Wednesday, April 28, 2010

UCS proposes plug-in cars roadblock: What's wrong with Big Enviro?

With friends like these.....

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has proposed what could be a huge roadblock to the further implementation of our sensible pro-plug-in car policies. At the SAE World Congress,
Union of Concerned Scientists [Research Director of the Clean Vehicles Program] Dave Friedman stated that automakers should be responsible for the methods used to generate power for electric vehicles.'s report continues:
Toyota's director of environmental technology, Tom Stricker, was shocked by what Friedman said. Stricker responded in disbelief with, "Are you saying auto companies should be held responsible for electricity generation?" Friedman replied stating that new policies need to account for the entire energy use of a vehicle.
And that reaction was from an auto company that is taking a "go slow" approach to using grid electricity as a "fuel" for cars.

Let's be clear. Scientific studies comparing the emissions from a gas car's tailpipe and the electric car's smokestack, so to speak, range from "a wash" (all coal) to "a big win" for the electric car (natural gas, hydro, nuclear, renewables or even a combination including some coal.) Begin to account for petroleum's up-stream emissions, and we find ourselves well past no-brainer territory.

Yet here we've got a reputable enviro organization, with "science" right in it's title, that appears ready to penalize plug-in cars just as they are approaching the showroom by asking the cleaner technology to pass a hurdle never demanded of petroleum.

Big Enviro - the national Sierra Club , the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC,) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) - have long been less than enthusiastic about plug-ins. Based on the science, they should have long ago made clear to their members and policy makers that a plug-in car driving on the grid today is cleaner than a gas car. Whether plug-in cars are available or not, this is something they know and should want people to understand. In addition, because an EV can drive as easily on renewable electricity as coal, electric points the way toward a true zero emission future that includes electricity generation and mobility.

Instead, Big Enviro has gone down the rat hole of diminishing returns. Putting their faith in perpetual tinkering with engine efficiencies and fuel mixtures along with an array of ways to perpetuate the gasoline paradigm, from biofuels to hydrogen, has left consumers and policymakers confused. Perhaps they bought into the automakers determination not to make plug-in cars, and didn't want to tilt at windmills, so to speak. Perhaps they saw their "SUV-into-the-wild"-driving membership base as a tough nut to crack for "limited range" electric cars. There are signs that bode well for Big Enviro becoming more actively supportive, including that Michael Brune, longtime supporter of plug-in cars at Rainforest Action Network, has come on as Executive Director at Sierra Club.

This will all change as plug-in electric cars hit the road. It won't be long, I suspect, before the leadership of our major environmental organizations gets with the program, as their own membership begins to drive plug-in cars. They'll begin using plug-in cars in their self-promotion, as if they've been pushing for this all along. May that day come soon.