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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2007

Tougher mileage standards key as U.S. House prepares to vote on long-awaited energy bill

BY TOM BULLOCK
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL TRUST

AMERICA'S oil addiction is failing Ohioans, but a chance to reform our energy policies comes to Congress this coming week with a vote in the House of Representatives in Washington.

Congress can act this year to pass an energy bill that moves us toward a clean energy future and helps shake our addiction to oil. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Ohio Senators George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown can help make that happen.

High energy costs facing Ohioans could be the Grinch that steals Christmas. We can literally no longer afford our failed energy policies. Gas costs $3.10 per gallon in Ohio (an autumn record, 88 cents more than last year), and oil is nearing $100 per barrel. Reliance on foreign oil outranks terrorism as a national security concern: 71 percent of Americans believe we are too dependent on Mideast oil and 65 percent believe our dependence makes America less secure, according to a Veterans Day poll by the Pew Campaign For Fuel Efficiency.

A bipartisan compromise in the Senate led to a key reform in the energy bill: increasing auto fuel efficiency for cars, trucks, and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the first such increase in more than 30 years. Large majorities (89 percent) across Ohio support the strongest gas mileage standards, which will help Detroit automakers rebound against foreign competitors. This provision would create 7,700 Ohio jobs by 2020 and 178,000 nationwide, with 22,000 jobs in the auto industry alone, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Adopting the higher Senate-passed fuel efficiency standards would also save Ohioans $923 million by 2020 - $696 annually for a two-car family- and keeping those dollars in Ohio instead of going to oil-producers such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Venezuela. And it would reduce our oil consumption by 1.2 million barrels a day, more than double what we now import from Iraq. To put those savings into perspective, bad weather in Mexico recently shut off just 200,000 barrels of production and the market price of oil shot up several dollars.

A key energy bill provision passed by the House would require 15 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean alternative sources such as wind and solar by 2020.

Establishing this requirement, a national Renewable Electricity Standard, will fight global warming and create tens of thousands of new jobs: Pennsylvania has passed an RES and already is seeing hundreds - even thousands - of new jobs as a result.

By relying more on renewables and less on fossil fuels, a renewable standard will also help consumers and businesses save billions on energy bills.

Getting more electricity from renewable sources would save hardworking American families money and benefit the economy as a whole. Shifting electricity production away from expensive natural gas toward wind and solar will reduce demand for natural gas and lower energy bills at home for companies, and even factories and farmers that depend on natural gas. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the renewable standard in the House bill will save consumers up to $18 billion by 2020.

Scientists around the world have agreed we must cut pollution 80 percent by 2050 to slow the worst effects of global warming. Passing the energy bill this coming week would get us nearly a fifth of the way to that goal, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

The public wants leadership. Congress currently has a poor approval rating, with 63 percent of voters disapproving of its job performance, according to a survey by the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency.

Passing an energy bill with higher auto fuel efficiency standards would be the strongest way for Congress to improve its record: 89 percent of voters say that passing a bill to "require the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency" is an important accomplishment, with 61 percent considering it very important.

The final energy bill should include the House's 15 percent renewable standard and the Senate's 35 miles per gallon economy standard.

If Congress flips the switch and lights the way, this energy bill will take us in a new, forward-looking direction. This bill can be a win for the environment, a win for the economy, and, most importantly, a win for Ohio families.

Tom Bullock is the NET's Ohio representative.



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