According to the New York Times, President Bush in tonight’s State of the Union speech will attempt to prop up his sagging popularity ratings by tackling domestic issues. In particular, the article notes that ‘da Prez will urge that gasoline consumption be slashed by 20% by 2017. How will he encourage us to do this? According to the advance copies of the speech, primarily through a sharp escalation in the amount of ethanol and other alternative fuels the federal government mandates must be produced, with the rest of the reduction to come from raising fuel economy standards for passenger cars.
First, the idea is laudable, but it should target all consumption of fossil fuels, not just gasoline. Gasoline is just a small part of the consumption picture: there is also fuel oil for heating, oil-fired electrical power generators, diesel trucking, and industries that consume oil to make their products, such as plastics, petroleum jelly, and various foods. Going after gasoline is visible, but hurts the everyday voter directly. Going after the industries hurts the pocketbooks that fund the campaigns. Which one to hurt? Which one to hurt?
Second, the first way of proposing to do this doesn’t help. Fine, so we produce more ethanol. That helps the corn growers (read what I said about corporate pockets). Of course, if we don’t have ethanol vehicles, that does no good. There need to be mandates for fleets to have a certain percentage of alternate fuel vehicles–not just ethanol, but biodiesel, fuel cell, and other approaches. There needs to be incentives for research into fuel and fuel cell technologies. There needs to be research into better transportation methods, for ethanol is so corrosive it can’t go through normal pipelines and must be trucked. There also needs to be consideration of the effect of any fuel combustion on global warming. Here, battery technology might be the better answer, but that doesn’t help the farm constituency.
His second avenue of addressing this is pointless as well. Fine, so we raise fuel economy standards for passenger cars. That will make them smaller and lighter; there is always a tradeoff. However, it doesn’t address the big guzzler out there–where is the proposal to raise fuel economy standards for trucks and vans (including SUVs)? Those are the real gas guzzlers. Where is a mandate for a fuel economy benchmark over all vehicles sold by a manufacturer… weighted based on the number of that type of vehicle sold? Where is the push to raise fuel economy standards for other forms of engines: diesel used in the trucking industry, aircraft engines. Not in what was mentioned. These must be considered if we are to reduce dependence.
Further, mandating better fuel economy does no good if folks don’t buy the new vehicles. Where are the incentives for purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles? Where is the improvement in the overall economy so that people can afford these new vehicles? Where are industry incentives to speed-up fleet turnover and replacement with efficient vehicles?
Oh, and where are the incentives in Washington for vehicles used for legislators to be fuel-efficient. C’mon, if California legislators can move to fuel-efficient fleets, which can’t the folks in DC?
He’s also coming at this far too late. The time to get the people behind these controls would have been when the war started, and people were willing to sacrifice. But what is the purpose of bringing it up now? Surely not global warming, because he is not calling for improvements that address that concern. No, it must be because he believes our consumption is the reason prices are high. Of course, we know that’s only part of the issue: there is the punitive aspect due to how we treat most producing countries, combined with the profit motive of the oil industry.
The goal of reducing consumption is laudable. If you’re going to do it, and you want a bump in your ratings from doing it, do it the right way and for the right reason.
Even more so, I feel the sentiments in this post, which I intend to repost tonight in honor of the State of the Union address.