” the standards permanently until specifically “released” through that body.
A National Academy of Sciences report in 2001 indicated a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy to be achievable over a 10-15 year period, with available technology, without compromising safety and at cost recoverable through the gas savings.
Boehlert, chair of the House Science Committee, held that the NAS study “should serve as the bible on this issue.”
But the recommendations were ignored.
Not supporting measures to temper our thirst for oil, national energy policy remained focused on ever new and riskier ways to satisfy increasing demand.
It’s “sad and distressing and foolhardy,” Boehlert said, “that we aren’t going to impose the kind of standards that, based on expert opinion, are feasible.”
The nation now has reached a historic turnaround on this issue.
On Aug. 28, the Obama administration finalized new car standards proposed earlier by the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
By 2025 these require all new cars and light trucks to give 54.5 miles per gallon.
They will create more than 500,000 new jobs across America, cut our daily oil use by as much as we currently import from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela, combined, and reap more than $50 billion a year in gas savings for consumers.
They will cut our annual carbon emissions by 270 million metric tons.
This far-sighted action should gladden the (now retired) Congressman’s heart.
His party’s aspirant to the White House, however, opposed the new standards.
Promising to continue our fuel-waste practices, he would consign the public lands to oil-drilling use instead of recreation and resource conservation, and the disastrous climate consequences from this course, “for the future of our nation and our planet,” would be ignored.