The last days of this session of Congress will feature, among other legislative spectacles, an effort to thrash out a bill that purports, at long last, to address what is arguably our nation’s most serious single problem: energy insecurity.
Unfortunately, the product seems certain to be more of a grab-bag promoting favors for special interests and pet-rocks of senior lawmakers (many of which have nothing to do with reducing our consumption of petroleum imported from unfriendly places) than a program for quickly and cost-effectively ending the main source of that insecurity, namely our addiction to oil from dangerous places.
This is all the more astounding – and outrageous – since an option for doing just that is at hand. Call it “fuel choice.”
In a terrific new book called Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil, Robert Zubrin describes how a simple congressional directive requiring that every car sold in America be a “Flexible Fuel Vehicle” could rapidly transform our current, intolerable dependence on oil from unreliable sources. Since there are already six million of these FFVs on America’s highways at the moment, there is no technological impediment to making this happen. Since the Big 3 U.S. auto manufacturers have already pledged to make half their models FFVs by 2012, the question is simply, could we do that – and more – faster?
According to Dr. Zubrin, a renowned engineer and widely published author, the pacing item is official certification of the roughly 150 engines on offer to the car-buying public once they are equipped with sensors that allow them to burn ethanol (from a variety of vegetation, not just corn), methanol (from coal, natural gas, trash or biomass) and/or gasoline. It costs about $1 million to certify each engine. While $150 million sounds like a lot, Dr. Zubrin notes that we pay that much for imported oil in three hours.
If every car sold in America were a Flexible Fuel Vehicle, within three years, 50 million cars here would be able to run on alcohol instead of gasoline. Perhaps another 100-150 million such cars sold elsewhere would have that option. With that sort of potential demand, at current prices for gasoline (nearly $3 per gallon), ethanol (at comparable energy values as much as $2.25 per gallon) and methanol (at comparable energy density, $1.70 per gallon), the free market would provide these (and perhaps other) alternative fuels in large quantities.
Particularly important is the fact that such demand would far exceed the amount of ethanol that could be supplied by American corn farmers. They should, therefore, be willing to allow the importation of ethanol from other sources without the current tariff that amounts to a crippling $29 per barrel surcharge. With roughly 100 countries around the world enjoying climates that could allow them to grow sugar cane or other biomass they could use to power their own vehicles and help power ours, the world would cease to be dependent on oil-exporting nations, most of whom wish us ill.
Energy Victory describes the benefits that would accrue to the United States and other freedom-loving nations were oil to be transformed in this fashion into just another commodity:
- The cartel that has wrought incalculable harm on the world’s economy, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, could be destroyed. As long as some combination of tariffs, subsides or preferential taxes are put into place in the event OPEC responds by sharply dropping the price of oil, its stranglehold will be broken for good.
- OPEC’s de facto leaders, the Saudis, would be unable to continue their dangerous double-game inside America and elsewhere around the world. Dr. Zubrin documents the corrosive, corrupting and ultimately seditious effect of Saudi money and the Wahhabi Islamist ideology it underwrites. There can be no higher national priority than terminating such behavior and the Shariah theo-political-legal code it is trying to impose, both here and abroad.
- Societies, including our own, that grow things and that, therefore, tend to value human life will be empowered at the expense of regimes that simply exploit natural resources and are, by and large, tyrannical in nature. This can have huge implications for balances of trade, foreign aid and quality of life the world over.
- Dr. Zubrin argues that the effect of making the world more dependent on alcohol than oil for its transportation needs will be good for controlling both conventional pollution and reducing the production of greenhouse gases.
My guess is that President Bush could make fuel choice his most lasting, and laudable legacy if he were to mandate Flexible Fuel Vehicles via executive order, rather than wait for Congress to legislate it. He could inspire the country to action by urging Americans to buy a new FFV car as their tangible and practical contribution to our energy security, accelerating the transformation of our national fleet.
Failing that, I hope our countrymen will emulate the recent campaign by proponents of border security, who sent bricks to their elected representatives as a way of urging them to build the needed fence. Buy a copy of Energy Victory for your Congressman and urge them to act on its practical, near-term and highly cost-effective strategy for actually doing something about energy insecurity. Once legislators have gotten their copy – and the message, they can donate the rest to libraries in their districts, thereby allowing other Americans to learn how we can make oil just another commodity, for the benefit of this country and its friends around the world.