Senate energy bill… better to have waited?

Back from a far-too-long posting hiatus, I’m sure to the great relief of the thousands of avid ccblog readers out there. (Yes, that was self-deprecating sarcasm… thank you mom for noticing.)

In my absence, the Senate passed an energy bill that, um, how should I put this… disappoints. The one element most touted in the media was the new CAFE standards–a mandated minimum fuel efficiency standard of 35 mpg by 2020. That’s a 40% improvement over current standards, but I have a few concerns:

  1. This average applies to cars and light trucks. Will car companies find a loophole by making their SUVs bigger?
  2. The combined CAFE standard in 2007 for cars and light trucks is 22.2 mpg. But is that average based on true numbers of cars on the road or just an combined average of each model on the market? If it’s the latter, doesn’t that mean that the true mpg of cars on American roads could be far less than 22 mpg? Especially when you consider that current mpg estimates are not based on real world driving. (The good news is that the EPA is revising how it determines estimates, starting in 2008.)

Whatever the answer to these questions, 35mpg is still a long way from the 70% reduction we need to see in greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, the new CAFE standards are the good news. The bad news is that the Republicans successfully cut out federal incentives for renewable energy sources–blocking inclusion of a Renewable Portfolio Standard that would have required electric utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their power from renewable fuels by the year 2020. The one major investment in renewable sources was for ethanol–a huge step backwards. Corn-based ethanol, while a great source of revenue for agriculture corporations, is pretty much the least energy efficient gasoline alternative out there. It’s a huge shame, though hardly surprising, to see our elected officials sacrificing the long-term for short-term benefits to special interests and farm states.

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