Hello again everyone. I hope all your holidays were happy ones, and that the history we made together on December 19—when the president signed into law the first increase in fuel economy standards in more than 30 years—made them a little brighter. This month’s Driving Change Newsletter is full of good stuff, but if you’re hungry for more details, I’d also recommend heading over to HybridBlog.org, where I’ve written a number of articles there about what happened on key subjects from auto shows to the Energy Bill and its aftermath.
My thanks to all DCN members for your great input throughout 2007. I look forward to more discussion, action, and success with all of you in the New Year.
UCS National Field Organizer &
In this issue:
Boy-oh-boy, December 19 will certainly go down as an historic day—in both good and bad ways. On the good side, all the hard work we did together to overcome automaker intransigence and 30 years of stagnation on fuel economy paid off when the president signed the Energy Bill into law. That day I blogged delightedly about how the Energy Bill negotiations went down, and my take on the excitement I felt as a consumer about these new efficiency standards.
But the ink had not even dried on the new law, the champagne cork not even popped, when the Bush administration turned right around and used the new fuel economy standards to take a step backwards on global warming pollution from automobiles. Yes, on the evening of December 19, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson rejected the waiver request for California and other states to regulate global warming pollution from vehicles. This was a blatantly political move, as the EPA’s own lawyers and advisors recommended the waiver be granted. This is the first time in the history of the Clean Air Act that the federal government has denied the state a waiver! And, since April, three separate courts—including the Supreme Court—upheld these standards, noting that fuel economy standards for autos and global warming pollution standards for autos were indeed independent of each other.
California will sue to reverse this decision, and they will likely win. What a waste of time—time we need to find more complementary ways to reduce global warming pollution, not to fill up the courts’ time arguing over methods already proven to be both legal, and effective.
So, instead of allowing America to truly show leadership on global warming simply by upholding the law, the Bush administration chose bad business as usual. We made historic strides in Congress, but more must be done. Please join me in expressing your profound disappointment with EPA Administrator Johnson and the entire Bush administration.
In last month’s feature on green car rentals, I touched on the dubious environmental friendliness of “flex fuel” vehicles (FFVs) that can run on biofuels like ethanol as compared to hybrids on the road today. Interest in FFVs and biofuels is a part of a larger wave of interest in homegrown, renewable energy that could help drive U.S. energy and transportation policy in a bold, new direction.
The use of biofuels and other types of bioenergy—electricity and solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels derived from plant materials—has the potential to increase energy security, promote economic development, and decrease global warming pollution. Unfortunately, expanding the production and use of bioenergy could also have unintended environmental and economic consequences. The key is that bioenergy be done smart, and that’s the purpose of the new UCS Smart Bioenergy initiative.
As many of you may have seen when UCS officially launched this initiative earlier this month, my colleagues and I noted that no other organization has the scientific expertise to sort through competing options for addressing these complex issues and to translate them into practical, responsible solutions for decision makers and the public. Our engineers and scientists who specialize in agriculture, climate, energy, and vehicles issues are uniquely situated to serve as guides through the lifecycle of bioenergy from “seed to sedan.”
Guided by the UCS bioenergy principles (pdf), the Smart Bioenergy initiative seeks to educate and advocate for a smart approach to bioenergy that fully accounts for its environmental and economic impacts and uncertainties. As noted in our first report in the UCS Smart Bioenergy series—Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet—biofuels, like other sources of bioenergy, are not a “silver bullet” but something that, along with conservation and efficiency, can guide us down the path to a cleaner, more secure energy future.
In the past, I’ve talked with some excitement and noted just about every story that has come out about Ford developing demonstration models and testing FFV versions of the Escape Hybrid. This could be a tremendous synergy of advanced technologies and fuels if both are put to most effective use. The UCS HybridCenter was developed to help explain the technology behind hybrid vehicles. Through our Smart Bioenergy initiative UCS is working to ensure that bioenergy policies throughout the nation include environmental safeguards that prioritize production methods and materials that produce the lowest amount of global warming pollution. In addition, we’re highlighting that bioenergy is just one part of the whole solution—it must be pursued in conjunction with increases in energy efficiency, reduced energy demand through conservation, and reforms in transportation and land use policies.
Our first Smart Bioenergy action is actually related to something we’ve been working on for quite a while—the Energy Bill. UCS analysts and advocates in Washington pushed to ensure that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the Energy Bill included strong provisions supporting sustainable bioenergy development. Unfortunately, a competing version of the RFS, one stripped of vital environmental safeguards, has been added to the Senate-passed version of the Food and Farm Bill. If this version of the RFS passes and is signed into law, it will trump the stronger RFS signed by the president earlier this week.
Please urge your representative to support a smart Renewable Fuel Standard that protects our air, soil, and water and significantly reduces global warming pollution. The RFS included in the Energy Bill—not the Senate Food and Food and Farm Bill—represents a positive first step for bioenergy to play a real role in America's global warming solution.
- Hybrid Sales Soar & Toyota Marks an Anniversary: According to November figures, U.S. sales of hybrids grew 82 percent during the past year and accounted for almost three percent of all light-duty vehicles sold. Sales of most models—except for such muscle hybrids as the Honda Accord and Lexus GS 450h—were up from last year. The Toyota Prius, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on December 15, again topped the November sales stats. For more information, check out the Hybrid News Center.
- Who’s Got Hybrids?: The consumer and media research firm Scarborough Research conducted a survey of 110,000 adults and found that hybrid owners tend to be wealthy, active, and well-educated. According to the survey, hybrid owners also tend to eat organic foods more often, golf more regularly, and vote in presidential elections at a higher rate. (For the record, I myself hate golf, but do vote.) To learn more and see if you match the hybrid profile, visit the Hybrid News Center.
- Mileage Displays—Not Just for Hybrids Anymore: As automakers finally accept the overwhelming consumer interest in cleaner cars, the industry is beginning to respond outside of just the hybrid class. One of the most popular new inclusions is the “fuel efficiency feedback display”, common in every hybrid. (If you survey our Who’s Got Hybrids? owners, you’ll see that many of them talk about how the fuel economy displays really help them max their mileage, and I concur from personal experience.) Toyota, Ford, Nissan, and Honda are among the automakers considering or currently offering mpg dashboard gauges in many more of their conventional models. To learn more, visit the Hybrid News Center.
- Car of the Future—Fuel Cell or Plugin? A battle seems to be brewing over which technology—hydrogen fuel cell or plug-in electric vehicles—will revolutionize the vehicle of tomorrow. As both vehicles move closer to production reality, competition for publicity, regulatory perks, and funding is intensifying. As the jury is still out regarding which vehicle technology is the best bet for a cleaner transportation future, many automakers are funding the development of both technologies. For example, General Motors is developing and testing the Chevy Volt plugin and Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicles. For more information, check out the Hybrid News Center.
Donald & Debra Shank of Everett, WA average about 37 mpg with their Ford Escape Hybrid. They particularly love the dashboard fuel economy display: “We've found that we can use this graph to teach ourselves how to increase our mileage.”
If you own a hybrid model or know of anyone who does, please remember to tell them to submit their testimonials today! Also remember that if you have an existing testimonial, and you’d like to update either the picture or the text, feel free to send me an email and we’ll be happy to make those changes for you.
What would a winter DCN newsletter be without a mention of our old friend, the reduction in efficiency of hybrid vehicles in cold weather? As I’ve noted, my Prius usually drops from 42-46 mpg in spring-summer months to 37-40 mpg in the winter. I’m not going to go back over all of the different tips we received from DCN members and automakers last time we called the question—you can read about it here.
I will, however, make you privy to a little discussion that happened between me and some of our talented engineers in the office. One of the suggestions that we did not print last year was that people could turn off their heat. In most vehicles, hybrids included, the heat that comes out of your vents to keep you toasty in the car is actually waste heat from your engine (pretty nifty recycling, eh?)—it’s why it takes longer for your heat to get to optimal temperature than your AC—the engine needs to heat up. Therefore, the actual impact on your fuel economy of turning your vehicle’s heat off is questionable.
That said, both the DCN members who wrote in with this tip and I have had a similar practical experience. When you have the heat on and you’re at a stoplight, the idle-off functionality rarely if ever engages, so the engine idles, and, therefore, wastes gas. As Jim in Lexington pointed out, this doesn’t mean you should make Grandma freeze if you’re picking her up, but if you’re curious to see whether this has an effect on fuel economy, give it a try. If you do, send me an email and let me know what your result was.
That’s it for this month everyone. Take a break, catch your breath, sip some champagne (or beverage of your choice), and enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!