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A true breath of fresh air from Washington

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POSTED January 28, 2009 1:32 a.m.
Thank you, President Obama.

One of the most insane stances of the Bush Administration was the blocking of California’s attempt to reduce greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2020. To reach that goal, the language of Assembly Bill 32 requires vehicles produced for California to average 35.7 miles per gallon. It is a far cry from the current federal standard of 22.3 mph for light trucks and SUVs and 27.5 mpg for cars.

Yet the Bush Administration was still holding a big stick over the Central Valley - particularly the San Joaquin Valley – that it had to lower its air pollution by 2015 or risk losing all federal transportation money. And for the record, the North America Free Trade Agreement folks never saw anything ironic about allowing Mexico the right to send trucks as far north as Fresno after fueling before crossing the border with some of the dirtiest diesel on the planet while California truckers have to burn cleaner and more expensive diesel plus replace their engines.

Air quality has improved in California. All it takes, though, is to drive south toward Bakersfield on a stagnant day to realize we still have a long way to go. You can’t see the foothills 10 miles away. People are being forced to breathe that air. A lot of what ends up down there started in San Francisco and was blown across the Altamont. We contribute to the problem in Bakersfield as well. The only way to reduce it significantly is for everyone in California to spew fewer emissions per mile driven.

Besides, since we are saddling the next generation or so with the Mother of All Debt to cover the follies of our greedy behavior the very least we can do is make sure they have some air left to breathe.

There are those who argue such a tough standard is the equivalent of the death knell for the auto industry. Hogwash. California represents just over a tenth of the new car market in this country. Thirteen other states are pursuing tougher standards similar to California’s but were blocked by the federal government. It includes some heavy hitters such as New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington. Rest assured that probably represents close to a third of the market for vehicles sold in this country. That is a pretty big demand you can’t ignore.

It wasn’t too long ago that General Motors and Chrysler were dismissing hybrids as ineffective stop-gap measures to increase fuel efficiency because they claimed there was no market for them. Ford saw it differently.

I was fully aware when I bought my 2005 Ford Escape hybrid I was paying over $4,000 more than I was for the comparable all gas fueled four-cylinder version. People told me I wasn’t smart as I’d never retrieve it in the gas I’d save over the life of the car noting it would have to hit $4 a gallon to pencil out. Those same doubters, by the way, now think I was a genius for buying when I did and two of them have told me they want first shot at buying the Escape if I ever sell.

I bought the Escape hybrid because I was impressed with Ford’s quality – equal or better than Japanese manufacturers that were offering hybrids – and the fact I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint.

We shouldn’t always be driven by the bottom line. We all have a stewardship when it comes to this planet and future generations. Some do it by driving hybrids; others do it in other ways. The bigger the demand gets for hybrids or other technology the lower the per unit cost gets.

Hybrids are perfect for people who do mostly local driving as mileage and gas savings soar and emissions drop. Colder weather has dropped the overall mileage I get to about 27.5 miles per gallon but when the daytime temperatures are 70 degrees or better I average just a tad less than 33 miles per gallon.

The only thing at the moment that would get me out of my hybrid is a plug-in hybrid. It comes down to making a cost-effective storage battery for electricity. If what they are saying happens, though, 75 miles on a charge would mean I’d rarely have to use the gas engine during the course of a year. Even if the cost was $6,000 to $7,500 more based on projections that the electrical charges would cost, it would make sense for someone with my driving habits.

I’d virtually have a vehicle that would have  a gas engine that maybe gets 1,000 miles on it a year while the batteries take care of the other 11,000 miles. Plus I wouldn’t be limited by all electric cars as I have a gas engine to fall back on for longer trips.

Obama gets full credit on this one for letting the people who have to deal with the real problems such as California leaders to do what has to be done to improve the quality of life today and for future generations.
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