Higher Oil Prices May Take Toll on Environment, US Auto Sales

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:19pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The run-up in world oil prices may have repercussions on the environment and U.S. automakers - groups that traditionally pledge their loyalties to Democrats.

First, the environment: With the cost of heating oil and natural gas expected to rise as winter sets in, many people are looking to buy firewood. More wood fires means more smoke and more air pollution.

People looking for deals on firewood are bound to be disappointed. Heavy demand has ramped up prices for that commodity, too.

Wire services quote Joseph Smith, associate director of the Forest and Wood Products Institute in Gardner, Massachusetts: "Everyone who has a wood stove is looking at using it now," he said.

Supplies of seasoned firewood already are running low in some parts of New England, well before winter arrives. In Massachusetts, a cord of wood that sold for $85 during the mild winter of two years ago is now going for $130, Smith said.

"'We're seeing something of the same sort of thing that happened in the 1970s when the price of oil shot up," he noted.

In some parts of the country, including the Denver area in Colorado, wood fires are discouraged because they contribute to air pollution.

Fuel Economy

If higher gasoline prices turn a driver's thoughts to fuel economy, U.S. automakers may see more customers head for fuel-efficient imports.

According to a list of automobiles released Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hybrid (gasoline-electric) vehicles from Japan are the most fuel-efficient cars or trucks available.

According to the 2001 fuel economy rankings, the Honda Insight leads the pack, getting 68 miles a gallon on the highway and 61 miles per gallon in city driving. The two-seater uses a gasoline-electric engine.

Toyota's Prius hybrid sedan, which gets 52 mpg on the highway and 45 in the city, also rates high on the fuel-economy rankings. Imports dominated many of the other categories compiled by the EPA for the 2001 model year - a fact that's not likely to cheer Detroit.

In a statement accompanying the list, EPA Secretary Carol Browner said, "Choosing the most fuel-efficient vehicle in a class can save the owner at least $1,500 in fuel costs, avoids tons of pollution that causes global warming and help reduce dependence on imported oil."

U.S. automakers, still churning out gas-guzzling SUVs, also are jumping back on the fuel-efficiency bandwagon. Ford recently announced it would raise the average fuel economy on its sport utility vehicles 25 percent by 2005, but that may not be soon enough to satisfy some drivers if oil prices keep rising, as many analysts expect they will.

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