A controversial energy bill hit the Senate floor last week and remains contentious, despite concessions from automobile makers and lobbyists. The bill aims (among other things) to raise fuel economy standards – from 27.5 miles a gallon for cars (a number that has not changed since 1983) to 35 miles a gallon by 2020. As reported in The New York Times today, auto companies have finally come to terms with the bill’s existence, although they are fighting for more gradual increases, which Michigan senator Carl Levin proposes in an alternate bill. Levin’s measure would raise the required miles-per-gallon to 36 by 2022. This bill has been harshly criticized by environmental groups like the Sierra Club, who referred to as a “poison pill.”
As the lines have been (murkily) drawn between the two sides, environmentalists have found some strange bedfellows: SAFE, or Securing America’s Future Energy, a coalition of corporate and former military leaders who are dedicated to reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. This coalition, which includes executives from FedEx, Southwest Airlines, Goldman Sachs, and Dow Chemical, believes that America’s extreme oil dependence “represents a direct and urgent threat to American economic and national security,” according to General P.X. Kelley USMC (Ret.), in a recent press release.
SAFE launched television ads in Washington last week regarding the proposed energy legislation, pairing images of soldiers, Osama bin Laden, and American political landmarks with a somber voiceover that unequivocally connected oil dependence to security threats: “America’s enemies understand that oil is the lifeblood of our economy and a growing strategic vulnerability…Support bipartisan energy security legislation.”
The energy measure is long overdue (which is readily apparent by the fact that the current standards have been in place for nearly a quarter of a
decade century), but it is unclear how stringent the fuel requirements will be and whether additional provisions (like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would require electric utility companies to produce 15 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, or biomass energy by 2020) will pass. The members of SAFE provide a necessary reminder that decreasing oil dependency and increasing fuel efficiency is not just in the interest of environmental groups or tree huggers: there is a significant corporate and security interest as well.