Better Gas Mileage, Greater Security

Kennedy shares how a small investment in conservation, implementing CAFE standards,
would quickly reduce American demand for oil and our dependency on foreign oil.

Note: Shel Horowitz’s book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, contains a great deal of other information about the interplay of marketing and social change, and ways to move a business toward both environmental and economic sustainablity.

It has become clear to most Americans that maintaining our national
security will require reducing our dependence on foreign oil. But
Republicans are using the current crisis to push through a reckless
energy agenda, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge, that will not improve America’s security. Even the
conservative Cato Institute has called President Bush’s claim that
Arctic oil would reduce gas prices or American dependency on foreign
oil “not just nonsense, but nonsense on stilts.”

There is a clear and pragmatic way to reduce our dependency fast.
Since 40 percent of the oil used by America fuels light trucks and
cars, an increase in corporate average fuel economy standards – called
CAFE – could have a dramatic impact.

In the late 1970’s, President Jimmy Carter implemented CAFE standards
to combat an oil shortage driven by policies of the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries. The standards raised fuel efficiency in
American cars by 7.6 miles a gallon over six years, causing oil
imports from the Persian Gulf to fall by 87 percent. Our economy grew
by 27 percent during that period. Detroit, predictably, figured out
how to build more fuel-efficient cars largely without reductions in
size, comfort or power.

The CAFE standards worked so well that they produced an oil glut by
1986. That’s when the Reagan administration intervened to rescue
America’s domestic oil industry from gasoline price collapse. Ronald
Reagan’s rollback of CAFE standards caused America, in that year, to
double oil imports from the Persian Gulf nations and to burn more oil
than is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

According to a recent report by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain
Institute, if the United States had continued to conserve oil at the
rate it did in the period from 1976 to 1985, it would no longer have
needed Persian Gulf oil after 1985. Had we continued this wise course,
we might not have had to fight the Persian Gulf war, and we would have
insulated ourselves from price shocks in the international oil market.
Fuel efficiency is a sound national energy policy, economic policy and
foreign policy all wrapped into one. Every increase of one mile per
gallon in auto fuel efficiency yields more oil than is in two Arctic
National Wildlife Refuges. An improvement right now of 2.7 miles per
gallon would eliminate our need for all Persian Gulf oil!

Yet the Republican Congress in 1995 made it illegal for the
Environmental Protection Agency even to study higher CAFE standards.
The result is that America now has the worst energy efficiency in 20

If Congress is serious about ensuring our national security it should
immediately pass legislation to raise fuel economy standards to 40
miles a gallon by 2012 and 55 by 2020. This would give automakers
ample time to adjust their production. In the meantime, Congress
should close the sport utility vehicle loophole by holding S.U.V.’s
and minivans to the fuel economy standards for cars; automakers have
the technology now to achieve this. Along with the other benefits,
higher fuel economy standards could bring increased demand for
efficient cars, leading to an increase in motor- vehicle-related jobs.
We can also substantially cut gasoline consumption by requiring tire
manufacturers to sell replacement tires that are as friction-free as
tires on new cars.

We missed a huge opportunity in the 1980’s and 1990’s to increase our
fuel efficiency. If overall energy conservation options available in
1989 were implemented today, each year we would save 54 times the oil
that would have been used from the Arctic that year, at a fraction of
the price of drilling there.

Mr. Bush’s Energy Security Act will actually make us more dependent on
foreign oil, and it will place our hopes for national energy security
in an insecure pipeline that could even become a terrorist target.
There is no reason to wait 10 years for Arctic oil to come on line
when a small investment in conservation would quickly reduce American
demand for oil.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Note: Shel Horowitz’s book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, contains a great deal of other information about the interplay of marketing and social change, and ways to move a business toward both environmental and economic sustainablity.


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