Gary Starr’s company builds electric-powered vehicles for a living, so it is no surprise that he thinks America needs to develop alternative power sources for its transportation needs. However, he believes that the nation’s over-reliance on petroleum to fuel the majority of its transportation needs could become very costly in the near future – more than outweighing the cost of alternative power options.

“When President Carter declared that the energy crisis was the moral equivalent of war and that this country should become more independent of foreign sources of oil, about 35% of our oil was coming from overseas,” said Starr, CEO of Calif.-based ZAP. “Today over 54% of our oil is imported and it could soon approach 60%.”

Speaking at the Sustainable Energy Forum last week at Sonoma (California) State University, he said relaxed standards for fuel consumption by personal vehicles has contributed to America’s oil dependence problem – and that the problem will only get worse without major policy changes.

“During the past three decades, this country’s energy policy has become a policy dictated by the power elite, the oil and auto lobbies,” Starr said, noting that personal vehicles consume 35% of the U.S.’s oil. “Although the current mileage standard is 27.5 mpg, our national average is now at a 20-year low, with an average of only about 23 miles per gallon, due to the successful lobbying efforts to exempt SUV from these standards.”

Starr added that more fuel-efficient vehicles – specifically hybrids – are commercially available today and could substantially reduce those consumption levels. The Honda hybrid car – running on electric- and gasoline-powered motors – is rated at 70 mpg.

He also criticized federal energy policies that have put alternative-fuel research dollars into the hands “of those that have always fought legislation to move alternative transportation forward.”