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Baby Steps: Bush, Peters Admitting America’s Oil Addiction

Some of our readers might have guessed by now that I’m not a fan of the Bush Administration’s policies on energy, the environment, transportation – the list goes on and on. Yes, I am admitting that I have an intense political side to me. Those that know me know this all too well. Those that know me also know that I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, but most of them share one thing in common – they deeply care about the environment and the world that we live in. Most people you’d ask would say the same thing probably, but it’s another to actually practice what you preach. That’s the sense I get (and see) from the Bush Administration, that they don’t practice things that they preach.

Consider this for a second: how different would the US and the world be if Al Gore was appointed President by the Supreme Court? He has done so much for this country and for bringing attention to global warming – and he dropped out of politics. Imagine the influence he would have because, like it or not, when the American President speaks, the world listens.

However terrible this administration has been on these types of policies, I wanted to watch the State of the State Tuesday night to see just what President Bush was going to say with a new Congress in place and in the wake of the post- An Inconvenient Truth world. I have to admit, I was astonished. He spent a lot of the speech talking about investing in alternative energy, reducing foreign oil dependence, raising fuel efficiency standards, using ethanol, and so on (see a transcript of his speech here). He even mentioned that climate change is a serious issue! I was really impressed that he went as far as he did in mentioning these facts. I would have really been blown away if he mentioned walkable neighborhoods, pedestrians, bicyclists, or even transit. Of course, he didn’t, but at least we are starting to make significant progress on the global warming front. I think it took a lot for President Bush to say what he did – we know everyone in his administration has strong oil ties and many in his party disagree with the science of global warming. Of course, it’s going to be hard to argue with scientists after this smoking gun report.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters made some remarks Wednesday to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) as a follow-up to the State of the State address. I have included those remarks below. She went a bit further talking about reducing our addiction to oil than President Bush did, and she too said some promising things, including increasing transit. But no mention of peds, bikes, smart land use, and the lot.

There is so much rhetoric with lack of follow through that it gets old and sickening sometimes. Rhetoric needs to turn into legislation and policy. California is trying to do so with Assembly Bill 29 to implement our massive housing bond package. Let’s hope it works!

I’d have to say that overall I’m in positive spirits about the politics of the week. I realize that problems this big can never be solved, and big changes don’t happen overnight most of the time. So, I’ll take some solace in the fact that politicians are admitting the problems and are suggesting fixes. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Here is the text from Secertary Peters’s remarks to TRB:



JANUARY 24, 2007
1:00 P.M.

Thank you, Bill Wulf, for the kind introduction. I have had the good fortune to work with the Transportation Research Board, and with many of you, over the course of my career. And I look forward to continuing that terrific working relationship as Secretary of Transportation.

As someone who has spent a good deal of time working in the public sector, I have developed a keen interest in American history, which is a tale of more than 230 years of innovation, ingenuity, and invention. It is really quite striking to realize that while the cast of characters and circumstances might vary, America’s resourcefulness does not.

Since our earliest days, our creativity and cleverness have helped us tackle the most challenging and complex tasks before us.

And now, the time has come once again, to harness our pioneering spirit and powerful imaginations to tackle the most pressing issues facing this country.

Today, our Nation is faced with growing threats to our economic, diplomatic, and national security. So, we must take serious steps to protect our families and our future.

Keeping America on track toward a more secure, more prosperous future means keeping America competitive today and tomorrow.

And the key to remaining competitive in an increasingly global economy is affordable, reliable energy. Unfortunately today, the majority of our energy supply comes from a single source — and that is oil.

America’s addiction to oil puts us at great risk. So, in order to safeguard and strengthen our security, it is clear that we must find alternatives.

Last evening during his State of the Union speech, President Bush laid out his comprehensive plan to improve our energy security by reducing America’s gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next 10 years.

Americans rely on gasoline to get them where they are going—- whether it is driving to work, taking the bus to school, or flying across the country for business. When the oil supply is disrupted, regardless of the reason, prices rise and our families and businesses suffer. This kind of unpredictable hardship must come to an end.

The President’s new energy security plan aggressively increases the use of alternative fuels and increases automobile efficiency.

Together, these steps are a formula for a more stable and secure energy future. That is because they will increase and diversify domestic energy supplies in the marketplace, while at the same time reducing gasoline demand to lower the prices we pay for fuel.

America is on the move and that is not going to change. But, what is going to have to change is our obsession with oil.

Developing clean, domestic, affordable supplies of energy will not only help us meet our energy demands, but also the challenges of a global economy. And it will play a major role in reducing America’s gas consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Turning to technology and investing in innovation will allow us to expand the use of alternative and renewable fuels in the marketplace, defending drivers against supply disruptions and the gas prices volatility that results from them.

Since 2001, the federal government has spent nearly $12 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources — and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

The President’s new plan will build on this momentum by increasing the supply of alternative fuels from 3 percent of the share today to 15 percent of all automobile gas consumed by 2017 —- a nearly five-fold increase in the fuel standard.

The people in this room and your colleagues in the field hold the key to making this 15 percent displacement goal a reality. In fact, the President made it clear last evening that the Nation is relying on you to do just that.

American researchers and scientists are on the cutting-edge when it comes to developing the technology and other advancements that have made our economy more powerful, productive, and prosperous.

So, whether it is finding a way to improve crop yields, developing advanced battery technologies for hybrid or electric vehicles, or discovering a cost effective way to produce cellulosic ethanol and bring it to the marketplace, your efforts are key to our energy stability and security in the future.

Alternative fuels hold great promise for helping to reduce our addiction to oil. But, there are additional opportunities to conserve gas while protecting our economy and environment as well.

A proven way to conserve gasoline is to reform Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards— the average miles-per-gallon fuel economy of a vehicle.

Under his new energy security plan, President Bush wants to reform and increase CAFE standards for cars and, for the third time as President, begin working to increase those for light trucks and SUVs. And for the first time, we will begin the reform process with a clear savings target at the outset.

The President believes we can reduce our gasoline consumption by up to 8.5 billion gallons in 2017, which amounts to a savings of about one million barrels of oil a day. These savings would be cumulative over time, assuming a four percent annual increase in efficiency, beginning with Model Year 2010 for passenger cars and 2012 for light trucks and SUVs.

Reforming CAFE standards according to the President’s plan would allow us to cut our gasoline consumption 5 percent. And when combined with the savings from alternative fuels, we could reduce our gasoline consumption a total of 20 percent in the next 10 years.

The plan is careful to incorporate flexibilities that minimize the cost to consumers while maximizing the fuel economy of vehicles. For example, it would give auto companies the opportunity to buy and sell CAFE credits, helping to reduce the cost to the industry and consumers alike.

Since 2001, the Bush Administration has raised CAFE standards twice and successfully reformed the way the program determines standards for light trucks twice. We did this by emphasizing the size of the vehicle, which reduces incentives to game the system and reduce safety. The approach also recognizes that different consumers want different automobiles and preserves consumer choice.

Establishing standards in this way will reduce our fuel consumption by encouraging automakers to bring the same energy and innovation to fuel economy that they have been applying to design, safety, and product reliability for decades.

And while these reforms for light trucks and SUVs are critical, passenger cars still account for around 40 percent of all domestic gasoline consumption. So, the President’s plan focuses on reforming CAFE standards for cars first.

Today, because of our successful reform of the light truck CAFE program, we know how to establish a far more precise, equitable, and safe CAFE program for passenger cars. However, we currently lack the legal authority to do so.

Neither Congress nor the Department of Transportation has ever increased this standard beyond the original level set back in 1975. So, it is important that if passenger car standards are raised, Congress does not simply increase the number within the existing, 30-year old framework. It is critical that we first make the necessary structural reforms to avoid compromising safety and threatening jobs.

So, in the coming months, we will revise and resubmit our 2006 proposal which provides the Department with the authority to set the fuel economy standard in a way that protects safety and encourages innovation.

If given the authority to reform CAFE for passenger cars, we will replace the one-size-fits-all system with a size-based approach, as we did with light trucks.

Based on the automakers’ confidential product plans, our experts can objectively measure how much fuel saving technology we can require before the cost outweighs the benefit.

This method of formulating a fuel economy standard is science-based, subject to review and public comment, and spreads the burden of compliance across all product lines. And it is far more likely to produce an optimal result—-President Bush’s savings target of 8.5 billions gallons of gas—- than if Congress were to raise the number arbitrarily.

A reformed CAFE program will do much to conserve gasoline. However, we will not save the fuel we need if we do not also curb congestion.

Today, congestion is choking our cities, clogging our highways and airways, and complicating our lives. Real world examples are endless, painting a telling picture of how gridlock is taxing our economy and our environment.

President Bush is urging Americans to stop accepting congestion as a fact of life or as just another cost of doing business.

That is why as part of his energy security plan, the President provides 175 million dollars to support the Department’s on-going congestion relief efforts. These new funds will supplement monies that have already been committed to helping state and local governments find fresh and innovative ways to reduce gridlock.

One of the most promising options for combating out-of-control congestion is to turn to technology and invest in innovation. And that is exactly the kind of approach we are embracing as part of our anti-congestion initiatives.

Foremost among these approaches is the new technological capability to accurately price the growing costs of congestion. In fact, there are few ideas that hold more promise to reverse, not simply just slow, the growth of traffic tie-ups.

We have seen this concept used on a network basis in other countries and in individual facilities in the United States. However, we have yet to see a broad demonstration here.

We believe that when you combine such new approaches to pricing highway systems with expanded commuter transit services, commitments from employers to expand work schedule flexibility, an expansion of real-time traffic information, and other successful operational strategies, we can demonstrate that a sustainable approach to congestion relief is no longer theory.

The Department is already taking steps to work with state and local communities to test a combination of these leading-edge approaches and technologies and bring them into the mainstream. Now, the President has called for additional funding to be made available.

The President will also ask Congress to provide funds to support our efforts to begin tackling congestion along our most critical trade and travel corridors.

Our competitive Corridors of the Future program seeks to accelerate the development of trade and travel corridors. The goal is to identify projects that have the greatest potential to relieve traffic based on current and projected growth patterns and target them for long-term investment.

Corridors of the Future encourages public and private entities to work together to leverage their resources, while at the same time cuts red tape so vital projects can be developed, built, and put into use faster than ever before.

We received nearly 40 applications for our Corridors of the Future competition. And tomorrow and Friday, we will announce eight corridor projects that will receive further consideration. These projects will be one step closer to getting on the fast track toward solving the chronic congestion that is keeping this Nation from reaching our full potential.

The technologies and leading-edge approaches that exist today are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reducing both congestion and our reliance on gasoline to fuel our lives. The fact is, while Washington can provide options and incentives, the innovation and ingenuity that we need will come, as it always has, from forward-thinking Americans like you.

Last night, the President of the United States spoke to the American people, saying that the state of our union is strong. He challenged us to keep that union strong by keeping America competitive. Energy security and energy independence are vital to achieving this goal.

If we work together, we can make the President’s vision for a more secure, more prosperous America a reality. And that means that we must once again rely on our resourcefulness and turn to technology to keep America moving throughout the next chapter of our Nation’s glorious history.

Thank you.

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