Monday, March 26, 2007

Down the wrong road on saving oil

Updated March 27

The Detroit big three automakers sat down with President Bush today and talked about doubling their production of cars that run on a gasoline and ethanol mixture or on biodiesel. Not that their proposal was any surprise, since the president's state of the union address two months ago told everybody that ethanol was the way to go. I wonder if he'd cleared that path with the big three before declaring it? Several more details are in the Washington Post version, and here's the White House transcript of remarks by Bush and his visitors. That's a White House photo I used, by the way.

It all makes me sad and a little bit cynical. What about increasing CAFE standards, the fuel-economy yardstick? What about making cars smaller and lighter, and lowering speed limits? What about telling Detroit that fuel-efficient cars are the right thing to do, even if unit profits have to come down a bit? Where is it written that maximum profit is the ultimate goal of public policy?

Feel like some background reading? I recommend hybridcars.com and this weekend piece from the Post, which includes this nutshell graf:
Biofuels, such as ethanol made from corn, have the potential to provide us with cleaner energy. But because of how corn ethanol currently is made, only about 20 percent of each gallon is "new" energy. That is because it takes a lot of "old" fossil energy to make it: diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizer and, of course, fuel to run the refineries that convert corn to ethanol.

If every one of the 70 million acres on which corn was grown in 2006 was used for ethanol, the amount produced would displace only 12 percent of the U.S. gasoline market. Moreover, the "new" (non-fossil) energy gained would be very small -- just 2.4 percent of the market. Car tune-ups and proper tire air pressure would save more energy.
(Emphasis added.) So check your tires, everybody!

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