Friday, June 22, 2007

Sea Change on the Roads? Senate Votes to Boost Fuel Economy

In a landmark vote, the U.S. Senate last night passed the first major revision of fuel economy standards since before The Green Miles was born.

It was not the comprehensive bill it could've been. Senators put off voting on Sen. Jeff Bingaman's national renewable energy standard proposal, which would've meant we'd get 15% of our national electricity from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuels.

It's really amazing how far senators are behind the rest of the country on alternative energy. Just take a look at this poll from Pennsylvania, where 68% of voters said they'd gladly pay more on their electric bill if it meant more renewable energy.

But senators avoided potential pitfalls, voting down more drilling for fossil fuels and liquid coal. And raising fuel economy standards 42% (from the 24.6 miles per gallon our cars & light trucks get now to 35 miles per gallon by 2020) is a major accomplishment. And as Lowell at Raising Kaine points out, it shouldn't bring our economy to a screeching halt as automakers and some Republicans claim:

By the way, reaching 35 miles per gallon by 2020 shouldn't exactly be a strain on American ingenuity. As the Washington Post points out, the rest of the world is already WAY ahead of us:

In the European Union, automakers have agreed to voluntary increases in fuel-economy standards that next year will lift the average to 44.2 miles per gallon, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. In Japan, average vehicle fuel economy tops 45 miles per gallon. China's level is in the mid-30s and projected to rise, propelled by government policy.
That's right, this new legislation - IF it makes it through the House and is signed by President Bush - will require the United States to catch up with China's current fuel economy in 13 years! Seriously, if our car companies can't manage to do that, they deserve to go out of business. And if our nation can't compete with China, well...what can I say?
Both of Virginia's senators voted in support of the bill. You can see the roll call vote here. Sen. Webb deserves to be thanked for his support of the bill, and you can email him here. And Sen. Warner should be congratulated not only for supporting this excellent piece of legislation, but crossing party lines to do it. Thank him here.

UPDATE: I often get requests for sample notes, so here's what I just sent Sens. Warner and Webb, feel free to copy some/all of it:

Sen. _____ deserves a big thanks for his vote last night in favor of the Senate energy bill. The new fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon will go a long way towards both reducing our dependence on foreign oil and cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. I'll watch closely as the Senate takes up related issues in the months ahead, like a 15% national renewable energy standard and a global warming bill to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. I hope Sen. ____ strongly supports both of those measures.
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