President Bush met today with leaders from the Big Three domestic auto manufacturers, during which these industry folk promised that they would make half their companies' annual vehicle production "flex-fuel" -- that is, able to run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gas) by 2012.
Color me unimpressed.
People, when we reference Wikipedia, we notice something; Detroit was producing FFV vehicles by the hundreds of thousands over ten years ago.
Furthermore, as this article cites, in our neighbor to the south, Brazil, fully 73% of the cars sold are flex-fuel, with over 40% of the fuel consumed in the country being ethanol.
Granted, Brazil has a few advantages; they have fewer drivers, a better climate for growing the best current source of ethanol (sugarcane), and a fairly-good infrastructure for distribution. But, as the article also discusses, we are more than capable of making a sizeable quantity of ethanol through cellulosic breakdown, and we already have a significant production of it from corn. There's no reason we can't be generating an enormous amount of our transportation energy from ethanol, versus from oil -- and the economic, national security, and environmental benefits thereof are fairly obvious.
If you asked me to solve this problem, the first thing I'd do would be carrot-and-stick; I would raise the required Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) for auto manufacturers, but with a twist -- every flex-fuel vehicle they made would count as double credit.
Next up, I'd be pumping some serious government development dough to ethanol production, both using current methods and cellulosic methods -- likely by tapping and diverting farm subsidies. Why? Because if we start buying all the corn and sugarcane we can to make ethanol.....trust me, income supports for either will be rendered quite unnecessary in a hurry. It's called "the effect of supply and demand on price".
Finally, I'd be after the oil companies with a simple proposition; for every bit you make your infrastructure ethanol-compatible, we'll make your tax lives simpler. Easy as that.
Taken together, these measures should make ethanol a) useful, b) abundant, and c) available -- which will likely translate into d) cheap.
And in the process, we'll be kicking the oil terrorists like Iran squarely in the crown jewels.
What's not to like?