Senators Want to Switch Drugs Rather Than Kick the Habit: Flex Fuel Vehicle Legislation Introduced Into Congress

flex fuel label on pickup truck photo

photo by pete via flickr

It may be some editorial hyperbole to equate a mandate that would require more vehicles be capable of running on biofuels to switching your drug of choice from, say, heroin to vodka, but ultimately neither situation acknowledges the seriousness of the problem. The underlying addiction needs to be addressed, and that's just what a new piece of legislation does not do, at least not entirely.

The Open Fuel Standard Act of 2008 would require that 50% of new vehicles by 2012, and 80% of them by 2015, would be E85, M85 (85% methanol) or be warranted to run on biodiesel. The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ken Salazar (D-CO), and Sam Brownback (R-KS). National Security Motivates Flex Fuel Legislation
Normally I wouldn't quote so extensively from the findings section of a piece of legislation, but it illustrates clearly the national security motivations of this bill.

(1) The status of oil as a strategic commodity, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector, presents a clear and present danger to the United States;

(4) fuel competition and consumer choice would similarly serve to end oil's monopoly in the transportation sector and strip oil of its strategic status;

(5) the current closed fuel market has allowed a cartel of petroleum exporting countries to inflate fuel prices, effectively imposing a harmful tax on the economy of the United States of nearly $500,000,000,000 per year;

(6) much of the inflated petroleum revenues the oil cartel earns at the expense of the people of the United States are used for purposes antithetical to the interests of the United States and its allies;

(7) alcohol fuels, including ethanol and methanol, could potentially provide significant supplies of additional fuels that could be produced in the United States and in many other countries in the Western Hemisphere that are friendly to the United States;

(8) alcohol fuels can only play a major role in securing the energy independence of the United States if a substantial portion of vehicles in the United States are capable of operating on such fuels;

(9) it is not in the best interest of United States consumers or the United States Government to be constrained to depend solely upon petroleum resources for vehicle fuels if alcohol fuels are potentially available;

(10) existing technology, in the form of flexible fuel vehicles, allows internal combustion engine cars and trucks to be produced at little or no additional cost, which are capable of operating on conventional gasoline, alcohol fuels, or any combination of such fuels, as availability or cost advantage dictates, providing a platform on which fuels can compete;

(11) the necessary distribution system for such alcohol fuels will not be developed in the United States until a substantial fraction of the vehicles in the United States are capable of operating on such fuels;

(12) the establishment of such a vehicle fleet and distribution system would provide a large market that would mobilize private resources to substantially advance the technology and expand the production of alcohol fuels in the United States and abroad;

(13) the United States has an urgent national security interest to develop alcohol fuels technology, production, and distribution systems as rapidly as possible;

(14) new cars sold in the United States that are equipped with an internal combustion engine should allow for fuel competition by being flexible fuel vehicles, and new diesel cars should be capable of operating on biodiesel; and

(15) such an open fuel standard would help to protect the United States economy from high and volatile oil prices and from the threats caused by global instability, terrorism, and natural disaster.

Switching From One Drug to Another
I'm not so sure that the vision presented here, in terms of current increases in oil prices being connected to quasi-purposeful OPEC price inflation, is entirely accurate. Nor is it an entirely accurate assertion that enough domestic capacity exists, or could ever exist, to provide "significant supplies" of ethanol, methanol or biodiesel—at least not unless algae-based biodiesel facilities expand.

Also interesting is the reference to the "harmful tax" which foreign oil dependency imposes on the US economy—its interesting in that it implies no acknowledgement of the co-dependency of the situation. OPEC needs the non-oil-producing nations as much as we currently need them. Not that I expected that co-dependency to be stated directly, but what's written here is one step removed from saying, "I don't know how that needle got in my vein. My drug dealer must've put it there and it feels so good that I kept doing it."

Greater Structural Change Needed, Not Just a Switch of Fuels
Lest it seem like I'm entirely opposed to this legislation, I'm not. It can be viewed as an interim step towards greater structural change, but unfortunately I don't think that's the intent. I just have a gut feeling that the backers of this bill don't fully appreciate the magnitude of the situation, and don't seem to realize that a larger, structural change is in order— an all-electric vehicle fleet, more public transport throughout the nation, a localized civic infrastructure—for the type of energy and national security they hope for to be realized.

via :: Biofuels Digest and :: Business Green
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