Washington Looking at Higher CAFE, Other Fuel Efficiency Measures

Boy, there’s nothing like high gas prices in an election year to get the pols in Washington tripping all over themselves to propose ways conserve fuel. Grist’s Muckraker Amanda Griscom Little has an article today detailing the various initiatives being proposed in Congress:

The soaring cost of oil in recent weeks has sent Washington lawmakers into an election-year frenzy. Some of their proposals — like one from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to offer Americans $100 checks to defray the rising cost of gasoline in exchange for consent to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — were dead on arrival. (“What kind of insult is this?” scoffed Rush Limbaugh on his radio show.) But efforts led by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to raise CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards are drawing increasing support from politicians suddenly anxious about U.S. oil consumption. …

Last Thursday, a bipartisan coalition in the Senate led by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and including Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced the Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006, which would require the White House to devise ways to reduce oil use, from projected levels, by 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2016, and by 10 million barrels per day by 2031. U.S. oil consumption currently stands at 20 million barrels a day. Organizations ranging from the hawkish Set America Free to the Natural Resources Defense Council back the bill. …

Still another alternative plan was proposed on Monday by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in a New York Times op-ed titled “Miles Per Cob”: refashion CAFE into a “Carbon Alternative Fuel Equivalent” program, which would dole out incentives to automakers that shift their vehicle fleets from petroleum-based engines to ethanol-based technology. “Instead of squabbling over a mile a gallon here and a mile a gallon there, let’s move to a new CAFE standard that offers Americans a fresh chance to work together to meet some of this country’s most pressing challenges,” they argue.

Amanda has many more details on the wheeling and dealing surrounding these initiatives, and it would be entertaining if it weren’t such a serious subject. Of the three proposals mentioned, I think I like the second the best. It seems to me that it does the best job of setting clear standards for oil reduction while leaving flexibility on how to achieve these targets. As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Paul Hawken’s idea that government should focus on protecting the commons, and business should be allowed to work flexibly and creatively while sticking to the standards established by government. In other words, each should do what they do best. Perhaps I’m being idealistic… I’m sure you’ll let me know…;-)

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