Boosting Our Energy Independence: Cause to Celebrate

As we get ready to celebrate Independence Day, I’d like to focus on some recent, positive developments that are putting our nation on the path to energy independence. We’ve got new vehicle standards on the horizon, fuel-saving ideas in Congress, the rise of Bus Rapid Transit systems and support for renewable energy from unexpected quarters. Energy independence is within sight, even if there’s a long way to go. With American drive and ingenuity, we can and will break our dependence on oil and take charge of our energy future.

Pentagon Boosts Alternative Fuels

Among all the federal agencies right now, believe it or not, it’s the Pentagon that is taking a leadership role on energy. Since the U.S. military is the single largest industrial consumer of oil in the world, it’s an eminently practical decision for the Pentagon to aggressively pursue alternative energy solutions. The agency is working towards a goal of generating 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The Air Force already flies planes that run on a biofuel blend made from camelina oil, which comes from a flowering plant. The Air Force plans to buy about 400 million gallons of alternative fuel by 2016, and the Navy plans to shift half of its energy usage from fossil fuels to renewable sources by 2020. The military is such a major consumer of fuel that their interest could really open up the market for alternative energy technologies (as I told a Time magazine reporter a couple of years back).

Go 60 MPG

NRDC and other groups are pushing for a new standard of 60 miles per gallon by 2025 for passenger vehicles, and last week a group of prominent Republicans sent a letter to President Obama expressing their support for a 60-mpg standard. The letter, signed by 15 Republican former EPA heads, governors and members of Congress, says the standards would be “achievable and cost-effective for consumers” and urged the president to “promulgate aggressive standards.” More good news from this past week is that the president and his team are set to propose a 56.2 mile-per-gallon standard, which depending on the details is a pretty good opening bid. And as my colleague Roland Hwang points out, GM reacted constructively and Toyota says it can get to 60 if called upon to do so. Achieving 60 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks by 2025 would save us 44 billion gallons of oil in 2030. That would certainly be something to celebrate.

New Standards for Truck Performance

The government is poised to adopt the first-ever fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for trucks in July. Today, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (garbage trucks, 18-wheelers, delivery vans, buses and the like) post a fleet-wide average of just 6 miles per gallon. These vehicles make up just four percent of America’s fleet, but use up 20 percent of our transportation fuel. The new standards will make this critical segment of vehicles cleaner and more efficient – and manufacturers can get this done using today’s existing technologies. The American Trucking Association supports the standards, which will save owners tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs over the lifetime of a truck. The administration estimates the program will save 500 million barrels of oil.

House Leader Lays Out Solutions to High Gas Prices

The Livable Communities Task Force, chaired by Oregon’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer, recently released Freedom From Oil, a report highlighting transportation choices as a key long-term solution to high gas prices. The report lays out a number of policy recommendations that my colleagues and I have written about previously, including investment in public transportation, increasing fuel efficiency, and setting national, performance-based goals for our transportation system.

Recapturing the Lead in Buses

A new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) reminds us that the United States used to be a worldwide leader in bus transit in the early 20th century, and that we can (and should) reclaim that status once again.

New Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in this country are helping redefine how Americans think of buses. Cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles are using BRT systems to help move people up to 30 percent faster than regular buses, at a fraction of the cost of rail. And new systems being designed for Chicago, Maryland’s Montgomery County and San Francisco could bring an even higher level of BRT service to this country, if politicians and planners get it right. We have yet to create a BRT service as comprehensive and sophisticated as those of Bogota and Guangzhou – but these fiscally constrained times may be the best opportunity yet for BRT to take off in this country.

The bottom line? Much-deserved vehicle and mobility choices that will help make us more energy self-sufficient are on the way to citizens like you and me. Something to toast as we take in fireworks and barbecue this Independence Day.

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