Last week, I wrote an Over a Barrel blog for you dear readers (sounds like a press release from North Korea), commending Governor John Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado and Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma (R) for their bipartisan effort to secure a commitment on the part of 13, mostly red and purple, states to purchase natural-gas fueled cars when acquiring needed state automobiles. Theirs is an important, indeed, critical effort to build Detroit’s confidence that there is a significant market for natural gas cars and to gain Detroit’s willingness to produce such cars.
As I indicated in the blog on the two governors, I know Governor Hickenlooper well. He is one of America’s best governors – a thinker and, as important, a doer. John matches his intelligent approach to policy with a strong sense of fairness, ethics and decency. While I don’t know Governor Fallin, she deserves Over the Barrel’s thanks for joining in the bipartisan initiative.
What Governors Hickenlooper and Fallin have done is to take a wonderful first step toward opening up now restricted transportation fuel markets. If I could be a bit presumptuous, I would like to suggest three additional steps to build on what they have already done. Their willingness to adopt these steps would go a long way toward creating the nation’s first coherent energy-related transportation policy and, perhaps, just perhaps, given the weak substance concerning energy policy coming out of the current presidential campaign, provide a lesson for the presidential candidates.
First: Invite the 13 governors, who are participating in the multistate effort to create a market for natural-gas fueled cars, to the Aspen Institute. I bet Walter Isaacson, head of the Institute, would like it – a captured, important audience to talk to during the evening about his excellent book on Steve Jobs. I also bet that after a focused discussion, most, if not all the governors, because of their commitment to move toward alternative transportation fuels, would agree to urge Congress to enact open fuel standard legislation and to ask the Congress, as well as the Administration, to remove unnecessary restrictions impeding production of flex fuels, like methanol, a derivative of natural gas, and ethanol.
Second: Amend the current Renewable Fuel Standard provisions concerning ethanol-gasoline blends that require the United States, almost Rube Goldberg-like, to engage in a costly bilateral ethanol trade with Brazil. The U.S. now exports cheap corn-based ethanol to Brazil and imports expensive sugar-based ethanol from Brazil. Yet the products, according to experts, are almost identical. Comparative advantage is a proven and important trading principle. If we depart from it, the departure should be premised on the national interest and solid economic analysis. Current ethanol trading seems generated more by outdated, little-examined government biofuel regulations than common sense.
Third: Develop strategies to inform and inspire citizens to consider purchasing flex-fuel automobiles, once their choices are expanded to readily include fuels like ethanol and methanol, as well as gasoline, etc. Just as states, through commitments to purchase natural-gas cars,will encourage Detroit to make them, securing citizen support and commitments to consider flex-fuel automobiles, when they buy a car, would add confidence to automakers concerning production of flex-fuel cars.
Let’s open up the transportation fuel market, reduce the cost of transportation fuels, improve the economy and strengthen the environment. Americans deserve more transportation fuel choices than they have now.+