Rep. Lundgren proposes $1 billion prize to oil addicting automakers
Not all Californians are looking forward to electric vehicles, some are Congressmen who propose legislation whose result would be to keep us addicted to oil. Yesterday Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) proposed HR 3872, the E Prize Act of 2012, which offers a $1 billion prize to the first automaker who manufactures and sells a "mid-sized sedan" ("car") getting over 100 miles/gallon.
The goal, a gasoline driven car that gets 100 miles/gallon fuel efficiency, is laudable. It would reduce oil usage, reducing the negative impact transportation has on the environment. That is, if the automakers could construct a gasoline driven car with that high of a fuel efficiency.
However let's consider this bill from some other angles.
Rep. Lungren was called "too conservative for California" by Gray Davis, so what is he doing proposing a government handout? Aren't conservatives supposed to be opposed to government handouts? The current crop of conservatives are shouting to high heaven about the evils of government handouts related to clean technologies like solar power, wind power or electric cars. Why would a government handout for a highly fuel efficient gasoline car be okay?
Suppose the bill passes (it's currently in Committee) and signed by President Obama and the automakers start falling all over themselves to develop a car that would win the prize, what would be the result? A lot of research & development going into a vehicle that runs on gasoline. It doesn't matter how fuel efficient that vehicle is, it would still run on gasoline. What's the purpose in throwing a carrot to the auto industry so they'll continue building cars that run on gasoline?
One answer to that question is Rep. Lungren's voting record. He's voted for opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling, voted against recognizing greenhouse gasses of any kind, voted against tax credits for renewable electricity, voted against tax credits for energy conservation, voted against tax credits for biofuels, voted against criminalizing oil cartels like OPEC, and on and on. He was awarded a 0% rating by the Campaign for America's Future for his opposition of energy independence. A few years ago in a town hall meeting, when asked about the campaign contributions he receives from "Big Oil" Lungren answered "If I could get more, I'd take more." Clearly he, as a Congressman, is a Friend of the Oil Industry, just like his colleague Rep. Mike Kelly who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in dividends from his oil company stock, and proposed a law that would end the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles.
Over on Congressman Lungren's website this proposal (HR 3872) is explained in the context of another bill, New Options Petroleum Energy Conservation Act, or NOPEC. NOPEC would "reduce our dependence on foreign oil by providing incentives for greater fuel efficiency in addition to alternate energy sources," and a key element of NOPEC would be the $1 billion prize proposed in HR 3872. The NOPEC bill is not currently being considered by Congress (according to thomas.loc.gov it was last considered in 2009), but it includes provisions to support development of "carbon neutral combustion facilities," extend tax credits for solar energy producing properties, the aforementioned $1 billion prize for fuel efficient cars, procures $30 billion in research dollars for lithium ion battery technology, and more. That bill died in committee, but the E Prize plucks out one provision, this $1 billion prize, to stand on its own.
Lungren's website provides the answer to the rhetorical question posed earlier, isn't this just a government handout? He explains that "Competition is far more likely to achieve desirable societal objectives than a government program aimed at picking winners." Prizes, he says, "only imposes a governmental fiscal obligation if the objective for which it was created is achieved." Maybe so, but just how would it be a desirable societal objective to continue burning gasoline?
The goal of fuel efficiency is laudable, but is this a good idea? It would spend government money on a goal that doesn't change the dependency on fossil oil. If the U.S. car fleet had such high fuel efficiency it would surely decrease the dependency on fossil oil, but we would still be dependent on the stuff. If there were to be a government incentive (prize) for developing a new kind of car, shouldn't it be one powered by the energy of the future, rather than one powered by the energy of the past? Maybe a Congressman, like Lungren, who's well known for protecting the Oil Industry, sees the world differently than the rest of us?