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08.10.11

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The Wrong Answer

Fuel efficiency standards don't go far enough

By Michael F. McCauley


A recent newsletter from the Sierra Club lauded an Obama administration initiative intended to reduce our car culture's dependence on oil and improve the air we breathe. In proposing that cars and trucks get 54.5 mpg by 2025, the President called this goal "the single most important step we've ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

The Sierra Club enthuses that "this standard will save us money at the pump, reduce life-threatening carbon pollution and provide Americans with better and more fuel efficient car choices. . . . The president's announcement is a strong step toward ending our dependence on oil."

Improve fuel efficiency? Hey, Mr. President and Sierra Club, why aren't we severing our connection to oil altogether? Are more auto-industry regulations via government policing the way to "reduce life-threatening carbon pollution"? Let's get positive. Let's create incentives for zero-emission, energy-efficient electric vehicles.

It can happen. Check Oslo, Norway. Oslo has more electric cars per capita than any European capital. And Norway knows about positive incentives. Can you say "free"? Free parking at downtown lots, free toll roads and bridges, free access to special lanes and free public charging stations.

Wait, there's more. Electric cars are exempt from Norway's value-added tax. And company cars get a 50 percent discount on the usual taxes. Demand goes up, supply scrambles to keep pace. Imagine!

Admittedly there are still "issues." Electric cars can't go long distances. And Norway's cold winters slash battery efficiency. Not to worry. Norway is creating a nationwide network of charging stations. Drivers will recharge their cars in about 20 minutes—just long enough to enjoy a roadside coffee—compared to the seven or eight hours normally needed at home.

See, there is a positive, responsible way we as a nation can break our dependence on oil. So when we question our attachment to gas-guzzling cars, why do we Americans have the wrong answer?

Michael McCauley is a retired museum executive who lives in Santa Rosa and spends his off-hours volunteering at area arts venues.


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