Congressmen Want to Mandate that 95 Percent of New Cars be Able to Use Alternative Fuels by 2017

James Zilenziger | June 13, 2011 | 3:08pm EDT
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An oil well in a farm field in Tioga, N.D. Domestic production of oil is rising for the first time in two decades thanks to new drilling techniques that are opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States. (AP Photo/James MacPherson, file)

Washington ( - Three congressmen – two Republicans and one Democrat – want 50 percent of all new cars to be able to use alternative fuels by 2012, 95 percent by 2017.

During a press conference last Thursday, Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Elliot Engel (D-.) announced the kickoff off of H.R. 1687, the “Open Fuel Standard Act." The congressmen called for increased production of non-petroleum energy sources because, they say, the world had reached its maximum oil production at 84 billion barrels per day.

“We don’t know what fuels we’re going to be burning in the future,” Bartlett said. “In 1970, as predicted in 1956, the United States reached its maximum oil production. No matter what we have done since then, like drilling more wells than all of the rest of the world put together, today we use half the oil that we did in 1970.”

Bartlett added: “The world has now reached that plateau in ’06. For five years now the world has been stuck in 84 million barrels of oil a day.”

The “Open Fuel Standard Act” would require that 50 percent of all new cars in 2014, 80 percent in 2016, and 95 percent in 2017 would be warranted to operate on non-petroleum fuels in addition to, or instead of, petroleum-based fuels. Non-petroleum fuels would include biodiesel, hydrogen, flex-fuel and natural gas.

The congressmen were joined at the news conference by former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association and Gregory Dolan of the Methanol Institute. McFarlane spoke of H.R. 1687 and the ease of implementation it would allow.

“The good news is that there is an alternative--the good old fashion American idea of introducing competition into the fuel market. The same way when you go to Macy’s or Hecht’s or whatever store, you get a choice whether to choose handkerchiefs, shoes or whatever. [Currently], when you go to the pump, you don’t,” McFarlane said. “It only costs about $100 per vehicle to make production cars able to burn alternative fuels.”

However, the American Petroleum Institute (API) says the issue is much more complex. In an interview with, the API stated, “We had been declining for a long time, but our production is starting to pick up, and it has to do with technological innovation.

“If you look at the shale development in North Dakota, the U.S. Geological Survey says there’s now about 3-4 billion barrels of oil there, that’s about 25 tons more than their original estimate in 1995.”

With the rise of new technologies, the API reported, “By one estimate we have about 21 billion barrels of oil reserves, but we’ve got 155 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable resources, then we have another 800 billion barrels of discovered and undiscovered sub economic resources.”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), which provides nonpartisan policy and legal analysis to the committees and members of both the House and Senate, also reports that reserves of oil from shale “could potentially meet U.S. demand for oil for another 147 years.”

Even without technological advances, the U.S. has “enough oil for 24 years, enough natural gas for 62 years, and enough coal for 261 years.”

Following the press conference, asked Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association if the increased production of ethanol would raise food prices.

“It absolutely does not,” responded Dinneen. “Look, we are producing both a feed and a fuel. We produced up to 36 million tons of distillage feed last year that was just fed to cattle and poultry all across the country. If you were to take that 36 million tons of feed, that would be enough feed to grow enough steer for some 50 billion burgers. I think we’re both fueling and feeding the world.”

In contrast to Dinneen, a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) back in April of 2009 stated that food prices have risen more quickly since ethanol production began in the past decade. The study “The Impact of Ethanol on Food Prices and Greenhouse Gas Emissions” found that roughly a quarter of all corn produced in the past decade was converted into ethanol. It concluded the increased production of ethanol accounted for 10 to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008.

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