COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | THOMAS ELIAS

CO2 cuts: First step toward energy independence

Congress wouldn't do it. President Bush opposed it. The leading makers of automobiles and gasoline fought it. So there will be no federal action soon to make American cars and trucks use less gasoline and the nation less dependent on foreign oil.

But this summer the state of California finally took the first bold steps toward making America energy independent again.

No one talked about this major consequence of "greenhouse gas"

restrictions while lawmakers wrangled all spring over a freshman Democratic assemblywoman's bill aiming to place "maximum feasible restrictions" on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by the 2009 model year.

But one big but so far unpublicized side effect of this new law plainly should be a move back toward true national sovereignty. The intended consequences of cleaner air and a slowing of global warming may also follow.

Here's the link to sovereignty: Despite claims to the contrary in a $5

million springtime advertising campaign against it, the new law should force a reduction of at least 15 percent in fuel consumption when it takes full effect. Even technologies available today -- like increased sales of hybrid gas/electric cars and sport utility vehicles, continuously variable transmissions and low rolling-resistance tires -- could make that much of a cut without forcing even one current model car or truck off the road or out of the showroom.

And better techniques may be available by 2006, when the state Air

Resources Board is to set the eventual standards. Even the law's author, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, has no idea how much progress to expect.

Why is a cut of just 15 percent or so in fuel consumption by cars in

California so important to the energy future of the United States of America? Two reasons:

First, because Californians buy more than 10 percent of all new cars and trucks sold in America, automakers will have to retool their assembly lines to conform to this state's standards, as they often have in the past. Once they're making cars to fit the California rules, they'd be foolish not to make those same vehicles available elsewhere.

And California smog standards never end up applying only to California. Yes, this state has unique authority to adopt air quality measures tougher than any set by the federal government. But once it acts, other states can follow, and generally they quickly do. That's what happened with everything from the first primitive smog control devises of the early 1960s to removing lead from gasoline in the 1970s and requiring catalytic converters in the 1980s.

So a 15 percent reduction in gasoline consumption in California is a

certain precursor of similar improvement in fuel economy everywhere else in America. By an odd coincidence, this nation now buys almost exactly 15 percent of its supplies from the Arab nations of the Middle East who conducted an oil boycott of America during the 1970s.

Reduce fuel consumption here by 15 percent and America should gradually become independent of Middle East supplies or even the new oil sources coming online soon from Russia and central Asia. Plus, pressure to drill new oil off the California coast would be reduced.

There would also be no more need for American presidents to kowtow to Saudi Arabian oil princes whose citizens finance terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hamas and conduct telethons on government-owned TV networks to finance the families of suicide/homicide bombers.

The irony here is that the greenhouse gas measure -- like similar fuel economy bills in Congress -- was opposed almost unanimously by conservatives who normally espouse patriotism more loudly than most others.

"Pavley's Ploy," the Libertarian Reason Institute labeled the greenhouse gas bill. "A war on cars." The bill, Reason said, "is about preventing you from buying that next truck or sport utility vehicle or driving the one you have as much as you want."

But Reason is wrong. There's no evidence Pavley's bill will either

eliminate any current models or drive up the price of cars, as the ad

campaign against it claimed. But there is plenty of cause to believe it will make Americans more free, less subject to both the pricing whims of oil companies and the political whims of oil princes.


Elias is author of "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It." His e-mail address is thomas.elias@sddt.com.

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