After several years of skyrocketing gas prices, alarming new reports about the dangers of global warning, and a seemingly endless debate in congress concerning U.S. energy policy, it appears as if the federal government finally may be seriously considering a mandate that would require increased mileage standards for American vehicles. It's cause for some optimism, but observers aren't ready to rejoice quite yet.
Recently, President Bush urged congress to give him the authority to raise federal fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles. That may sound like an encouraging sign, but that fact is that the president has had the power to raise those standards from the very beginning.
In fact, every president since 1975 has had that power, granted when the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were put into place, beginning with Gerald Ford.
Most observers of the industry believe that American vehicles should easily be able to average 40 mpg within ten years. The technology already exists to make that figure possible, so there's no reason why the standards couldn't be raised immediately to help lessen the hit the average American consumer took when gas prices tripled.
Raising the mileage standard to 40 mpg, which is the minimum increase suggested by most observers, would save the average American driver more than $5,000 over the lifetime of their vehicle. Those savings are over and above any added cost that would be required to make vehicles more fuel efficient, and would equate to a savings of $600 a year to the average driver.
If even a minimal standard of 40 mpg was implemented (and prizes such as the new Auto X Prize will be soon be encouraging entrepreneurs to invent vehicles that will get double, triple, or quadruple that figure), Americans could save as much as 4,000,000 barrels of oil every day. That figure represents more than entire daily amount of oil that America currently imports from the Persian Gulf.
There would be some safety considerations involved in creating a new class of vehicles, since they might need to be smaller than what is currently being offered, at least in the initial stages.
However, as hybrid technology improves, it's entirely possible that vehicles could remain about the same size as current models without sacrificing mileage to any significant degree. The key will be for automobile designers to begin thinking creatively, which has been something American automakers haven't done well for quite some time, even in the face of a growing demand for more fuel efficient vehicles.
We can only hope that President Bush isn't simply posturing about raising fuel standards to prop up his sagging support numbers from the American public.
After all, it would seem as if he'd have to know that he already has the power to raise mileage standards without having to go to congress to ask for permission. Meanwhile, supporters of increased fuel efficiency can only sit back and wait to see if anything substantial comes from this latest development on Capitol Hill.
Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher.
Jeanette Fisher teaches http://EnvironmentPsychology.com. Free PDF report, "American's Fight Back - Ways to Save Gas" and "Just Stay Home" Campaign.
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By: Jeanette Joy Fisher