Here's a lesson in legislation over-estimating reality. In 1992, Congress passed an aggressive energy bill requiring that 30 percent of the fuel powering U.S. cars come from sources other than gasoline. Sounds great, but the problem is that we're no where near meeting that deadline. Due to a recent environmental group lawsuit, the Department of Energy was required to develop a revised goal. Last Tuesday, the DOE proposed that goal be pushed back 20 years and be set at 2030.

According to DOE figures, alternative fuels currently represent 2.5 percent of the country's annual fuel consumption, a figure, the department says, that has remained nearly stagnant over the last 10 years.

In 2010, U.S. oil demand is expected to be over 12 million barrels per day, 30 percent of which would be about 3.7 million barrels.

[Correction: Tom pointed out a factual error that we'd like to correct. In 2010, U.S. oil gasoline demand is expected to be over 12 million barrels per day. U.S. oil demand will be much higher.]

If we were to rest our hopes solely on ethanol to fill the gap, the predicted numbers come up staggeringly short. The Renewable Fuels Association says that current U.S. production capacity for ethanol is only at 313,000 barrels a day. New plants seem to pop up every week, but, national ethanol production won't come close to account for the shortcoming any time soon. The DOE estimates that even if all the corn currently grown by American farmers were converted to ethanol, it would provide just 1.17 million barrels a day, far short of the total expected 3.7 million barrel per day requirement.

There's lots more after the jump.
How does this translate to vehicle sales? The DOE has some figures for that as well. There are roughly 6 million alternative fuel vehicles currently on U.S. roads. To cover enough alternative fuel consumption to meet the 30 percent mandate that number would have to grow by a factor of 15 to 90 million vehicles over the next three years.

So what went wrong? Was Congress merely overly optimistic 14 years ago? Have we not implemented enough short-term policies that would have gradually lead to a more favorable outcome? Or is it simply an issue of historically low gas prices? In this article from NPR's All Things Considered, Dana O'Hara, a spokesman for the DOE, says that our failure to meet the requirement lies in the fact that the law didn't set mandates to encourage the private sector to either manufacture or purchase alternative fuels and alternative-fueled vehicles. He also says that in 1992 oil prices seemed destined to rise but instead plummeted, drastically limiting the viability of alternative fuel and vehicle research.

Consider this a wake-up call. We need to debate the combination of factors that brought us here, but not for the next 23 years. If we don't confront our lethargic response to our energy problem we'll be destined to have this same conversation under the pressure of another missed deadline.

As required by law, the DOE will be taking public comment through November 3rd.

[Source: Monsters and Critics]

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