Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Energy bill... what's the buzz?

What's the skinny? A new energy bill just passed in in the House and is on its way to the Prez. Here's what it demands (using this NY Times article as a reference):

-> "The bill requires cars and light trucks sold in the United States to meet a fleetwide average of 35 miles a gallon by 2020."

This are the infamous CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards you hear about all over the place. Currently, it is 27.5. To me, lowering energy used is as simple as making the things we use more efficient. This gets the action it out of the hands of people who don't care about the big picture (i.e. a majority of consumers). You put part of the burden of conservation on the manufacturers, where, in my opinion, it should be. This does not take the burden OFF of the consumer by any means but it makes it easier for people to make the right choice.

Problems? "Critics say it will make cars and trucks less safe and more expensive," two valid points, to be sure. But this is assuming that safety and economy are mutually exclusive which I don't agree with. Will it make cars more expensive? Sure but so does all the technology and research that goes into making them faster, which, at this junction, is going to take a back seat. You could say that making them more expensive puts off the decision to buy a new car, reducing manufacturing across the board and potential waste of an old car. You could counter THAT with saying that this will keep people in potentially less fuel-efficient cars (i.e. older) for longer. There's also been suggestion that the last time that fuel economy was raised, people simply started driving more and made up for it.

I think a CAFE is necessary but, as it is, will not be effective enough. I think an ECAFE is better: EFFECTIVE Corp Avg Fuel Economy. Under current CAFE standards, a car company could sell one model at 20 MPG and one model at 40 MPG. If 75% of your sales are the 20 MPG car, your EFFECTIVE fuel economy is (.75 x 20) + (.25 x 40) = 25 MPG while your current CAFE would be (20 + 40) / 2 = 30 MPG. Of course you can't enforce consumer choices of a higher MPG automobile but this would mean that the worst offenders would have to be phased out and replaced with better alternatives. People will complain about the lack of choice but our choices are restricted now as it is. I posted the following statement here (scroll down):

Eventually, consumer choice will have be curbed by necessity. We can't own a fully auto weapon, we can't drive cars that don't meet safety standards, we can't drive drunk, and we can't own slaves. These are all choices that have been restricted because of a number of reasons and I'm doing fine because of it. In understand that my quality of life isn't better because I'm allowed to do what I want to do. I've learned to cut back my speed on the freeway, take public transportation, deal with CFLs and power strips, and be a little colder in the winter and warmer in the summer.

That's enough from me... I want to include some relevant feedback from The Car Lounge because there are some serious gearheads and environmentalists who know more about this stuff than I do.

uncleho: "I think the process of conservation of dino fuels (my belief is that we will be tied to it for some time to come, because other fuels are not readily available or practical) in relation to cars requires "motivating" both companies AND consumers. IMO... the root cause necessitates the most motivation, because car companies will only build what people desire. Furthermore, there is only one motivator - government. I believe CAFE is a good start, but that reviews for loop holes (be it truck exclusion or dumb statistics or credits) is required."

CarLuvrSD: "Intrinsic motivation> Government coercion."

rimtrim: "The problem with waiting for intrinsic motivation (aka market forces) to kick in is that it will likely only happen AFTER a major problem has become clear -- either we really do begin to have oil shortages due to lack of supply, or global warming floods NYC, or whatever. By then it will be too late to change in an orderly fashion.

This raises the question of what our goals are. If we want to get as many people as possible into more efficient cars right away, raising the gas tax dramatically is the way to do it.... On the other hand, if the goal is to encourage a gradual changeover with minimal disruption of people's lives, a CAFE-style system is better. It has no effect on people who are happy with the cars they already have, and the effects on new-car buyers are not likely to be huge price increases. While there will be some price increases for additional hybrid or diesel equipment, the automakers would also be pressed to look for low- or no-cost changes to improve economy, such as restricting power, changing transmission gearing, improving aerodynamics, etc. The overall results of this would be that new cars would be less "cool", but more efficient, and probably not that much more expensive."

uncleho: "I often wonder WTF do we fix the CURRENT community design as so much of America (and unfortunately other countries trying to emulate us) is setup for the car (i.e. It is too late to fix it as it will be a massively expensive undertaking.). But if we don't fix it now, when will we fix it? Should we just live under some short-sighted/ignorant design forever or spend the money know for long term conservation?

Detroit and its utter lack of a real public transit system is a good candidate. And who's to say the auto companies need to make money with just CARS? GM's 'motto' is actually to be "#1 in transportation". Guess what GM??? Transportation can = buses (again), train/railway/subway, and even aircraft!

Changes in transport strategy to conserve can actually BE profitable as a whole new drive can be started in an otherwise niche market - public transport!"

The CAFE thing, unfortunately, is not the only change proposed...

-> "[The bill] requires the annual production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, a fivefold increase from current ethanol production levels"

That's bad, plain and simple. Want to know why I think that? Start here, go here and then keep reading; it should not take much to convince you that ethanol is not the answer.

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