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America is too dependent on oil, and consumers are paying the price. For the last two years, gasoline prices have been creeping upward. In 2003, a gallon of regular gasoline averaged $1.56; so far in 2005, the same gallon has averaged $2.29, with prices in some areas spiking close to $4.00 in August and September after Hurricane Katrina disrupted supply from the Gulf Coast.
America uses more oil for transportation than for anything else. About two-thirds of the oil America uses is to move people or goods from place to place, and the vast majority of that is used in personal vehicles such as cars, light trucks and SUVs. Transportation has been the main driver of America’s increased oil use, responsible for 79 percent of the growth in oil consumption in the U.S. between 1985 and 2003.
The best way to reduce our dependence on oil and save consumers money at the pump is to make cars go farther on a gallon of gasoline. Today, the average fuel economy of light-duty cars and SUVs is just 21 miles per gallon (mpg), five percent less than what it was in 1987. The National Academy of Sciences has stated that we already have the technology to make cars get 40 mpg. The big oil companies and automakers continue to fight this technological progress; in fact, while consumers are paying more at the pump, oil companies are recording huge profits. In 2004, the top ten oil companies enjoyed net profits of $100 billion, an increase of more than 30 percent from 2003.
Congress and the Bush administration have failed to take meaningful action to reduce America’s oil dependence. In August 2005, the president signed into law an energy bill that gives new tax breaks to the oil and gas industry while doing nothing to make cars go farther on a gallon of gasoline or protect consumers at the pump. In the same month, the Bush administration proposed changes to federal fuel economy standards that could actually encourage manufacturers to make bigger, heavier, and less fuel-efficient SUVs and light trucks.
In May 2001, when announcing his national energy strategy, President Bush had the opportunity to take a bold step forward and increase the fuel economy of cars and SUVs to 40 mpg by 2012. If he had, consumers and the U.S. economy already would be reaping the benefits as more efficient cars entered the market. In 2006 alone:
• The U.S. would consume 500,000 barrels of oil less per day. This is more than three-fourths of our current imports from Iraq.
• Consumers would save more than $8.7 billion at the gas pump, about $500 per new vehicle on the road.
• The U.S. would offset 34.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, the primary global warming gas. This is the equivalent of removing almost six million average vehicles from the road.
After 2006, as more cars meeting the new standards replaced older, less efficient cars, the benefits would grow even larger.
President Bush should not wait any longer. In order to curtail America’s oil dependence and save consumers money, President Bush should pick up a pen and increase fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon.
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