Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Proposal Four: Require Cleaner Cars

Proposal four in Mark Satin’s radical middle agenda is to reduce oil dependence on the Middle East via requiring cleaner cars. Satin writes:

Raising fuel economy standards is the most effective single way to reduce oil dependence -- cars and light trucks account for a whopping 40% of U.S. oil use…We should increase fuel economy standards for new passenger vehicles 5% per year for 10 years so that they reach 44 mpg for cars and 33 mpg for light trucks by 2015, with improvements of 3% per year beyond 2015. That level of improvement is technically feasible now and would not compromise vehicle safety.

First, it’s important to note that Satin’s motivation for this proposal is not the environment but is dependence on Middle East oil. I am constantly amazed at how little our government is doing to lessen this dependence despite how much it obviously harms out security and our ability to interact honestly with the Middle East. Despite what some would have you believe, simply drilling more and building more refineries is not a magic-bullet solution. Greater domestic production could be helpful, but reducing demand should also be a major component of any genuine energy plan.

But do we need laws requiring fuel efficiency? With rising gas prices, the marketplace is already creating a condition where consumers will be demanding cars that get higher gas mileage. Plus, greater awareness of the need to reduce fuel consumption is also spurring consumers to purchase hybrid vehicles. I myself just bought a hybrid and discovered that demand was so high that there wasn’t a single one on any dealership lot in the city—I had to wait until the next shipment arrived from Japan. And this all happened in Texas—not a state known for demanding fuel-efficient vehicles.

Generally speaking, I only support laws that rectify a problem the free market is incapable of handling on its own. And I think the free market is handling the fuel consumption issue fairly well. But I don’t know if it’s handling it fast enough. If this were merely an environmental issue, I’d be much slower in supporting new laws requiring higher gas mileage (although I readily support tax breaks that reward makers and consumers of such vehicles). But this is also a national security issue and it’s one that probably can’t wait for the free market to sort out the problem.

We need stronger action. And Satin’s proposal is right on target. I’d want to see an analysis on the economic impact that a fuel efficiency law would have, but the proposal seems reasonable. I think it would be beneficial for the nation and wouldn’t substantially burden the automakers.

Reducing the number of gas-guzzling vehicles on the road is a commonsense effort that the homefront can make in helping us win the war on terror.


At 2:49 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I would also consider the possiblity of a very regressive tax. The imposition would be on vehicles with poor gas mileage. It would essentially be a property tax on vehicles that get less than 21 mpg.
Of course, people with older vehicles (those with less income) would most be hurt by this, but it would further encourage better efficiency standards.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

Man, it's going to be hard to keep considering all these proposals in the wake of Katrina. Maybe we need to start researching proposal #13: the radical-middle restructing of the federal emergency response system?


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