Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Miles Per Gallon

As a supporter of a gasoline tax, I grimace but pay willingly every time I fill my tank. Unfortunately, what is good for the country (less dependence on middle-eastern theocracies) or the world (lower emissions) is not always good for politics. With looming environmental problems not getting any better and oil prices at a new high, what was President Bush's solution? Drill for oil in Alaska. In a 49-51 vote on March 16th, the GOP inserted the Alaskan drilling provision into the budget proposal, making a Democratic filibuster impossible. So the GOP wants to continue using lots of oil, environment be damned. No surprises there. But that strategy could have negative consequences on something the Republicans do care about -- the military.

In a May 2005 Atlantic Monthly article, Robert Bryce brings attention to the increasing demand for fuel in the military, using 1.7 million gallons of fuel a day in Iraq.
"A fully armored Humvee weighs more than five tons -- and requires a larger engine and heavier suspension than the non-armored model. The Army also recently allocated more than $500 million to add armor to its utility trucks. The added armor will help protect U.S. soldiers from IEDs and snipers -- but it also means higher fuel consumption for their vehicles. Which means, in turn, that more tanker trucks will have to be driven into Iraq -- and those trucks will provide more targets for the insurgents, who have become skilled at attacking them... It's a vicious cycle: attacks on convoys produce a need for more armor, which produces a need for more fuel, which produces larger convoys, which produce more targets for attack. "
A 2001 Defense Science Board study found fuel to comprise 70% of the tonnage moved onto the battlefield. But despite the tank commander who told Bryce, "the more fuel-efficient we are, the more tactically sound we are," the military continues using its Bradley fighting vehicles (less than two miles per gallon) and its M1 Abrams tank (less than one mile per gallon). Richard Truly, former head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who chaired the study, said that his report fell on deaf ears.
"The thing we were trying to get across was that this doesn't have anything to do with moral values. It has to do with running the goddamn military with as little fuel as possible and showing the advantages to the warfighter himself -- so that instead of having ten fuel trucks, you can have five." Unfortunately, Truly says, the prevailing wisdom at the Pentagon is that "fuel efficiency is for sissies."
Where a gasoline tax would lead to better fuel efficiency among consumers, it can't be a good idea to cripple our military by employing the same strategy. Instead, while we're slowly re-designing our military, let's try this: A consumer gas tax which helps fund the military's fuel and logistics costs. The benefits would be twofold -- not only would it help the environment by driving gas-guzzlers out of the picture, but it would be a politically acceptable way to introduce a new tax. Especially in this time of war with patriotism flowing, there is no better time to ask the American people to sacrifice a little. After all, it's for the troops.


At 5:36 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I have said multiple times that I really wish Gregg Easterbrook's argument would get more attention outside of TNR. He argues that SUVs (and other fuel-inefficient cars with needlessa amounts of horespower for that matter) are the cause of our current oil woes. It's hard to disagree, given that by his calculations, after five years of a 30% increase in fuel efficiency standards we would have reduced oil demand by 825 million barrels (about what we import annualy from the Persian gulf).

The National Academy of Sciences agrees that it's an entirely feasible goal--except the problem is our culture's obsession with gas guzzling SUVs. I agree that rasiing overall fuel efficiency standards and forcing SUVs to comply is a great soultion, but I doubt it will happen.

An interesting compromise could be that we still let Americans who are so inlcined to purchase wasteful vehicles. However, if a vehicle (such as an SUV) does not conform to the fuel efficiency standards, then by law it would have to have a differently shaped fuel tank opening so that it can be filled up at a traditional gas pump. Gas stations would have to install specially shaped pumps in order to provide fuel for these cars, and their gasoline tax rate would be much higher with the goal of offsetting all the damage they are doing to both the environment and to the aggregate demand of gasoline.

The first solution is of course a lot easier, but in any case, I unfortunately doubt either of them will become reality.


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