Gas mileage boost could fuel economy
Republicans are now seeking to create jobs, strengthen national security and boost economic growth. Improving the gas mileage on our cars and trucks can help us do all of them.
So Republicans should embrace a proposal, expected to be finalized this summer, to raise national fuel-efficiency standards to an average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. It could spur economic growth, help American families, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our national security.
I advocated for better gas mileage throughout the 24 years I spent on the House Science Committee. But the situation we find ourselves in — with Americans feeling pain at the gas pump while Middle East unrest causes oil price swings — underlines the fact that shackling ourselves to the world oil market is not good for the nation.
Cars and light trucks are America’s single largest consumers of oil, so their role in our conundrum is clear. Raising fuel economy standards is the single most significant step we could take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, protect our economy and our environment and help consumers.
That was the message on Capitol Hill Tuesday, at a briefing by business, national security and consumer voices. They argued that for their constituents — including veterans, small-business owners and investors — 54.5 mpg offers genuine benefits.
You might hear suggestions that boosting gas mileage would hurt the car industry. Don’t believe it. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler can look forward to selling an additional 280,000 vehicles a year by 2020, according to a recent report by Citi Investment Research and Ceres, if the new fuel rules are finalized. The Big Three can expect an extra $2.44 billion in profits — 6.3 percent higher than they would otherwise expect — if 54.5 mpg becomes the law of the land.
Another current myth is that improving gas mileage would force us all to drive tiny cars. The truth is that the proposed national standards are designed to avoid that unintended consequence. Each category of vehicle has a different mileage goal that automakers must meet.
An SUV, for example, will not have to be as fuel-efficient as a compact. Since smaller cars will have to meet tougher standards than larger ones, there’s no benefit for automakers in moving to smaller categories of cars.
We can meet the new standards with existing technology — largely by improving vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Stronger and lighter materials, improved aerodynamics and technical improvements like variable valve timing and lift will help boost gas mileage to impressive new levels.
The Citi report found that though getting to 54.5 mpg might mean higher automobile prices, car owners would save so much money on gas that they will come out ahead over the life of the car. American families would save money, Citi calculated, unless gas prices fall to less than $1.50 per gallon — which nobody expects to happen anytime soon.
We send a billion dollars a day to other countries. This is money lost to our domestic economy. Some of those dollars flow to countries that do not share our interests and to regimes known to support terrorism and our opponents in conflicts around the world.
We cannot simply drill our way out of the problem here at home. Using oil more efficiently, while gradually developing alternatives, is the only sensible course.
Setting the ambitious but achievable goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025 will send a clear, long-term signal to automakers — giving them market certainty. It will unleash investment and innovation as car companies vie to find the best and most consumer-friendly ways of boosting miles per gallon.
This action will help expand the economy. It will make U.S. vehicles more attractive on the world market. And it will boost our national security.
Those are results that any Republican — any American — can only applaud.
Former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert is a Republican who represented central New York in the House from 1983 to 2006. He was a member of the Committee on Science and Technology and served as chairman from 2001 to 2006. He is now counsel to the Accord Group and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.