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April 20, 2011

One Year Later, We Need Real Solutions

Today we mark the one year anniversary of the BP oil disaster. We remain addicted to oil, except this year we are paying a dollar more per gallon of it. While the fight continues over high gas prices and the false solution of more oil drilling off our coasts we should focus on real solutions to our oil addiction and high gas prices while also holding Big oil and BP accountable.

When it comes to solutions I was pleased to see an OpEd yesterday from Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood entitled "An energy-secure system must be a priority." LaHood wrote:

Every time gas prices rise, families and businesses feel the pinch. Outraged politicians habitually respond with a lot of talk, but little action. When nothing gets done, the people they serve still are stuck with the bill. During my three decades in Washington - as a staffer, as a Congressman, as part of President Obama's cabinet - I have watched it happen over and over again.

LaHood notes the inescapable fact that our transportation system guzzles its way through 70% of our daily oil diet (that's about 13 million barrels of oil per day). It is fair to say that as gas prices surge toward $4 per gallon there is plenty of pinch to be felt - whether it is in paying at the pump or higher prices at the store for goods that are shipped by truck.

Secretary LaHood notes that our oil addicted transportation system "creates an opportunity to act and also an obligation" and he is right, whether it is ensuring our new vehicles sip fuel instead of guzzling it or ensuring we have more transportation choices.

LaHood also rightfully applauds the fact that DOT’s "partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, automakers, state governments, and environmental groups, raised the fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. This alone will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, or an average of $3,000 during the lifetime of every family vehicle."

A question now is what DOT, in true partnership with EPA and California (which deserves credit for driving standards to 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016 and adding in a critical greenhouse gas pollution standard) will do with the historic opportunity to further curb our oil addiction in transportation - setting standards for new vehicles that will ensure improvements in efficiency and emissions reductions through 2025?

According to DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California's Air Resources Board, we can reduce our oil dependence by getting new cars to average between 47 mpg and 62 mpg in 2025.

In an LA Times OpEd, Dan Becker and Jim Gerstenzang made a stark contrast between whether we aim high or low, noting that "(i)f we do what the automakers want (which is aim low), U.S. consumers would use 217 million more barrels of oil in 2025...and send $16 billion more per year to foreign oil producers." We cannot afford to set a standard that lets that many dollars leave our economy for oil.

LaHood has it right - it is the combination of making our vehicles use less oil and giving Americans more and better transportation choices that will help give us an energy secure transportation system. DOT in partnership with EPA and California should lead the way to 60 mpg.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign


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