On the Road to Energy Independence

A closer look at the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and what it means for fuel economy, biofuel production and more.

| April/May 2008

Over the past year, Congress has spent a lot of time debating energy policy, a topic loaded with heated issues such as climate change and foreign oil. The final result of months of negotiation is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which became law in December. For environmentalists, the law offers some good news, but leaves a lot of unfinished business. Here’s a quick look at what made it in, what got left out, and how close it comes to real energy independence and security.

Finally, better fuel economy!

For the first time in more than 30 years, Congress has raised the fuel economy standard for cars and trucks.

The specifics: The law raises the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard by more than 10 miles per gallon (mpg) to 35 mpg by the year 2020. This will bring the U.S. standard closer to those of other industrialized nations, though it’s still not as advanced as the standard set by the European Union, which is equivalent to 40 mpg.

What it means to you: The gas mileage of many models will have to improve, and new cars with better fuel economy will soon be available. It won’t happen all at once, but as existing models are redesigned, improvements will make them efficient enough to meet the new goals.

Some in the auto industry claim the new standard will raise vehicle costs by as much as $6,000 per vehicle. But James Kliesch, a senior engineer with the Clean Vehicles Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), says UCS calculates it will cost an average of about $1,500 per vehicle to get to 35 mpg. The good news is that increase will be offset by fuel savings.

And fuel savings add up quickly. UCS estimates that by 2020, when all automakers have met these standards, it will save 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, about half what the United States currently imports from the Persian Gulf. That’s not all we need to do to address concerns about climate change and declining supplies of oil, Kliesch says, but it’s “an important first step.”

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