As prices spike at the gasoline pump and on utility bills, consumers are once again at the mercy of the energy industry and automakers who stubbornly refuse to relinquish outdated technologies and the energy resources of the 19th century. Technologies are available today that would lower energy prices, save money at the gasoline pump, clean up unhealthy air, conserve water, and reduce the threat of global warming. Yet smog and haze continue to cloud our air, chronic water shortages persist and Detroit automakers insist on rolling vehicles off their assembly lines that get poorer gas mileage than the Model T Ford.
The solutions are at hand, and consumers should demand them, because the benefits are obvious and overwhelming. With the price of gasoline averaging more than $1.60 per gallon during the last 12 months, research by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that consumers who bought new cars and trucks last year would have saved more than $3 billion at the fuel pump if automakers had put existing technology to work. Last month alone, current SUV owners would have saved more than $600 million.
Consumers could save billions of dollars on their utility bills as well - $11 billion in lower electricity bills and $15 billion in lower natural gas bills - if the nation increased its use of wind, solar and other renewable electricity resources to 20 percent by 2020. These technologies would help ease the soaring demand for natural gas for new gas power plants, which is raising gas and electricity prices, causing gas-intensive manufacturers to move jobs overseas and increasing our dependence on gas imports.
That's why it's time for national energy policy to require companies to invest in technologies that can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and dependence on oil, and not to rely on the administration's proposals for voluntary programs and corporate subsidies.
A first step is to require that automakers produce cars and trucks with improved fuel economy and safety, relying on off-the-shelf technologies developed over the last decade that can deliver vehicles with the same size and performance consumers have today. Fuel economy is at a 20-year low and we send about $200,000 to other countries every minute just to buy oil.
Meanwhile, with weak safety standards in place, more than 42,800 people died on our roads last year. To reverse these trends, while saving consumers tens of billions of dollars every year, fuel economy standards need to be increased to 40 mpg over the next decade, safety standards must be tightened and tax credits should be available for making and purchasing high fuel economy hybrid vehicles. The result will be reduced oil dependence, safer vehicles, new jobs and more money in consumers' pockets.
A second step is to create a nationwide 20% renewable electricity standard that would provide not only billions of dollars in savings to consumers but would dramatically reduce growth in carbon dioxide emissions, the heat-trapping gas that is causing global warming. Without such a requirement, the utilities will try to escape rising gas prices by switching to dirty coal. Already, more than 100 new coal plants have been proposed, and the administration has increased its projection of power plant carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 million tons per year for 2025. That's bad for our health, our pocket book and our children.
National standards have proven their effectiveness before in reducing air pollution, improving safety and increasing fuel economy. Thirteen states have demonstrated that renewable electricity standards can be effective in promoting renewable electricity development. With gasoline prices and utility bills still climbing, our elected officials must seize the opportunity to deliver a message to the White House and Congress that clean energy and vehicles can benefit consumers, the economy and the environment.
David Friedman is Research Director for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Vehicles Program. Mr. Friedman is the author or co-author of more than 20 technical papers and reports on advancements in conventional, fuel cell, and hybrid electric vehicles, with an emphasis on clean and efficient technologies. He can be reached at: l at: email@example.com.
Alan Nogee is the Director of the Clean Energy Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, managing the organization's research and advocacy on sustainable energy issues. Mr. Nogee has more than twenty-five years of experience as an energy analyst and advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.