June 2, 2008

US Automakers and the GOP: Dumb and Dumber

The banner on the New York Times article is a statement of the obvious:

The Huge Hybrid: a New Twist on S.U.V.’s Finds Few Takers

You'd thing that taking a bloated gas guzzler and making it more efficient would be a good thing. And it would be, if these oversized junkers were being brought up to a reasonable consumption rate of other automobiles.

But in fact, GM and Chrysler are only moving the line from "terrible" to "very bad."

I'm not surprised that GM could believe that 20 mpg is good mileage; it's disappointing that Chrysler is no better.

American Automakers started screwing over the American public when it started building these behemoths. While the Big Three disingenuously claim they were simply selling the public what it wanted, the fact is that GM and Chrysler and Ford initially started building them because they were exempt from the federal fuel consumption and emission standards imposed on passenger cars.

SUVs were exempted because they were a small, niche market. But automakers realized that if they pushed SUVs over passenger cars, the profit margins would be higher because of the lower standards for SUVs.

Now we're all paying the price; gas is over four dollars a gallon.

We faced fuel shortages in the 1970s. We had become dependent on foreign suppliers to run our country; foreign fuel powers not only our cars and trucks, it powers our trains, our navy's ships, and even our power plants.

30 years ago, initiatives were proposed to reduce our dependence on foreign fuel; our cars and trucks were to become more fuel efficient. Electrical plants would find alternative power sources. Homes would be built to make use of the sun's energy, and to maximize the use of commercial power.

But then Ronald Reagan came into power, and those initiatives went out the window.

"Trains are not any more energy efficient than the average automobile, with both getting about 48 passenger miles to the gallon."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1980. (The U.S. Department of Transportation calculated that a 14-car train traveling at 80 miles per hour got 400 passenger miles to the gallon. A 1980 auto carrying an average of 2.2 people got 42.6 passenger miles to the gallon.)

Reagan's policies regarding energy consumption were dreadful. Because he didn't bother to acquaint himself with the facts, he kept working against our nation's best interests in regard to to its energy programs.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again. The U.S. Geological Survey has told me that the proven potential for oil in Alaska alone is greater than the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia."
--Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1980. (According to the USGS, the Saudi reserves of 165.5 billion barrels are 17 times the proven reserves--9.2 billion barrels--in Alaska.)

A lot of subsequent GOP proposals have revolved around simply drilling into untapped reserves located in national wildlife preserves. Instead of taking a hard line on making better use of the fuel we have, Republicans believe it's better to destroy what little original biosphere we have left to squeeze out a few more gallons of gasoline.
"We should have been exploring for oil and gas in ANWR. But, no, we madethe decision and our Congress kept preventing us from opening up new areas to explore in environmentally friendly ways and now we're becoming, as a result, more and more dependent on foreign sources of oil."
--George W. Bush, quoted by Reuters News on April 29, 2008. ( The Energy Information Administration, estimated that if Congress had cleared Bush's ANWR drilling plan the oil would have been available to refiners in 2011, but only at a small volume of 40,000 barrels a day -- a drop in the bucket compared with the 20.6 million barrels the U.S. consumes daily.)

But views of the GOP regarding the value of drilling is contrary to reality. The largest untapped oil field in the continental US is the Bakken Formation. The USGS believes that there is between three and four and a half billion barrels of oil there. Sounds like a lot of oil, doesn't it? For some countries, it certainly would be. But that represents at most a seven month supply for the US at current rates of consumption.

If we're going to risk destroying habitat for oil, shouldn't it be for more than a few month's grace to drive oversized trucks or run our air conditioners? Would you cut off your arm, even if it wouldn't save your life?
"The disparity between increasing production and declining reserves can have only one outcome: a practical supply limit will be reached and future supply to meet conventional oil demand will not be available."
--U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Petroleum Reserves, Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, March 2004
The automakers have painted themselves - and us - into a corner by investing so heavily into the production of vehicles that are destroying any hope of energy independence in the US. They should be dumping the SUV program almost entirely, and should be doing what they should have been doing for the last 30 years; improving fuel efficiency from one year to the next. Cars produced in the 1980s had better fuel economy than the junk being pushed on us by Detroit today. Had the Big Three maintained the principles laid out by Jimmy Carter in 1977, we'd be getting 50 miles to the gallon by now.

And if the GOP hadn't shirked its responsibilities to the public, we'd have useful mass transit in all our urban cores, and wind farms in every state.

We were once on the way to being the most technologically advanced nation on the planet; the policies of our politicians over the last three decades have reduced us to desperate parasites.

Thanks, Republican Party! Thanks, US Automakers!

No comments:

Post a Comment