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Two Ways to Move Beyond Oil

Insights + Opinion

We can end America's oil addiction, but two key events—yesterday and last week—tell us a lot about the challenges we'll face as we make it happen.

Last week, the delay (and potential cancellation) of the Keystone XL pipeline showed we can meet the challenge of organizing a grassroots-driven coalition to stop destructive oil development. That was a fantastic victory, but it only marked the start of what is sure to be a long campaign to stop oil companies from pursuing increasingly risky and environmentally destructive sources of petroleum—in the tar sands, the Arctic, the Amazon, the shale fields in the northern Rockies and beyond.

After seeing thousands of us surround the White House to stop Keystone XL, I think we're up to that challenge. But to keep succeeding, we'll need more than enthusiasm for stopping the bad stuff—we'll also need to tackle the root of the problem: our society's seemingly insatiable demand for oil.

That's why although I'm thrilled that President Obama heard our voices and declined to rubberstamp the Keystone XL pipeline, I'm equally excited about yesterday's announcement that his administration is finalizing a fuel-efficiency standard of 54.5 mpg for all cars and light trucks by 2025, as well as a reduction in carbon emissions to 163 grams per mile. Because most of the oil we use is for transportation, improving vehicle efficiency is the single biggest step we can take right now to ensure that we transition to an oil-free society before we've destroyed more irreplaceable wildlands, suffered more oil-spill catastrophes or allowed carbon pollution to push our climate past the tipping point.

And that's where our other challenge really kicks in. We know that the proposed fuel-economy and carbon-pollution standards are achievable. We also know that they'll help solve the many problems that our oil addiction causes for our economy, our environment and our national security. In 2030, they'll save as much oil as we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined last year. Consumers will save billions of dollars at the pump, and innovative automotive technologies will flourish and create thousands of new jobs as a direct result of these new standards.

Sounds great, right? Ironically, though, we need to work just as hard to win a solution like this as to stop a problem like the Keystone XL.

It's not always easy to get people as excited about long-term solutions like fuel-economy standards as it is to galvanize them against immediate threats like tar sands. But if we don't reduce demand for oil through solutions like strong fuel-efficiency standards, better transit options and smart urban planning, we'll find it a little harder each time to resist the demands to develop projects like the Keystone XL or drill in a treasured wilderness like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So although nowhere near as dramatic as last week's Keystone XL announcement, yesterday's finalized vehicle standards represent an equally significant commitment by President Obama to move our nation beyond oil and toward a clean-energy future. It's a commitment that deserves all the support we can give it.

Ready to be part of the solution? Let the Obama administration know you support the strong fuel-economy and carbon-pollution standards that will move America beyond oil.

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