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The View from NRDC

Breaking the Chain

Whether you were for or against the war in Iraq, we can all agree that America's national security shouldn't be captive to oil, and that our economy shouldn't be on a roller coaster driven by events thousands of miles away. Yet the numbers don't lie. We spend more than $100 billion a year on foreign oil, consuming 25 percent of the world's annual output. Because we possess a mere 3 percent of the planet's oil reserves, we have no choice but to import more than half of the oil we use each day. It's simply not possible for us to drill our way to energy independence.

But that doesn't mean we have to be shackled forever. The United States has the technology right now to begin kicking our oil addiction, and one of the best ways we can start is to increase the fuel economy of every new car, truck, and SUV by as much as 50 percent. These automobiles could be as safe, or safer, as those on the road today, and every bit as comfortable. Better yet, they would leave us with cleaner air and fewer of the emissions that contribute to global warming. A study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences reported that U.S. automakers had the technology two years ago to begin delivering better vehicles. Gasoline-electric hybrids, more efficient engines, continually variable transmissions, better tires -- all could cut our dependence on foreign oil, save Americans thousands of dollars annually at the pump, improve our environment, and unlike fuel cells, all were available yesterday.

So why aren't we driving these cars? Automakers claim that they're only giving consumers what they want. But we know that what Americans really want are more efficient vehicles. In a recent survey by J.D. Power and Associates, high fuel consumption rated near the top -- second, in fact -- among the most common complaints Americans have about their cars. No, it's not the consumers who are the problem. It's the manufacturers. Specifically, it's the Big Three in Detroit. While more forward-looking automakers, such as Toyota and Honda, have started to sell us vehicles that combine the fuel efficiency, safety, performance, and comfort that American consumers demand, Detroit wants nothing more than to put up road blocks. It's nothing new. The auto industry has spent 30 years fighting every safety and fuel-economy standard ever proposed. And they spent good money doing it -- more than $80 million in federal campaign contributions since 1990 alone.

All that bought the industry the best brakes money can buy. Congress and the White House have halted any raise in the national fuel-economy standards that are required by law. And a special loophole in the new tax code gives away exemptions worth thousands of dollars to those who purchase the heaviest, most inefficient vehicles.

We at NRDC are convinced there is a better way, and we know that our members share our conviction. That's why we recently launched a campaign that we call "Break the Chain." We're challenging Detroit and their friends in Washington to lead the country in ending our dangerous addiction to oil. You may have seen some of our ads already (if not, take a look). But it's more than that. Our campaign intensifies our efforts to put cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles on America's roads, because we know that for the sake of our energy security, our economy, and our environment, that's what Americans want. And that's what Americans deserve.

John H. Adams

Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh

OnEarth. Summer 2003
Copyright 2003 by the Natural Resources Defense Council