As gas prices go up, government interest goes down

Just the other day, the secretary of Transportation announced that the White House was proposing a plan “that will save gas and result in less pain for motorists at the pump”. Unfortunately for Americans, this plan will not take effect until 2011, which means that until then, Americans are just going to have to be content making due with the high gas prices.

But even more unfortunate is that this radical plan consists of raising the fuel efficiency for SUVs, minivans, and pick up trucks. Passenger cars and the largest SUVs would not be subject to more stringent requirements.

Now, of course the government can’t take steps to reduce American dependency on foreign oil overnight. But there are several major steps that the government could have done, and should do, to reduce the nation’s dependency on oil from overseas.

In the European Union, companies like General Motors have agreed that all passenger cars they produce will have a fuel efficiency of 41 miles to a gallon. The current standard for passenger cars in the United States is 27.5 miles to a gallon. I don’t think I need to explain how that difference could add up over time.

Even nations like Brazil are encouraging efforts to develop alternate sources of fuel. Brazil gets 40 percent of its fuel from ethanol, an alcohol produced from various crops such as sugar canes and beets, for about $40 a barrel. Ethanol is, of course, more expensive in America, at about $60 dollars a barrel, but given the way oil prices are continuing to rise, it seems certain that it will soon be noticeably cheaper. And the United States already pays farmers not to produce excess corn, which is an ideal plant to use to make ethanol. Why couldn’t that subsidy encourage the production of corn for fuel?

Of course, ethanol is not a perfect fuel. Ethanol based fuel would not work in a regular car, but if Brazil can handle such a program, why can’t America?

There are some positive notes, of course. Honda has sold over 100,000 hybrids since they began selling them in what year. That may be a drop compared to the total sales over the years since Honda began selling them, but it is a start. The federal government already grants tax breaks to consumers who buy hybrids, but the tax breaks will only be worth $100 million between now and 2011. That is a drop in the bucket, compared to the $1.5 billion energy bill Bush passed that authorized research in reducing pollution from burning coal. Obviously more should be done.

These changes will undoubtedly cause some economic hardship. It is unlikely that these measures will significantly reduce the cost of gas. But the cost of not changing America’s dependency on oil would cause far more. The world’s appetite for oil is only increasing, and it is unlikely that the reserves of oil will increase over the coming years. Unless America acts soon, the situation will only get worse.