Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Making a Self-Reliant America: Independence Brings About Ingenuity

Did you lose your paycheck, or did it blow away at the gas station? Many sources like Time Business have already predicted that the price of fuel will surpass a painful five dollars this summer (Schuman). Not only is the price of fuel too high, but you probably remember the massive British Petroleum spill in 2010, and the economic and ecological damage that resulted. Just recently, this past March, BP agreed to a $7.8 billion settlement for “property damage, lost wages, and loss to businesses;” not to mention the long-term health problems that are arising from the chemical dispersants (Burdeau). Our dependence on oil must come to an end by rewarding U.S. automakers and schools that produce highly competitive and efficient vehicles, which use other sources of energy at a cost that the average American can afford; although the oil companies will fight to keep selling their products, as the consumer, we can no longer accept the monetary and environmental costs. By discussing how to gain independence from foreign oil and oil in general, along with the destructive consequences of oil to our economic and environmental security, and finally new technology and how it can help us hold onto more of the money in our pockets, the average American consumer can better understand their role making our nation gain independence from oil for a better tomorrow.


If we truly want to break our addiction to oil, we must initially loosen the grip of foreign oil producers. The price of fuel has been continuously rising. Why the surge?  The main reason is the increase in global demand and insecurity. Although America is producing less crude oil than in the past and significantly decreasing the amount of oil we import, Asia and South America have greatly raised the amount of vehicles on the road and gasoline intake - China alone added more than 10 million vehicles last year (Congressman Fortenberry). As for uncertainty, the Middle East has been and continues to add concern for oil security, which Iran’s nuclear desires have become a great contributor to the pilfering. However, too often, most people overlook that Wall Street adds to the spinning dollars. The Commodity Futures Trade Commission recently stated that an additional fifty-six cents are added to each gallon, since they view gasoline as a “speculative premium” (Congressman Fortenberry). Additionally, it is only natural that anything that is shipped thousands of miles will have an elevated cost for its weight and volume. Since the U.S. imports nearly 50% of its oil, Americans pay about five percent more at the pump. Finally, the American consumer pays an additional cost for the refining of the crude oil and federal taxes. The average state gasoline tax in 2009 was about 50 cents per gallon or roughly eleven percent more, and refineries add an additional twelve percent to the price (U.S. Energy Information Administration).


According to the Department of Transportation, our nation was driving more than 254 million vehicles in 2009, which average only approximately 17.6 miles per gallon; we obviously cannot go cold turkey from oil (Research and Innovative Technology Administration ). So, what can we do? For starters, we should cut our ties to foreign oil by increasing our own nation’s drilling and refineries. Second, all the fuel being produced on our land and waters should be reserved primarily for the American people. While thirty-seven percent of people may argue that by doing this, we are moving in the wrong direction, sixty percent of Americans say that it is time to increase U.S. offshore drilling and exploration (Saad).  By doing this, the number of American jobs would increase, no longer would we have to accept the high premium prices from foreign companies or their shipping costs, and finally, our demand and security would be much more stable. By lowering the cost of a commodity such as oil and increasing the number of American businesses, our own economy would boom- that’s how you create an effective stimulus package and national moral.


Some people may be thinking, “That’s great that we’re saving money, but how does this help us defeat our obsession for oil?” Well, since our nation would be losing less money to outside sources, we should use a percentage of that federal revenue to provide grants to universities and automakers that make profound technological advances and produce efficient, practical, and reliable vehicles which use an alternative source of fuel. Because our goal is to become independent from oil, this will give the American people time to transition from their gas guzzling vehicles to something more affordable. Currently, the government is awarding up to $7,500 as a tax incentive for those who purchase an electric car (U.S. Department of Energy). Although most electric vehicles that are practical and highly competitive against the performance and range of today’s internal combustion vehicles, too often they are expensive. In order to further America’s transition to become self-reliant, the federal government should award conditional grants to help that company lower their vehicle’s price and continue technological advances. By integrating more vehicles that do not use oil as the main source of their fuel and lubrication, the less amount of oil will need to be produced, prices will begin to drop, and the risk of environmental harm will begin to diminish.


Speaking of the environment, the ecological and economic damage from oil spills are devastating. In the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (a.k.a. the B.P. Oil Spill) alone, the so called “spill’s” destruction was substantial. The marine kill zone covered more than eighty square miles in the gulf coast (Netter and Gutman). Later, from that same spill nearly eighty-eight and a half thousand square miles were closed from any shrimping and fish harvesting due to excessive oil and tar on June 2, 2010 (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It was estimated that over 205.8 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf Coast, which is approximately equal to 93 million gallons of refined gasoline- worth $360 million at the pump today (Hoch ; U.S. Energy Information Administration). It was later found that the ocean floor had over two inches thick of oil on it in the fall of 2010, stretching for miles around the wellhead (Harris). However, not even six months later, the thickness had increased to ten inches by January 2011 (Klein , 3). If the adverse effects of the oil itself weren’t enough, the methods to remove the oil included the pollution of burning the oil and the toxic chemicals in the water reduced the amount of oxygen in the water, which marine life need to survive. From an economic standpoint, of the $20 billion that British Petroleum owes to the American government and people, as of last summer, it had not even compensated for $5 billion. Of the thousands of large and small business that harvest fish and other marine life, BP denied over 350,000 of their claims by last August; ultimately, it caused many to lose their income and way to pay the bills (Clifford). Since then, it has been reported that there is seventy-five percent less caught because the fish either moved from the area or died; losing that amount of their product greatly reduces fishery catcher’s income- if their business survived (Hernandez). Not only did the fisheries take a toll from the oil spill, but tourism to the beach greatly decreased, which in turn decreased the revenue those states would normally receive and the businesses that depend on tourism- approximately $22.7 billion lost (Tourism and Oxford Economics , 3). Keep in mind, that all of this devastation was taking place during our nation’s most recent recession. Because of these significant factors, it was reported that an increase of twenty-five percent of people were found with severe depression and many more with other forms of mental illness (Reeves). Had BP followed the correct inspection procedures and guidelines, the entire spill could have been avoided (British Petroleum).


If we plan to increase our nation’s production of oil, our first priority should be safety- the very reason why the BP spill occurred. Recently, a Canadian oil line called the Keystone XL Pipeline has been in great debate lately. Not only is it a pipeline that travels through the United States for a Canadian company, TransCanada, but it would have also laid above the largest fresh water source in the world- the Ogallala Aquifer. Should there have been any failure in the pipeline, the oil could have caused a major threat to many endangered species and native prairies, millions who currently drink from it, and deduct $20 billion produced from agricultural revenue each year. To make matters worse, the pipeline would also lie above an active seismic zone, which had a 4.3 magnitude earthquake recently (Dembicki). After Nebraska Governor Dave Heinemann and State Senators Mike Johanns and Ben Nelson put forward their safety concerns (with the help of many political demonstrations against the chosen path) congress and Transcontinental decided to allow a change in the rout of the pipeline (Senator Johanns). While the effects of the BP spill were still being cleaned up, President Obama and Transcontinental wanted to shove the Keystone XL Pipeline down our throats like the HealthCare Bill without taking the time to observe major safety issues. Sadly, right after congress had made the appropriate safety changes, the president decided to “play politics” and to not allow the pipeline, which would produce income and jobs for Americans (Senator Johanns). After, much scrutiny and congressional action that took place to ensure the safeness of the Keystone Pipeline, nearly sixty percent of Americans approved the pipeline, which obviously helped President Obama change his decision to allow a smaller portion of the TransCanada’s pipeline (Mendes). With the new technology and inspection methods in place and the implementation of the new rout, the risk of an extreme catastrophe has been essentially eliminated.


With the increasing amount of modern technology, a remarkable advancement has been the electric car. The idea of an electric vehicle is not new, in fact, Stephen Anyos Jedlik was the first to conceive the idea, which he built an electric motor and attached it to a small scale electric vehicle in 1828. It wasn’t until 1890 that the first actual electric car was developed by William Morrison in Des Moines, Iowa (Electric Vehicles News). Many people have developed the notion that electric cars are not reliable or practical after the “electric car is dead” generation. During the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s major automakers made an attempt to create effective electric cars: the Chrysler TEVan, Ford Ranger EV pickup truck, General Motors EV1 and S10 EV pickup, Honda EV Plus hatchback, Nissan lithium-battery Altra EV miniwagon, and Toyota RAV4 EV. Not only did the 1990’s battery technology bring down the range, but these bulky and heavy batteries took many hours to charge, failed or lost most of their efficiency in temperature changes, lasted only a few thousand miles, and were very expensive to replace. Some people have also speculated that the oil companies found a way to buy out most of the automakers and helped force the majority of these cars to be confiscated from their owner and demolished (Paine). Since then, most auto manufactures have produced electric vehicles with extremely low performance and reliability. As some can recall, the hype of the Chevy Volt quickly died after the public found out that it was just another hybrid car with a maximum electric range, in perfect conditions and at low speeds, of just 36 miles (General Motors). Not only do many current auto-manufactures produce low range electric vehicles, but most EV’s are limited to hours of charging. Until recently, Tesla Motors, an American electric car manufacture has brought forth the future of automobiles. After producing the famed Tesla Roadster, the economy crashed and the small American business almost disappeared as many did. Without any federal help, Tesla began to beat the odds on Wall Street.


Since its genesis, Tesla has built a sporty convertible, sedan, and has plans for a crossover model next year. With a range of 300 miles, 0-60 in just 4.4 seconds, and access to the Supercharger Charging Stations to regain 160 miles per half hour- the new Model S couldn’t seem better (Tesla Motors). Even further, this model can come with: leather seats, premium sound, a battery warranty of 8 years and unlimited miles, performance brakes and chrome rims, a 5-7 seat option, a high performance 85 kWh battery storage, with a top speed of 130 miles per hour, etc.- what could be the catch? Due to the “Cadillac Standard” of Tesla’s electric vehicles, it lives up to the metaphor: the base price for the Model S retails for nearly $50,000 after the $7,500 federal tax credit. Keep in mind, an all American premium luxury-performance vehicle with the most advanced technology and a company that just skipped through a tough recession, “you get what you pay for.” Luckily, Tesla Motors has made the statement that it hopes to produce a more affordable vehicle in the future with a base price somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000; “Every tesla and EV using Tesla Technology is a step towards making increasingly affordable electric cars available to the consumer (Tesla Motors).” Speaking of GM’s lavish marque, after making a huge statement in luxury-performance when Cadillac produced its V-Series, many have made the sad assumption that the Cadillac ELR will be just another Chevy Volt with “Caddie Glitter” on it (Burns).


While the range, performance, luxury, and esthetic elegance of a Tesla is nice, because of its price, most people would like to look at other current offers. Electric vehicles available in the US market today include: the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, CODA Automotive sedan, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i EV, Wheego LiFe, or one may lease the Smart Electric Drive or Honda FCX Clarity. Should someone decide to buy any one of these electric cars, they will be eligible to receive the $7,500 federal tax incentive and additional rebates from your state; they may even be eligible for even lower annual percentage rates for loans in their state (U.S. Department of Energy). These vehicles mentioned above range anywhere from $21,625 to $32,500 after the federal tax break, and also have an EPA tested maximum range from sixty to one-hundred miles or 240 miles with Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Although refilling the FCX Clarity with compressed hydrogen gas takes only a few minutes, like filling up a car at the gas station, the biggest issue currently is the inaccessibility to hydrogen gas stations- whereas a plug-in electric vehicle can charge anywhere there is a working outlet. Now that electric cars are beginning to become more popularized, if one is away from home or at work, they can find a nearby charging station with a CarStations app which is free- so are most of the charging stations (Electric Car Stations). With the simplicity of plug-in all electric vehicles, even more money can be saved because there is no oil or other fluids that require routine and regular inspection or replacement. Along with minimal maintenance and extensive warranties, most the electric auto manufacturers have included yearly servicing for the first few years and at least one-hundred thousands of miles in your sticker price. So, if someone pays for an electric car which costs about the same that any other internal combustion vehicle would, get the equivalence of 100+ miles per gallon, and save money from all the time and money required for a common car’s maintenance- why wouldn’t they call up or go online to reserve their own custom electric car today?


The shortcoming with the energy being made in America is an overlooked concept; most of the electricity made in the U.S. is created by burning coal, petroleum, or natural gas. So, these “full-electric” automobiles in essence, continue to consume fossil fuels, because the energy that they require utilized about 69% of fossil fuels to generate the electricity in 2009 (U.S. Energy Information Administration). Thankfully, coal and other fossil fuels are not the only sources of energy that we use to make electricity. Some other ways include: methane, alcohols, and other renewable biofuels; nuclear reactor facilities, dams, geothermal services, and the smaller energy sources of solar and wind. With greater technological advances, each of the above alternative fuels are becoming more efficient and available. Also, there happen to be many other methods that are being further developed and tested at various universities today. In 2007 alone, France produced nearly 90% of their electricity from non-fossil fuel/ renewable resources (French Republic Department of Ecology , 18). Though their country may be small in comparison to America, we can relate the size of France to one of our own states. Now, it may be nice to think that less carbon dioxide emissions are being created, but the real issue is our reliance on a fuel source that is depleting at an increasing rate. Our main focus should be doing our part to help transform and transition America into a country that will take the initiative to become self-reliant and innovative – before an exhausted oil reserve crisis transpires. By reducing the amount of oil derived products for vehicles and electric generation, the demand for oil will in turn decrease; if the demand decreases, so does the price. With each electric company that chooses to use less oil for their energy production and each person who makes the decision to purchase an electric vehicle, it allows those who require exceptional heavy duty machinery and persons unable to afford the new electric vehicles the ability to meet the expense of oil-based fuel until the technology and price is realistic and accessible to them.


By discussing why it is imperative that we distance ourselves from foreign oil and our dependence on oil completely, how to transition into an oil-less transportation environment, how we can save the money in our pockets, and improve the air quality through new technology, we see just how significant this issue is and what each of us can do to make a difference. With all the devastating problems from oil that we as nation face, economically and environmentally, it only makes sense that we as the people of this nation have to make the change without waiting for automakers and Washington to decide for us. If you to make a positive difference in your checking account and children’s health, refuse the grave consequences of oil by speaking to your representatives, neighbors, and investigate whether an electric car is right for you. 




Works Cited

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1 comment:

  1. I really love this post. I especially enjoyed the pictures that went with the artfully opinionated text.

    ReplyDelete