Op Ed: Energy bill will help environment, state

Posted on July 2, 2007

Several days ago, the Senate passed major legislation that would help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, decrease air pollution, and create new jobs in Tennessee. The CLEAN Energy Act, approved by a vote of 65-27, is the first time since 1975 that vehicle fuel-economy standards have been increased. When the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard was created in 1975 for cars and light trucks in the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo, it resulted in a savings of 3 million barrels of oil per day. The new Senate bill would raise fuel efficiency standards beginning in 2011. In 2020, the nationwide average fleet fuel economy standard for cars and light trucks would be 35 mpg, which by 2020 would remove 206 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year and save consumers nearly $25 billion at the pump (based on a cost per gallon of $2.55). That represents real savings for families, a better quality of life, and a much lower vulnerability to turbulence in the Middle East. Boost for renewable fuels But the bill goes beyond simply requiring that manufacturers build more efficient vehicles. It also would increase the production of renewable fuels to at least 36 billion gallons by 2022 — that would result in a major boost to Tennessee agriculture and could reduce world oil prices by as much as $2.50 per barrel. We have the resources one day to become the leader in the Southeast to produce biofuel alternatives to foreign oil — from switchgrass, poplar trees, and other sources. This could create new sources of income for thousands of Tennessee farmers. Just last week, Oak Ridge was also selected as one of three sites to receive $125 million over five years to establish and operate one of the U.S. Department of Energy's new Bioenergy Research Centers. In addition, Gov. Bredesen's Biofuels Initiative, a joint venture of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is expected to create 4,000 new jobs for our rural counties, provide $400 million in state and local taxes annually, and generate about $100 million each year in farm revenue. The old CAFE system made little sense, given changes in the motor vehicle market over the past three decades. Its complex and outdated rules actually put American jobs at risk. Based on input from the automakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will evaluate how to achieve the nationwide fleet average and allocate each automaker its fair share of the burden. Consequently, automakers with large fleets of light trucks and SUVs will not be penalized or be forced to reconfigure their product lines. The bill mandates that the NHTSA use an "attribute" system in determining fuel economy standards. The NHTSA can tailor attainable increases based on vehicle designs. This should put to rest concerns about underpowered cars and trucks that can't do what we need them to do. More importantly, it will help keep auto manufacturing jobs in the United State in general, and Tennessee in particular. That's a win for everyone, except perhaps the oil magnates of the Middle East.