Economic Outlook: The fuel economy

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Aug. 29, 2012 at 8:37 AM
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Without much else to brag about, the Obama administration can point to tougher fuel efficiency standards as one of its crowning economic achievements.

It can safely be said Obama was handed a shattered economy when he took office -- that and a half-thought-out rescue program for the nation's financial sector that was first a few sheets of scratched-out ideas put together by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr.

That was the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was so quickly conceived, it was never even used to purchase troubled bank assets, the very purpose after which it was named.

Managing to turn that program into a pragmatic (if overly generous) rescue for the financial sector is one accomplishment Obama can point to -- even though he helped to make it an unpopular one. Saving General Motors and Chrysler is the second notch in the administration's belt.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- triage for an imploding economy -- wasn't a resounding success, given the results were to rescue jobs, rather than create new ones that generate banner headlines. It was money well spent, given money that goes to save teaching jobs or rebuild roads repays the economy twice, but it was not an indisputable vote-generator.

But saving U.S. consumers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and reducing the need for imported oil by 12 billion barrels is something worth uncorking at least a bottle of champagne or two.

The short-sighted aspect to Obama's energy policies is that the United States does need to keep drilling for oil. Tougher regulations are not helping consumers here and now and then just give the advantage to oil exporters who are all too willing to make up the difference in what the United States fails to provide for itself. As is frequently said, U.S. oil companies could at least bring their sophisticated standards to the oil fields -- that is, if they were allowed to get there at all.

True, giving an advantage in energy production to foreign oil producers is not a job drain on par with giving manufacturing jobs to Asia, but a $10 billion monthly bill from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is no laughing matter, either.

As is evident by the consumer reaction to the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, 2012 is not the breakout year for the electric car industry. But it is exactly the time to get started, anyway.

Look at it this way: 250 years from now, historians will look back and say, "Fill-in-the-Blank dragged the United States kicking and screaming into the modern age of electronic cars and alternative energy production."

All that sentence needs is for a name to go where it says "Fill-in-the-Blank."

The next step forward in automobile propulsion is going to come with snickers and nay-saying. That is completely unavoidable. But if President Obama can say he was the first to embrace the modern energy shift and the first to take global warming seriously, that will be a feather in his cap that will long be remembered.

In international markets the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.4 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China slid 0.96 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gave up 0.12 percent while the Sensex in India shed 0.8 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia was flat, off 0.07 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain was off 0.45 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany dropped 0.42 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 0.54 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 dropped 0.22 percent.

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