Bill Would Require Most New Cars to Run on Flex-Fuels

By Michael Gryboski | July 24, 2008 | 6:01 AM EDT

( - Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is proposing legislation that would require 80 percent of all new cars in United States to be capable of running on “flex-fuels” by 2016.
Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) joined Lieberman in sponsoring the “tripartisan” bill intended to curtail gasoline dependence. The federal mandate would require 50 percent of new automobiles by 2012 and 80 percent by 2015 to run on ethanol, methanol and bio-diesel.
“The Open Fuel Standard Act will protect consumers from soaring gas prices, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and spur the further development of renewable fuel technologies that are central to our energy future,” Salazar said at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday.
The senators said their flex-fuel bill would put more fuels on the market and give consumers a choice about what to put in their tanks.  That would put competitive pressure on rising gasoline prices, making every fill-up cheaper, the senators said.
“Almost 70 percent of our oil is brought in from abroad,” Lieberman said. “It’s the largest transfer of wealth in history. Over $700 billion dollars a year is going from our country to other countries, and it’s weakening us. We’re a great country, we’re a mighty country, but so long as we are dependent on others to power our country, we’re not really strong and we’re not even independent.”
The bill’s sponsors estimate that making new cars run on energy from a variety of substances such as switch grass, coal, agricultural byproducts, corn, soybeans, natural gas and other materials would cost manufacturers under $100 per automobile.
They also said the technology is feasible and efficient and that the Big Three auto companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) have repeatedly stated their willingness to provide flexible-fuel capability for new vehicles.
Some free-market advocates, however, question if a flex-fuel mandate is necessary.
“It suggests to me a move towards greater flexibility, and flexibility is always a good thing,” Thomas Firey of the libertarian Cato Institute told “However, this is also a move that consumers can take on themselves, if they want to have that opportunity. Government does best when it does things that we can’t do for ourselves. It usually does poorly when it tries to do things that we can do for ourselves.”
In an interview with Sen. Brownback, posed two questions: “Why, if the Big Three automakers are willing to do it on their own, is this legislation even necessary?” and “Isn’t this an instance where the government is trying to determine the kind of cars people can drive?”
Brownback replied that the Big Three automakers have said that they “would be able to do the 50 percent by 2012,” but they have not said they would be able to have 80 percent of all new cars running on flex-fuels in the ensuing three years.
The bill is an “overall signal to the marketplace,” the former Republican presidential candidate said.
“If it’s something that’s stated by the auto manufacturers, they could do it, they’d like to do it, but when the Congress says, ‘You will do it,’ then they know in their projection of building future stations or storage tanks or options (that) this is coming,” he added.
Brownback said he sees the bill as a way of giving people “fuel choice.” It will also drop fuel prices, he said.
“The bill will increase demand for alternative fuels and infrastructure by giving drivers the choice to use these fuels,” Brownback said. “We don’t have to wait for any new inventions; we have flex fuel vehicles at our disposal.”
“(When) you get that type of competition out there you’re going to drop prices for fuel and that is what’s needed,” he said.
Jon Doggett, vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association, explained that the proposal isn’t a mandate to require that anyone buy a particular car.
“What it does do is mandate that they have a choice,” Doggett told “They don’t have to buy gasoline that contains more than 10 percent ethanol. They can buy anything between 10 and 85 percent.
“Really, it’s just giving them an option. We require that there be airbags in cars. We require that they have bumpers. There are a lot of things that we require in cars and this is just part of the requirement.”