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Expansion of Fuel Choices Is Key

Location: Washington, DC

Expansion of Fuel Choices Is Key

If you like paying more than $3 for a gallon of gasoline, you can stop reading now. If you believe the global price of crude oil is likely to fall by 50 percent from today's record high of more than $70 per barrel, then you can stop reading, too. Finally, if you do not believe that our national security is threatened by the world's overdependence on oil from undemocratic and unstable regions of the world, then you also might as well set this column down.

To those who are still reading, the question we must answer together is: What can we do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide a stable supply of clean and efficient energy to our economy at a reasonable price?

For far too long this debate has pitted those who favor increasing our supply of oil against those who think we can conserve our way to energy independence against those who think the answer lies in finding alternatives to oil based fuels. The good news: We do not need to pick just one approach. Instead, we need to get started on a new national strategy that embraces all of them.

While past efforts to increase energy conservation have done little to dent the rapid growth of oil usage, we must continue those goals. In the end, we cannot drill or carpool our way out of the Middle East. We should support scientifically sound and environmentally sensitive development of domestic oil reserves. But these represent only about 3 percent of global reserves, while predominantly Islamic nations control more than 70 percent.

We need to grow the energy pie by tapping into three resources America has in abundance: agriculture and agricultural waste products, plentiful coal reserves, and a free market system that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship to provide new solutions.

The key to this new energy strategy needs to be the rapid expansion of fuel choices already available to American drivers. If every car in America had the option of burning oil-based gasoline or using a cleaner, renewable or domestic fuel such as E85 ethanol made from corn; M-85 methanol made from coal; clean diesel fuel made from soy beans; or just plugging into the garage at night and running on electricity, we could decrease oil imports by millions of barrels per day. Each of these options is a question of investment and innovation more than a question of invention. In fact, more than 8 million cars and trucks already are fully flex-fuel or electric-hybrid capable on our roads today.

Congress should build on the success of last year's Energy Policy Act (H.R. 6) and expand consumer tax credits for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. We also should adopt new credits to encourage the purchase of flex-fuel vehicles (capable of using alternative fuels such as E85) and double the tax credits for the purchase of the most fuel-efficient plug-in and electric-hybrid flex-fuel vehicles. When combined, a plug-in flex-fuel hybrid vehicle could drive the first 20 miles on the electric battery alone and then achieve mileage of more than 80 miles per gallon while burning a mixture of ethanol and gasoline. For half of all drivers who travel less than 20 miles per day, this could mean weeks between gas station stops. For those who drive more, this could mean lower prices at the pump, cleaner emissions and less dependence on the Middle East.

Congress also should require that the majority of all new cars sold by the end of the decade be capable of using at least one fuel in addition to gasoline. Adding full flex-fuel capability to a new production car costs only around $150. Twice in recent memory Congress passed such a mandate onto the automobile industry — first to require FM radios and second to require airbags. In both cases, consumers benefited without harming the manufacturers or the economy. FM radio brought more communications choices to consumers, and airbags increased their safety. Flex-fuel vehicles would do both.

Congress acted and the market responded by breaking ground on 19 new ethanol plants in the past six months. We should act again and double the renewable fuel standard to a minimum of 15 billion gallons by 2015. This action would be the cornerstone of a program to replace 10 percent of our total oil-based fuel supply with non-oil based fuels in a decade and more than 20 percent by 2025.

The bipartisan Fuel Choices for American Security Act (H.R. 4409) incorporates all of these ideas, along with tax credits for truckers to install efficient idling reduction technologies, credits for gas station owners to install flex-fuel pumps, and programs to encourage the turnover of government and private vehicle fleets to hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles. There are several other good bills that seek to break our addiction to foreign oil and encourage the use of cleaner, renewable and domestic fuel choices. Congress should act again this year to "on-shore" America's energy future and "in-source" thousands of good, new jobs by accelerating our conversion to a fuel-choice economy.

Every billion dollars we do not send overseas to buy oil would create 10,000 new jobs here at home to create the fuels of tomorrow. And every dollar we spend to buy domestically produced biofuel is one less dollar that can be used to fund terrorism and other anti-American activity around the world. In the end, the answer to our oil addiction is not about what kind of car we drive but about the kind of fuel choices we demand in the cars we drive.

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