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Fuel efficiency still matters enormously, even when gas is cheap

Holiday-season gas prices are lower than they’ve been in years and that’s good news for all of us. Whether they stay low, or for how long, no one really knows. 

But more importantly, the full cost of the gas we use goes far beyond the price we pay at the pump. Our nation’s over dependence on oil is a serious threat to our national security—militarily, diplomatically, and economically. It limits our ability to act on the world stage and increases the likelihood that we will send Americans in uniform into harm’s way. It leaves us open to impacts from wildly gyrating prices… not to mention that even today, with oil below $60 per barrel, we still are sending somewhere over $200,000 per MINUTE overseas for imported oil that we use! For all those reasons, we need to keep reducing demand for gas, using our oil more efficiently, and diversifying our sources of energy. 

{mosads}I serve with some of our nation’s most senior retired generals and admirals on CNA’s Military Advisory Board and we’ve spent years studying the intersection of energy policy and national security. In a series of reports, we have detailed how America’s oil dependency weakens our country and leaves our economy open to “oil shocks”.   Because of that, we’ve issued an urgent call to cut petroleum use by 30 percent within a decade, in order to improve our economic security and protect Americans’ freedom of movement. 

Trucks, cars, buses and other vehicles are responsible for more than 80 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption, so that’s where the biggest changes are needed. And automakers are working to make passenger cars and trucks go farther on every gallon of gas. They are improving the fuel efficiency of traditional gas-powered cars, while also introducing new technologies like electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. According to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, from model year 2008 to model year 2014, fuel economy improved from 25.5 mpg to 30.8 mpg.

National fuel economy standards adopted in 2012 call for the American fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and I expect automakers to ace the upcoming mid-term review of how that effort is going. According to projections, by 2025, Americans will have reduced our dependence on oil by more than two million barrels per day. That’s nearly half of the oil that we now import from around the world. 

Importing less oil will loosen the bonds that tie us to regimes that don’t always have our nation’s best interests at heart. That will make it easier for the United States to act in its own national interest on the world stage, and make it less likely that we will have to send troops to defend the free flow of oil. Developing alternative technologies for efficiency and homegrown energy sources will grow our domestic economy, insulate our economy from the ups and downs of the world oil market’s gyrations, and keep more of our dollars at home in our economy. 

Oil prices will always fluctuate, but the need to cut our nation’s oil dependency will endure. This need doesn’t get any less urgent just because pump prices tick downwards for a while. We need clean, efficient and effective fuels and vehicles to make our economy more resilient, and to make our nation more secure. 

Keys spent 40 years in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a combat pilot in Vietnam and finishing his career as Commander, Air Combat Command. He is the chairman of the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board, a panel of senior retired admirals and generals who study issues critical to national security.


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