SUV Guzzlers and OPEC

Now that OPEC has agreed to lower oil prices - under congressional threats to rethink military support of friendly Arab nations - the US can also rethink why consumers still buy vehicles that get less than 20 miles per gallon.

Just consider who are the biggest complainers of the $1.50-plus pump prices: SUV owners. Many think they are OPEC victims because they pay over $35 for a fill-up.

Yes, OPEC is a cartel that, if its leaders were in the US, would be in jail for price-fixing. But OPEC's clout only rises when Americans overconsume on foreign oil.

Congress should act to force carmakers to install technology that would raise fuel efficiency for trucklike vehicles.

People who buy, say, a Ford Explorer might need to pay an extra $1,000 to get 34 m.p.g. instead of 19. But their savings in gas consumption would be several thousand dollars.

Let's not allow buyer sticker-shock to override our national oil-shock.

Up to now, Detroit carmakers have successfully lobbied Congress not to toughen Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules for many bigger vehicles, such as SUVs.

But the US will only make its economy more vulnerable to more OPEC price-fixing by not continuing the conservation efforts that began after the oil shocks of the 1970s. The US might be saving 34 million gallons a day if the CAFE standards had been tightened after 1994. As it is, OPEC's recent price hike means Americans may pay $36 billion more for motor fuel than last year. That's a chunk of change.

We can restrain the OPEC cartel, save oil for future generations, reduce pollution, and keep the economy humming if we have more fuel-efficient vehicles.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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