Step up fuel incentives

Deseret Morning News editorial

There was something humiliating about the way Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and his staff acted after meeting with President Bush at Crawford, Texas, this week. Americans ought to be growing weary of having to come on bended knee to Middle Eastern leaders, begging for them for a greater supply to the oil habit.

Abdullah doesn't condescend to speaking to the press. But his spokesman said the Saudis have some spare capacity they could use to increase oil production by about 1.5 million barrels day sometime between now and 2010. It was, as analysts said afterward, more of the same, and little of substance.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter, and the United States is the world's largest oil user. Gas prices here, which have soared well above $2 a gallon, are at a point where they may soon affect the habits of American consumers. It's about time.

Congress and the administration need to increase, in major ways, incentives for producing and purchasing automobiles that operate on alternative fuels. Incentives at this point could do much to spur a wave of spending on vehicles that don't rely so much on conventional gasoline.

A few encouraging signs already are on the horizon. A Canadian company announced last week that it would soon make its natural gas refueling machines available to people in Salt Lake City and other select markets. The device would allow people to tap into their home's natural gas line to refill Honda's new Civic GX, which runs on natural gas. The new model would cost about 3.75 cents per mile to run, compared to 8.8 cents per mile for a Honda that runs on traditional unleaded gasoline.

Of course, there are limitations. The new Honda can travel only 220 miles without refueling, and the new home-fueling device requires eight hours to fill a car.

That's the frustration. For Americans anxious to escape from under the heels of Middle Eastern oil producers, there are no alternatives that currently meet the demands of average drivers. Technology needs to catch up, and it needs to do so quickly.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch will soon introduce a bill that would offer incentives for people who buy hybrid vehicles cars that primarily run on electricity but that also use small gasoline engines. The incentives could run as high as $3,000 per car.

It's a good idea, but the incentive seems paltry. We wish the administration would propose giving real money to manufacturers who can fine-tune the technology and bring alternative fuels into mainstream markets.

Once the United States weens itself from its oil dependency, it will have a profound effect on the world, not only environmentally, but geopolitically.