The United States has a sickness, a horrible chemical dependency on petroleum. Every day it affects our lives with pollution, violence and environmental destruction. So when the Bush administration announced this month its plan for the FreedomCAR – funding for fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen and emit only water as a byproduct – it seemed like the intervention this country badly needed. But, in actuality, it postpones the reduction of petroleum usage.
In 1993, former Vice President Al Gore announced the creation of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The program’s goal was to design a family-sized sedan that achieved 80 miles per gallon by the year 2004 with the hope of lowering U.S. demand for gasoline. The plan was nearing fruition with commercially available vehicles such as Honda’s Insight, a hybrid vehicle combining gasoline and electricity, getting 68 miles per gallon. However, the Bush administration discarded this goal when they enacted FreedomCAR, scrapping government incentives for the warming hybrid market in favor of developing fuel-cell vehicles for the future. This ended incentives designed to immediately reduce our country’s oil dependence, instead investing solely in technology that might be ready by the early part of next decade but more realistically won’t be commercial available for 20 years. The United States can’t wait that long. We need immediate solutions.
Meanwhile, rather than slowing oil consumption the petroleum-friendly White House wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under bill H.R. 4 and begin drilling. One of the last pure wildernesses in the world will be torn open so the eager oil interests can reap more profit. This is all in keeping with President George W. Bush’s National Energy Plan, which sprouted from his energy policy that petroleum executives such as former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay played key roles in developing. In fact, back in March 2001, long before the Enron scandal erupted, Lila Byock of Mother Jones magazine wrote, “No corporate executive has enjoyed more access to George W. Bush than Kenneth Lay, the Chairman of Enron.” A former petroleum executive himself, Bush is an undeniable supporter of the oil industry. Still, Bush contends the 16 billion barrels of oil he wants to extract from the ANWR will relieve a dependence on foreign oil, which has become a national security threat.
Although this is true, this method is less effective in reducing foreign dependency than fuel-efficient cars. Raising fuel-efficiency standards, even by fewer than 5 mpg, will save more oil than all the proposed drilling in the ANWR can provide.
So the Bush administration’s abolishment of funding for fuel-efficient cars like hybrids is not only environmentally unsound but also paradoxical to the reason it says necessitates opening the refuge. Voters must call upon the president to re-establish incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles.