In keeping with Independence Day, the United States must get on the road to oil independence.
Fortunately, for the first time in three decades, the U.S. Senate recently passed a substantial increase in the fuel economy standard for new cars and light trucks. And it's long overdue.
Congress last passed such a standard in 1975, and the current 27.5 mile-per-gallon average requirement for cars has been in place since 1989. Light trucks, SUVs, minivans and pickups are required to meet only a woefully inadequate 22.2-mpg average.
The Senate set a target of 35 mpg by 2020, but the bill also gives the Department of Transportation the ability to weaken the standard. Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Todd Platts, R-Pa., have introduced a stronger bill in the House. Their bill would set a 35-mpg standard by 2018 and prevent the Department of Transportation from diluting that standard along the way.
The Senate measure represents a 40 percent increase in fuel economy for the entire U.S. fleet.
If fully implemented, it would save 1.2 million barrels of oil per day in 2020, the equivalent of taking more than 30 million of today's cars and light trucks off the road.
In that same year it would cut 206 million metric tons of global warming pollution and would save drivers billions of dollars at the pump.
Improving the fuel economy standard is patriotic. As retired U.S. military leaders have been pointing out, an improved standard would strengthen our national security by cutting our addiction to oil.
The United States has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. The Middle East is sitting on two-thirds of the world's crude. Regardless of how much oil we could wring out of our domestic supply, we will be beholden to one of the most unstable regions in the world unless we start to wean ourselves off oil now.
Finally, raising the standard would be good for the auto industry's bottom line. Implementing the Senate standard could create as many as 170,800 new jobs by 2020 - 22,300 of them in the auto industry alone, according to new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As the House begins debate over its own version for fuel economy, expect the auto industry to continue pushing for the weakest standard with its million-dollar-plus scare campaign that insults Americans' intelligence. The industry hopes to hoodwink the public into believing that increasing fuel economy choices will limit vehicle size or choice.
Good technology and a new policy approach would ensure that does not happen. Our nation's top scientists and engineers at the National Academy of Sciences concluded that conventional technology could meet or beat 35 mpg for the current U.S. fleet. Plus, the Senate bill requires fuel economy requirements be set based on vehicle attributes, such as size.
If we heeded the industry every time it tried to block progress, we wouldn't have catalytic converters, seat belts or airbags today.
It's time for Congress to crank-start the auto industry and set higher fuel economy standards.