An energy-secure system must be a priority By Ray LaHood
Every time gas prices rise, families and businesses feel the pinch. Outraged politicians habitually respond with a lot of talk, but little action. When nothing gets done, the people they serve still are stuck with the bill. During my three decades in Washington — as a staffer, as a Congressman, as part of President Obama's cabinet — I have watched it happen over and over again.
Today, however, the cost of standing pat is greater than ever. Our economy is just beginning to generate growth and create jobs after the worst recession in memory. And sustained increases in oil prices could end up not only hitting families in their pocketbooks but also setting back our economic recovery.
Furthermore, a perfect storm of mounting demand, diminishing supply and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa means that oil and gas prices probably will continue trending upward. This is no light burden for working Americans, who already pay more to own, maintain, insure and operate their cars and trucks than they do for food, education, health care or anything else in the family budget besides housing.
For these reasons, President Obama has charted and followed a bold course toward America's energy security, which he detailed in a speech at Georgetown University last week. The president committed the country to cutting our oil imports by one-third. And he proposed that we accomplish this objective by increasing safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production, developing alternative energy, including bio-fuels and natural gas, and improving efficiency across America's transportation system.
These ideas should be as politically viable as they are substantively important. Each has garnered bipartisan support in the past. After all, our energy crisis is not a Democratic or Republican problem. It keeps America's economy jammed in neutral.
In America's transportation sector, we have a special opportunity and obligation to act because our nation's transportation systems account for 70 percent of our petroleum consumption. So, at the U.S. Department of Transportation, we have not waited to start shaping solutions.
First, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, automakers, state governments, and environmental groups, we raised the fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. This alone will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, or an average of $3,000 during the lifetime of every family vehicle.
At the same time, we are making historic investments in high-speed rail, transit, and walkable, bikeable streets so that people can choose to drive less, which is good for their health, their wallets and the environment.
We are accelerating aviation's transition from the radar-based navigation system of the last century to the satellite-based system of the next century, which will dramatically boost fuel economy by allowing aircraft to fly more directly from origin to destination.
We also are encouraging freight carriers to shift products from less to more fuel efficient systems — from air to trucks, from trucks to rail or from rail to maritime. This is essential to achieving President Obama's goal of doubling the United States' exports between 2009 and 2014 — another major job-creator.
All across America, these investments are paying off. In Johnson City, N.Y., workers at BAE Systems are designing, building and installing propulsion systems for hybrid buses and trucks. In Portland, Ore., workers at United Streetcar are manufacturing the only modern, made-in-the-USA streetcars and mobilizing a streetcar renaissance in communities like Tucson, Ariz.
In Holland, Mich., workers at Compact Power are pioneering America's advanced battery industry. A few years ago, U.S. businesses made just 2 percent of batteries for cars like the Chevy Volt and electric Ford Focus. A few years from now, America will be home to 40 percent of the world's automotive battery manufacturing capacity. That translates into jobs and progress toward answering President Obama's call for 1 million electric vehicles on America's roadways by 2015.
This is how we move from decades of posturing to a long-term policy that ensures secure, affordable energy. This is how America builds a 21st-century transportation system that uses less petroleum, sends fewer of our hard-earned dollars overseas and emits less of the carbon pollution that threatens our climate — all while spurring economic development, opportunity and competitiveness.
President Obama and I believe we can meet our challenges and better equip our children and grandchildren to meet theirs. When we do, the result will be more than lower gas prices that ease financial burdens on families and businesses. It will be the foundation for a future that America is prepared to win.
Ray LaHood is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.