Americans should invest in more efficient cars

Jul 08, 2004 02:00 AM

by Daniel F. Becker

We Americans can't solve our oil dependency and high gas prices by building more refineries. But we can by building cars that guzzle less gas.
The good news is that we have the technology -- efficient engines, smarter transmissions and sleeker aerodynamics -- to cut in half the 8 mm bpd our vehicles consume. The bad news is that the Bush administration has failed to require automakers to take this technology off the shelf and put it in their cars.

Today, more than half of America's refining capacity is controlled by five big oil companies: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP and Valero. During the 1990s, the oil industry closed approximately 50 refineries for financial reasons -- not for environmental reasons, as claimed by Vice President Cheney and the oil industry.
The industry's effort to manipulate supply is not limited to closing refineries. In 2001, the Federal Trade Commission found that oil companies deliberately withheld gasoline supplies as a "profit-maximizing strategy" to drive up prices.

The real reasons America is facing high gas prices are that increasing numbers of gas-guzzling SUVs are driving up the demand, and a cartel controls the oil supply. Since the only thing we can control is our demand, the Bush administration's failure to reduce our oil consumption has put America over a barrel.
We know what works. In 1975, Congress approved the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. This doubled the fuel economy of cars, saving the US 3 mm bpd of oil. But the standards stopped rising in 1989, and automakers have been going backward, as gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups replace more efficient cars.

Technology has improved since 1989. If new vehicles took advantage of this modern technology to average 40 miles per gallon of gasoline, we would save nearly 4 mm bpd of oil. That's 1.5 mm barrels more oil than we import daily from the entire Persian Gulf.
America's problem is not too few refineries, but too much demand. The answer to high gas prices and our dangerous oil dependence is not more oil refineries, but more refined vehicles that guzzle less gas.

Daniel F. Becker is director of the Sierra Club's global-warming program.

Source: USA Today
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