Plan would cut US oil use in half

Posted: 18 April 2002

The United States uses a quarter of the world's oil, but has only three per cent of known reserves. A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists offers a five-step plan to cut the oil needed for the country's cars and light trucks in half, saving five million barrels per day by 2020.

Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence, says domestic drilling won't solve the problem. "The only way to end the economic and security risks of this imbalance is to cut our import dependence by using better cars and better fuels," the groups say.

That would mean big savings for consumers at the gas pump. The report estimates that a person buying a 40 mpg car in 2012 would save a net of $2,200 over the life of the vehicle. Total consumer savings from all policies suggested would equal nearly $13 billion per year in 2012, and almost $30 billion by 2020.

"Washington has been dragging its feet on energy security. Now we face the risk of finishing another war with Middle East origins without a solution in place," said John Podesta, former White House chief of staff, now a senior fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's time for the president and Congress to reverse course, and tackle this national security priority."

Events since September 11 highlight the danger in turning a blind eye to oil dependence. The challenge is to reduce the amount of oil we use to run our passenger vehicles, using American technology and know-how, the two groups say.

"Detroit has the technology to end our oil addiction," said Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program at Union of Concerned Scientists. "If cars and trucks live up to their technological potential, by 2010 we can save more oil annually than we currently import from Saudi Arabia."

The report recommends that Congress should steadily increase standards for the combined fleet of cars and light trucks to 40 mpg by 2012 and 55 mpg by 2020.

Mass production of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, which get double the mileage of today's cars, is recommended. Law-makers should provide consumer tax credits to support the transition to this new technology. Toyota and Honda already have hybrids on the road.

The report recommends expanding use of renewable, non-petroleum fuels, such as ethanol made from crop wastes, by steadily increasing requirements for "renewable content" in gasoline.

Putting hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles on the road is a recommendation that lines up with a new program announced last week by the Department of Energy. The groups' report suggests that Congress should use incentives and requirements to ramp up production to 100,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020.

Encouraging "smart growth" instead of suburban sprawl to increase transportation choices and make communities more livable with less driving, is a recommendation consonant with what the National Governors Association supported in a policy paper released adopted at the governors' 1999 annual meeting, and reaffirmed at last year's annual meeting.

"These proposals are the best way to curb our reliance on Middle Eastern oil," said Podesta. "We can regain control over our future by providing American consumers with the safest and best performing passengers vehicles in the world. This is the road to increase our national security, strengthen our economy, and protect our environment."

Copyright: Environmental News Service, January 21, 2002. Republished with permission from ENS.