Oil Shock 2?
With prices at $120 a barrel, Americans are facing an oil adjustment.
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But where there is awareness of the problem there is hope. Perhaps nobody knows better what the nation could do – but mostly has not yet done – than Amory Lovins. An American energy guru since the gas lines of the 1970s, he has focused like a laser beam on how the nation can save energy. "What we need to do to cut oil consumption is quite clear," says the cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy think tank in Snowmass, Colo. "But attention keeps getting focused on the wrong things – like subsidies for the oil industry to find more oil. That's the wrong way to go."Skip to next paragraph
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Congress's move last year to raise vehicle fuel-economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 was a good first step – but not enough, he says.
In today's slowly unfolding yet serious oil crisis, Mr. Lovins would slash 9 percent of the nation's oil demand in one year with more than 30 fuel-saving measures. Among them:
•Reduce speed limits to 60 miles per hour for light vehicles, 55 m.p.h. for heavy trucks. Expand HOV-lane use to include alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), hybrids, and all-electric vehicles.
•Encourage mass-transit use by letting all citizens deduct the cost from their taxes. Require "parking cash-out" so employees can take cash instead of free parking at work.
•Extend federal tax credits for AFV, hybrid, and electric vehicles to many more than the current 60,000 vehicles per manufacturer limit.
•Require one-engine-only idling for jet aircraft waiting to take off. Offer US loan guarantees to airlines upgrading to efficient aircraft and tax credits for replacing heavy interior parts with lightweight materials.
One measure Lovins and Ann Korin, chairman of Set America Free, an energy-security coalition, agree on is for the government to mandate that all vehicles be "flex fuel" burning so Americans can choose alternatives to gasoline. The move, she says, would reduce the nation's exposure to a terrorist attack.
"There's not much we can do today if an attack occurs other than band-aid responses like tapping into the strategic petroleum reserve," Ms. Korin says. "If every garage had a plug-in [hybrid gas-electric] or flex-fuel vehicle, you could still get around. Oil goes up, but we're not held hostage."
The US already has "solutions that can take away the strategic power of oil," adds Robert "Bud" McFarlane, national security adviser to President Reagan in the mid-1980s, referring to ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, and electricity for vehicle propulsion.
Dennis McGinn agrees. A retired vice admiral of the Navy and a national-security expert, he is acutely aware of the fragile oil-supply line and many energy choke points around the globe. Still, he, too, sees a silver lining in this crisis if Americans can wake up and respond to it.
"Our nation has met a whole lot of crises in our history," he says. "This energy and climate-change challenge is perfect for the American public, industry, and government to really do something about. We just need to be honest with ourselves that business as usual can't continue."