WASHINGTON (September 19, 2002) -- As Congress and the White House tout the need for increased energy security, members of the House-Senate conference committee consolidating the energy bill today further weakened the already minuscule effort to reduce oil imports.
Instead of saving fuel, changes approved by negotiators today will actually increase gasoline consumption by millions of gallons. The move comes amid rising oil prices, falling inventories and growing concern over price and supply disruptions in the Middle East.
"The energy bill now does less than nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Congress undermined even the symbolic fuel economy gestures," said Daniel Lashof, a senior scientist at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). "Better technology in our cars and trucks could save 2 million barrels of oil every day, more oil than we import from Saudi Arabia. But instead Congress caved in to Detroit and the big oil companies."
Led by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and John Dingell (D-MI), committee members voted to delay until 2012 a provision in the House bill ordering fuel economy increases that would save 5 billion gallons of gasoline by 2010. That's just six days worth of U.S. consumption. Today's move will cut the 2010 savings nearly in half.
Members also extended a loophole allowing automakers to build less efficient trucks and SUVs in return for minor modifications that let a handful of vehicle models run on corn-based ethanol as well as gasoline. The problem, according to the Department of Transportation, is that just 1 percent of the vehicles would actually use ethanol. This loophole will allow gasoline consumption to increase by as much as 9 billion gallons by 2012.
"We cannot drill our way out of this predicament," Lashof said. The United States imports more than half its oil, but has just 3 percent of known reserves. Sixty-five percent of the world's known reserves lie beneath the Persian Gulf states. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would increase world reserves by less than one-third of 1 percent.
The only way to end the economic and security risks is with better cars and better fuels, Lashof said. Earlier this year, NRDC and the Union of Concerned Scientists released "Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence," detailing the security threat and offers a practical simple, five-step plan to cut the oil needed for our cars and light trucks in half, saving 5 million barrels per day by 2020.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.