An ever more cantankerous US Congress is getting a little tired of the White House dragging its feet in setting new fuel economy standards:

Several senators said the White House plan fails to aggressively push automakers to improve the number of miles a car can get on a single gallon of gasoline. They noted that standards for passenger cars have remained stagnant for the past 20 years and many cited the need to demand swift numerical increases in the requirements.

[ . . . ]

The proposal would also try to move to a system based on the vehicle’s dimensions, similar to reforms instituted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for light trucks. By 2011, sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans must average 24.1 mpg.

Meanwhile, in his latest column Jack Lessenberry warns the citizenry at large against getting gridlocked in arguing about the fuel alternatives rather than pursuing them:

These days, every alternative fuel and every transportation system has its devotees. I think that it is good and healthy to have a vigorous debate about all these alternatives, and we need someone to point out all their various weaknesses, but in a constructive way.

There is a danger in that, too, however. The risk is that the general public will become so confused and cynical that they will lose all interest in trying to learn about alternative fuels and transportation.

Just as a matter of historical perspective, it is worth noting that Ford’s Model T got 21 mpg and was a “flex-fuel” vehicle capable of running on gasoline or ethanol. The Model A released in 1927 got 30 mpg — which is comparable or better than Ford’s entire 2007 line!

Similarly, Rudolf Diesel invented his diesel engine as an exercise in increasing fuel efficiency, and the original prototype (unveiled at the 1900 World’s Fair) ran on peanut oil biodiesel.

There are three points to be made:

1) Our fuel-efficiency standards haven’t been stagnant for 20 years, they’ve been stagnant for 80 years — i.e., for the entire history of the US auto industry.

2) We are not heading into uncharted territory as we begin to discuss alternatives to gasoline and increased efficiency. Taking advantage of diverse sources for our auto fuel and working to increase efficiency have been an integral part of the development of automobiles from the very start.

3) ALL of the alternative fuel ideas floating around right now are workable — we know this because they’ve all worked in the past — we just need to decide which balance is best and run with it.

Dave-o is a frequent contributor to GrowDetroit. He unabashedly supports Poor Mojo’s Newswire, a blog of merit since 1905 — now available electronically!

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