OPEC would benefit from ongoing failure by lawmakers to act

Members of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), the Set America Free Coalition, and sponsors of the Moving Cooler study include national security experts, federal government agencies, environmental, business, and religious leaders, Republicans and Democrats. All support legislation to reduce our dependence upon oil for transportation and the carbon it produces because they pose a clear and present danger to all Americans.

SAFE recalls that “in 2008, when oil prices rose to $140 a barrel, the U.S. imported 60 percent of the crude oil and refined product it consumed at a cost of more than $350 billion.” This amounted to “41 percent of the total U.S. trade deficit and the average American family faced increases in annual household energy costs of $1,600.” Oil fuels 96-97 percent of U.S. transportation, a proportion unchanged since the Arab Oil Embargo.

Commissioned by the Urban Land Institute with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Shell Oil Co., the Federal Highway Administration and others, the Moving Cooler study noted that transportation contributes roughly 28 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Conservation is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce oil use and emissions. The blizzards that paralyzed transportation in the D.C.-Baltimore corridor underscore that The Telecommuter Fairness Act, H.R. 2600, would also enhance public safety and productivity. Introduced by Reps. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), H.R. 2600 would protect telecommuters from double taxation of their income by states where they are not residents. The Telework Coalition, the Association for Commuter Transportation, the National Taxpayers Union and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council support H.R. 2600. It could be implemented rapidly at little cost and produce significant energy, emissions and dollar savings.

Fuel use and pollution would both be reduced during the last miles of freight deliveries under the bipartisan bills H.R. 3367 and S. 2854, The Heavy Duty Hybrid Truck Incentives Improvement Act of 2009. Introduced by Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), H.R. 3367 / S. 2854 would extend the tax credit for hybrid motor vehicles through 2014, allow a 10 percent credit for vehicles that achieve comparable increased city fuel economy and allow a credit for electric vehicles greater than 8,500 pounds. The Diesel Technology Forum supports H.R. 3367 / S. 2854 because it will enable development of efficient delivery trucks as the final mode in our national water/railroad/air freight system.

Biofuels could contribute much more to displacing oil and reducing GHG if Congress harmonizes multiple conflicting definitions and standards of “renewable biomass” in existing law. The Council for Sustainable Biomass Production includes representatives of NGO’s, agriculture and energy industries, academia and environmentalists. CSBP is already circulating a draft voluntary certification for basic sustainability. Congress must provide federal regulatory agencies and industry with consistent definitions and performance-based standards for sustainability and GHG lifecycle analysis. The goal should be simple, inclusive and neutral definitions concerning feedstocks, manufacturing technologies and products with incentives for innovations that achieve and, importantly, exceed targets for “sustainable renewable biomass.”

Ethanol, methanol, and biodiesel are already competitive at roughly $60 to $80 per barrel of oil. Congress should hold American automakers accountable for their December 2008 testimony that they could manufacture 80 percent of their light-duty automobiles as flexible fuel vehicles by 2015 as required under H.R. 1476/S. 835. The Open Fuel Standard Act of 2009, or the OFS Act, was introduced by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), and Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Providing Americans the option to fill their tanks with gasoline/diesel, ethanol, methanol, or biodiesel would incentivize investments in renewable fuel infrastructure and provide significant long-term benefits.

Electrification of transportation could displace oil, diversify energy inputs and reduce GHG. Fleet purchases by the federal government would jumpstart and leverage industry development. H.R. 4399, The American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act, introduced by Reps. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) would authorize replacement of the U.S. Postal Service’s aging fleet of long-life vehicles with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and recharging vehicle-to-grid infrastructure. Stop-and-go deliveries in non-attainment areas with plug-in hybrids would maximize reductions in fuel use and pollution.

Whatever happens to legislative bills in the bushes, Congress should approve these bipartisan bills at hand. Of course, OPEC would benefit from continued failure by the Congress to break the monopoly of oil for American transportation. However, the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections and the election of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) signal that all incumbents are endangered unless voters, particularly independent voters, see that their elected representatives have taken actions to strengthen Americans’ competitiveness at home and abroad.

Bartlett is co-chairman of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Caucus and a member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Science and Technology.