Sunday July 21st 2024


Big Oil's profits have soared 75%, as Americans struggle to pay high fuel bills,
but Congress has voted huge new subsidies for oil, coal and gas,
shunned energy efficiency and is turning back the environmental clock.

The Associated Press story painted a rosey picture of the newly-passed Energy bill. It said that the legislation would provide “a diverse mix of fuels, new jobs, cleaner burning coal and the next generation of nuclear reactors.” The AP said the bill passed because it “includes something for virtually everyone,” will help arrest the energy crisis, and that it will be “a boon to farmers.” 

There was only one sentence quoting Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who opposed the legislation, and the story made it appear that he did so only on the basis of cost.

It’s true that the bill does some laudable things. It gives consumers tax credits for the purchase of hybrid-electric cars and tax breaks for making energy conservation improvements to their homes.

But contrary to the claims made by the anonymous writer of the superficial ap news story, Congress’ own internal analysis shows the new energy bill will increase the cost of gasoline, not bring it down. It will provide billions of dollars of new subsidies for oil, gas, nuclear, and coal, worsening the budget deficit and slowing our transition to a clean, new, efficient energy future. It eliminates environmental review of a host of damaging energy projects, accelerating the loss of family farms, ranches, and watersheds to the oil industry, particularly in the mountain West. It opens the door to an amped-up international trade in weapons-grade uranium and does so in the context of today’s rapidly nuclearizing world. It also perpetuates distortions in the energy market, providing needless subsidies for already-rich oil companies to drill offshore and on federal lands, and for marginal oil wells. It instructs the Department of the Interior to get ready to lease the entire coast of the United States for oil and gas drilling, including places like California, Florida, the Carolinas, New England, and the Pacific Northwest that have been protected since the early 1980s.

Any objective analysis of the legislation shows that it won’t lower energy prices, spur the economy, create jobs or promote energy conservation and efficiency. Instead, it fosters the notion that if environmental and other regulatory burdens are lifted, the good old fossil-fuel industry can meet the challenge of increased energy demand. As Americans dig deeper into their pockets to pay their utility bills and fill up their gas tanks, the new bill keeps the oil and utility companies in the driver’s seat. As gasoline prices careen out of control, Congress keeps America speeding down the wrong road toward more oil consumption, more drilling, and more pollution.

The bill’s most far-reaching but obscure provision may be the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, a Depression-era law which has blocked the owners of utilities from owning other companies and has prevented mergers in the power industry. Consumer advocates warn that the repeal will trigger a flurry of mergers and acquisitions by banks, oil firms and even foreign countries, leading to increased rates and Enron-style frauds. There is no doubt that this will transform the industry, thrusting as much as $1 trillion in utility assets into the global marketplace.

“This will be one of the biggest economic changes in the country in 70 years,” said Lynn Hargis of the consumer group Public Citizen.

The bid by a Chinese company to buy Unocal, a major American-based oil company, is just the beginning of the global scramble to tie up oil supplies.

How did such a boondoggle of an energy bill pass with bipartisan support? U.S. business interests lobbied heavily for the bill, with the energy sector contributing more than $50 million in the 2004 election cycle alone, 75% of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Vastly outspent, environmental groups gave $1.9 million, 88% of it to Democrats.

“The [energy] bill is a lobbyist’s dream and a taxpayer’s nightmare. [It] is less a coherent policy than a grab bag of giveaways for special interests,” says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

Even more outrageous is that both Democrats and Republicans voted to be-stow scarce tax dollars on the oil indusry at a time when the oil giants are rolling in the dough. Taxpayer groups have questioned why thriving energy companies need federal aid to produce energy. But the bill’s defenders say it is not realistic to expect newer and cleaner technologies to succeed on their own. “They need a jump-start,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute.

Frank O’Donnell, president of  Clean Air Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act, disagrees. He observes that “The real reason oil companies haven’t built any refineries since the 1970s is that they’ve historically made small margins on refining, and they’ve found it profitable to make sure that there isn’t a glut of fuel on the market. Recent profit statements suggest the industry strategy is working pretty well for them, though not for hapless consumers.”

O’Donnell notes, for instance, that ExxonMobil is reportedly sitting on $30 billion in cash.  And analysts say the cash total will continue to climb. Rather than planning new refineries, the company has started buying back some of its stock—a way to bolster the stock price.

By just about any measure, the past three years have produced one of the biggest cash gushers in the oil industry’s history. Since January of 2002, the price of crude has tripled, leaving oil producers awash in profits. During that period, the top ten major public oil companies have sold $1.5 trillion worth of crude, pocketing profits of more than $125 billion.

“This is the mother of all booms,” said Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit. “They have so much profit, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They don’t know what to do with it.”

“Big oil behemoths are making out like bandits, while the average American family is getting killed by high gas prices, and...record heating oil prices,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said recently.

To put this in perspective, in the three months between June and September 2005, during which Hurricane Katrina hit and gas prices jumped overnight, Exxon Mobile brought in more money —  $100 billion — than any company in the history of the world. Actual third-quarter earnings of Exxon Mobil soared 75%, to almost $10 billion. Exxon’s revenue for the three-month period was greater than the annual gross domestic product of some of the largest oil producing nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait — even though it lost considerable production because of a string of hurricanes that battered the U.S. Gulf coast.
Royal Dutch Shell made $9.03 billion, British oil giant bp $4.41 billion, U.S.-based Chevron $3.6 billion and ConocoPhillips $3.8 billion. A bipartisan coalition in Congress has proposed a windfall profits tax. But Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary, said the Bush administration is against any effort to impose taxes on the oil industry as a way of assisting poor families with the energy costs.

Most worrisome is that the energy bill subsidizes more rapid depletion of dwindling u.s. oil reserves, which means an increasingly dangerous dependence on Middle East oil, the dictators who control it and the terrorists who influence them. Critics also charge it hurts workers and communities by failing to invest in innovation and infrastructure.

Our dependence on foreign sources of energy stands at a frightening 60%. Lest we forget, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 came not from Iraq, but from Saudi Arabia. Yet we continue to do business with the Saudis, even though it is perfectly clear that they still support the fundamentalistic clerics who spread terrorism. We’re junkies — “oiloholics” — who will do anything to keep the supply open.

We send more than $350,000 to other countries every minute just to keep oil flowing. The cost of operating your children’s school bus, the bills you pay to have your trash collected, the cost of transportation in everything from a taxi to a jetliner, the cost of getting the goods you buy to the stores where you buy them, all rise with the cost of fuel.

United Parcel Service, which operates the world’s ninth-largest airline, as well as a fleet of 88,000 trucks, has seen its fuel costs soar 45% in the second quarter this year, after a 30% jump in the first quarter and a 35% increase in 2004 compared with 2003.

High fuel costs also hit taxpayers in other ways. Azeezaly Jaffer, vice president of the United States Postal Service points out that “a penny on the price of gas [adds] $8 million to our bottom line.”

Missed Opportunities
The single biggest thing that Congress could have done that would have a real impact on our consumption of and dependence on foreign oil would have been to mandate that automobile manufacturers utilize existing technologies to increase gasoline mileage. As things stand now — according to the Environmental Protection Agency in a report that was suppressed until after the vote on the energy bill — America’s cars and trucks are significantly less efficient, on average, than they were in 1985.  When Senator Dianne Feinstein offered an amendment to strengthen fuel economy standards for suvs, minivans and pickups, Sen. James Talent of Missouri opposed the amendment with an argument about potential lost jobs, and most of the energy committee sided with him.
Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil and other petroleum companies oppose the one sure-fire, unmistakable way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil: requiring better gas mileage. And in this Con-gress at least, big oil gets what big oil wants.

In the end, mileage requirements were not included in the measure, even though more than two-thirds of the oil we consume goes into gasoline tanks. Congress couldn’t even muster the courage to do away with the $35,000 tax credit for gas-guzzling Hummer 2s.

As it turns out, the American public is well ahead of its leaders. Storm damage to the oil-producing infrastructure in the Gulf has already refined their thinking on issues such as conservation. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, conducted just after Katrina struck, 86% support requiring higher fuel efficiency in
motor vehicles. Sixty-eight percent want more money for mass transit.

China now has more ambitious gas-mileage standards than the United States.

Two weeks after President Bush signed the new energy bill, his Administration proposed a pathetically weak increase in light truck miles per gallon standards and has given automakers an increased op-portunity to rig the system by actually increasing the size of their suvs and other light trucks.  This will make matters worse. A study by the Public Interest Research Group (pirg) showed that American consumers will already spend $5 billion more at the gas pump than they should have to because of shortsighted automobile fuel economy policies.

Oil that reached $70 a barrel is draining family bank accounts, accelerating the flow of u.s. dollars overseas, driving companies such as Minneapolis-based Northwest airlines into bankruptcy, suppressing consumer spending, and putting a serious hurt on u.s. auto companies that bet their profitability and future on suvs.
The arrival of colder weather also means many families will be seeing huge increases in the cost of home heating oil this Winter, since natural gas prices have gained 73% this year. This is especially burdensome on the elderly and those with limited income.

According to the Energy Department, for the next 18 months, the demand for oil by ravenous consumers, not just here but in the developing world, with China in the lead, is going to keep escalating. In the u.s., demand should ratchet up to 21.3 million barrels of oil a day.

But elsewhere, demand is beginning to explode. In China, it will jump to 7.8 million barrels, from 6.5 million last
year. That will power a jump in worldwide demand to 87 million barrels, from 85 million this year and 82.8 million in 2004.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, passage of the bill means that what the world has to look forward to on the oil supply-and-de-mand front is just more of the same: very tight supplies and unending pressure on already exorbitant prices. 

The new energy legislation also leaves out the whole question of mandatory controls on the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, thereby costing both an opportunity to raise revenue and create a market mechanism that might have accelerated the development of cleaner, more efficient technologies.
Even though supporters of the newly-passed bill tout the money it gives to wind and solar energy devlopment, those al-ternative energy incentives equal less than what our Congressmen have allocated for about two weeks’ worth of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s less than the u.s. spends in farm subsidies yearly.

Turning Back the Environmental Clock

Instead of looking out for the public welfare, Congress has decided that our right to clean, safe drinking water is less important than the oil and gas industry’s right to drill, drill, drill. By weakening both the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, Congress has imperiled one of our most valuable natural resources.
Sen. Pete Domenici is looking to use Katrina as an excuse to further ease environmental requirements on oil refineries, and George Allen wants to permanently repeal parts of the Clean Air Act.

Critics question why the oil and gas industry should be exempt from any aspect of environmental law.

“This bill will allow America’s most profitable companies to pollute our water supplies,” said David Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society. “They’re the kings of Capitol Hill.”

Additionally, the bill will allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to site liquefied natural gas terminals with reduced local and state input, which raises major security, environmental, and economic concerns for coastal communities.

Mercury from coal plants is the largest unregulated source of pollution in the nation, and environmentalists say the new federal power plant cleanup rules aren’t strong enough to protect our health from the smog-forming gases and fine particles from these plants. These can trigger asthma and heart attacks. Power plant emissions also cause acid ran, contribute to global warming and contain toxic mercury that can cause neurological damage, particularly in children. Many lakes across the country are so contaminated with mercury that women of child-bearing are warned to limit fish consumption. Yet new coal plants are proposed for 125 communities.

The recently adopted Clean Air Inter-state Rules include caps on air emissions from power plants that are far too high and deadlines that are far too late to protect human health.

Property-rights advocates are also alarmed that the energy bill gives the federal government new eminent-domain powers to clear paths for power lines — a long-standing demand of the nation’s electric utilities. The utilities said they were being thwarted by not-in-my-back-yard opposition, so the politicians came to their rescue. But this undermines the right of local citizens to object to destructive plans by power companies to install new high voltage power lines across their land, desecrating the environment and exposing families to potential health hazards from electromagnetic fields.

Already stirring controversy is a provision allowing businesses to skip state courts and head directly to federal appeals courts in cases where state officials deny or stall energy projects.

The provision was just one example of how the energy bill, touted as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil or moderate gasoline prices, has been turned into a piñata of perks for energy industries.

Nuclear Brought Back
The law also promises to resurrect the stagnant nuclear power industry, which has not commissioned a new plant in more than 30 years. But Americans do not use nuclear power or the electricity it produces to power their cars — the principal cause of our dependence on foreign oil supplies threatened by terrorism and upheaval.

“Nuclear power is the only power source that is subsidized from cradle to grave, and this bill will make nuclear power even more dependent on government handouts,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The anti-nuclear movement may not be as active as it was in the 1980s, but “it’ll be ready the minute they start unloading a new nuclear power plant,” said author Harvey Wasserman of Columbus, Ohio, who was one of the founding members of the Clamshell Alliance, a New England antinuclear group formed in 1976 to fight the Seabrook Nuclear Pow-er Station in New Hampshire.

With newly extended limits on liability in accidents, utilities are free to de-velop plans for new facilities. It gives a big boost — at taxpayers’ expense — to an industry that has run aground because of local opposition to reactors, lingering doubts after the Three Mile Island nu-clear plant accident in 1979, the uncertainty of regulatory delays, local op- position, potentially costly litigation, and the long-term problem of what to do with radiactive waste.

The bill also included $2 billion for “risk insurance” in case new nuclear plants run into construction and licensing delays. And nuclear utilities will be eligible for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees of as much as 80% of the cost of their plants. Thus this new law is expected to spur a building boom, even though the disposal of nuclear waste remains an unresolved hot topic far into the future.

Indeed, the safety concerns are real. Nuclear power creates dangerous radio-active waste for which there is no safe disposal method. Native Americans are al- so railing against plans to dump waste on their tribal lands. U.s. intelligence sources indicate nuclear plants are among the targets most vulnerable to terrorism.
Most alarmingly, the bill severely weakens export controls on highly enriched uranium, increasing the risk of proliferation to rogue and hostile-state nuclear bomb-makers — a provision even op-posed by the Bush administration.

Even Republicans Oppose
When President Bush signed the new energy bill into law in Aug-ust, the Associated Press once a-gain distributed to its subscribing newspapers and broadcast outlets nationwide an unsigned piece that touted the benefits of the measure, while failing to tell Americans the major shortcomings. Out of a 783-word article, the ap only devoted the final two sentences to the groups which had opposed the law, noting that they “plan to highlight what else is not in the energy bill.” Thus they made it seem like the energy bill didn’t go far enough.

With the Associated Press at times re-sembling a propaganda arm of the govvernment, it’s no wonder the public at large has been in the dark about the true ramifications of the energy bill.

Yet this hasn’t prevented critics from voicing their concerns.

Martha Marks, president of the National Republicans for Environmental Protection, said the ten-year-old grass-roots organization was disappointed. “It really gives a short shrift to conservation and it still continues to subsidize the well-established oil and gas industries that really don’t need subsidizing especially when (crude) oil is $60 [and more] a barrel,” she said.

Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, observed, “They did as little as they possibly could in order to have a nice talking point.”
Even the comparatively conservative National Center of Policy Analysis’ en-ergy-team scholars found “special interests” drove the legislation. Center senior fellow Rob Bradley concluded that the bill “represents a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to energy producers.”

Editorial pages also took aim at the new bill. The Richmond Times-Dispatch commented, “What the country needed in a new energy bill was a dramatic national campaign to end the nation’s dependence on im-ported energy in the interest of national security. What would have been nice would have been something along the lines of the call that President John Kennedy made when he pledged the country would put a man on the moon in the 1960s, but we did not get that.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution observed, “Any way you look at it — economically, militarily, environmentally, geo-strategically — the energy bill agreed to by Congress represents an abdication of national responsibility. Overall, when we need vision from our leaders, they give us greed instead. When we need politicians willing to take a hard look at the future, we get hacks who turn out to be soft touches for lobbyists.”

Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch noted, “Concern for the safety of oil supplies is at the root of the present war in Iraq and the previous one. Yet again, Congress has failed to deal with the key issue and map out a reasonable plan to reduce Ameri-cans’ oil consumption and, at the same time, the pollution it causes.”

Writing in the rightwing Union-Leader newspaper of Manchester, New Hampshire, Jim Rubens groused, “Today’s Congress would have cozied up to the hand calculator, patent medicine and telegraph industries and stymied computers, biotechnology and the Internet.”

Public Cool to Conservation
From that day “Colonel” Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in 1857 in Titusville, Penn., petroleum began to edge out other contenders as the fuel of choice. In 1901, when speculators hit the first Texas gusher on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, the multi-billion-dollar oil industry was born. With crude oil trading for less than $20 a barrel for most of the 20th century, refined products like gasoline and kero-sene provided a cheap, safe, reliable, versatile and easily-transported energy source with which alternatives simply couldn’t compete.

The average American consumes about 25 barrels of oil a year, the Chinese 1.3 barrels. Yet China is already the world’s second largest energy consumer. Energy demand there has doubled since 1980 and could triple between now and 2020, representing 25% of the increase in global demand.

With world oil production capacity already stretched to the limit, global energy demand over the next decade will be very difficult to meet without shortages and even higher prices.

Obviously, with gasoline prices skyrocketing, the drive to conserve energy should be getting another big push. After all, each barrel of oil saved is just as good as a new one found underground.

But the newly-passed energy bill calls for no sacrifices from the American peo-ple. Thus, within a few years — or perhaps months — we will need another energy bill to deal with the real crisis that has arisen from peak oil.

By the time Congress gets around to the next energy bill of course, it will be apparent to nearly everyone a world-class crisis is upon us. The poor countries will be in anarchy due to their inability to afford or purchase sufficient oil. In the developed countries, the price of gasoline will be so high, there will be no question the current price is not just a temporary “spike” caused by speculators. If long lines at the gas pumps accompany very high prices, then the message to pass real legislation will come even sooner.

The required Congressional actions are obvious and simple: mandatory conservation and the halting of wasteful practices, a shift to renewable energy, and the development of sustainable lifestyles. While this is easy to say, it will require a transformation of a corrupt political process that allows big energy producers to dictate public policy. The American public will have to become more involved, and hold their elected officials accountable for bad energy legislation.

U.S. oil demand keeps growing. In its latest Shorter Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. Department of Energy predicts the nation’s appetite for petroleum products will continue rising — ending this year 1.9% higher than last year. Even as prices soar, demand growth is expected to rise by 1.2% next year.

Until the recent increase in gas prices at the pump, consumers were largely indifferent to the surge in crude prices. One reason is that people are conditioned to expect price spikes to be short-lived, said Clifton Green, a finance professor at Emory University’s business school.

“People now are just more cynical about the price of oil,” he said. “They figure, ‘Oh, it won’t stay high; it’ll come back down; they’ll start digging in Alaska; they’ll find some more.’ So consumers are less apt to change as quickly.”

Moreover, Americans aren’t feeling anything like the pain of the 1970s; adjusted for inflation, oil would have to hit $80 a barrel to match the peak prices of 25 years ago.

In fact, many of those involved in trying to cut energy use avoid the word “conservation” altogether — a term that brings to mind personal sacrifices like buying a smaller car or making fewer trips to the mountains in your sport utility vehicle. The emphasis now is on “efficiency” — maintaining the same standard of living and little change in lifestyle, all while using less energy.

Some Signs of Hope
Most agree that a major part of the solution will require much greater emphasis on making the energy sources we already have work harder — replacing megawatts of electrical power, for example, with “negawatts” of conservation.

One of the assets the United States has as we enter an era of oil depletion, is a significant portion of our 20 million barrel per day consumption is pure waste which can be eliminated with relatively minor changes to our lifestyles and appliances.

“Saving and substituting efficiency for all the oil we use is cheaper than buying it,” said Amory Lovins. “Every way we use energy of every form is ripe for greater efficiency.”

He also points to renewable energy sources, which of course are hardly new. Photovoltaic solar power cells have provided electricity to locations not served by the grid — from remote homes to missions to Mars — since they were first invented in the 1950s. When nuclear power was introduced at about the same time, it was thought that one day it would be “too cheap to meter.” Wind and water have been used to power mills for centuries — long before the electrical grid was created.
And “biomass” — in the form of wood or other combustibles —  was the world’s first energy source until the middle of the 19th Century, when the development of railroads, which made possible the production of millions of tons of coal, reduced the reliance on wood for fuel.

Even though there is a scarcity of leadership at the top in Washington, among members of both parties in Congress and the White House, there are signs of hope. The good news is that technological ad-vances offer a wealth of opportunities to cut fossil fuel consumption.

“Our technologies (for improving energy efficiency) are vastly better and the savings are getting bigger and cheaper even faster than the stunning advances for finding and lifting oil,” said Lovins.

Thirty years ago, when the Arab oil embargo first choked off u.s. supplies in 1973 and prices surged, oil consumption dropped by 5% over the next two years. In late 1978, when the Iranian revolution sharply cut our oil supplies again, demand dropped by 10% over the next five years.

mlThe adjustment was painful; higher oil prices sparked a prolonged period of high inflation that hurt the economy and the stock market. But much of the drop in demand came from figuring out how to do more with less. Appli-ances now consume less electricity. Homes are better insulated and high-efficiency furnaces produce more heat with less fuel. Today, it requires half as much oil to produce a dollar of gross national product than it did 30 years ago.

“We are using 27% less energy per person for residential uses — home heating, cooling and lighting — than we did in the ’70s,” said Dr. Marilyn Brown, director of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “And new homes have increased in size by 50% over the past 30 years. That’s a phenomenal improvement.”

The efficiency improvement in small appliances — another big category of energy consumption — has been one of the success stories of the past 30 years. Through a series of staged milestones, the federally sponsored Energy Star program, launched in 1992, has helped cut electricity consumption by appliances.
So there is hope. And while many of the politicians in Washington have apparently sold out to the energy industry, leaders at the state level have been pushing groundbreaking legislation that lowers energy demand, invests in alternatives, creates jobs and achieves a healthier environment along the way.

Still Guzzling Gas
On top of the list of things that are ripe for efficiency gains is the automobile, which makes up the biggest single category of energy use in the United States. Gasoline mileage standards, first mandated by Congress in 1975, did raise the efficiency of cars. But those gains were largely wiped out by the surging popularity of light trucks and suvs in the 1990s. Powertrains got a third more efficient since 1981, but only 1% of that was in fuel saving. The rest was performance.

For much of this year, sales of gas-thirsty sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks declined. Then in July, the first month all three American automakers extended their employee discounts to all buyers, sales shot up. Industry experts say the discounts allowed consumers to shrug off the high gas prices.

“That $30,000 SUV became $27,000 or $26,000,” said Walter McManus, a scientist at the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan. Consumers, he said, are willing to overlook the extra money they spend on fuel because they believe that it is offset by the deep discount. But such an attitude does not reflect a good social conscience, because even a modest increase of five miles per gallon would save 1 million barrels of oil each day by 2010, nearly 10% of our current imports. That may be-come imperative sooner than we think.

Depletion of oil is everywhere at hand: in the contiguous 48 states, on the North Slope of Alaska, in the North Sea and elsewhere. Matthew Simmons, author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” claims that Saudi Arabia’s two most productive fields are in decline and that the country is unable to pump much more oil than at present.

Re-imposing, and draconian enforcement of the 55 m.p.h. speed limit would also save on consumption of fuel.

The technology to boost gas mileage even more is also already available. The list includes everything from improved internal combustion advances to tires that produce less rolling resistance.

The most promising off-the-shelf technology is the electric vehicle. These can be made relatively cheaply in many flavors, ranging from electric bicycles and Segways, through neighborhood electric vehicles, to plug-in hybrids. All of these offer fuel economies on a scale (from 100 m.p.g. to several hundred m.p.g. equivalents) necessary for our mobility on only a fraction of our current usage.

If all u.s. cars (not including light trucks) sold today used off-the-shelf hybrid technology, the nation would save 15% more oil than it received from the Persian Gulf in 2002. That would be real progress on the path to energy security.

The latest improvements in gas-electric hybrids are kind a of “bridge” technology that will introduce the electric drive trains to production passenger vehicles.
“Bringing the electric drive and the batteries on board is a big first step that allows that transition to occur sometime in the future,” says former General Motors CEO Robert Stempel, chairman of Energy Conversion Devices, a small Michigan company developing flexible solar cell and high-efficiency batteries.

Toyota’s Prius surely inspires the most passionate owners, who rejoice in their eco-friendly automobiles by swapping stories on the internet and even getting together for rallies.

The Prius, which has a gas/electric/cvt powertrain, emits 90% less nox (Nitrogen Oxides) and 50% less co2 (Carbon Dioxide) than other cars. It gets 45-52 miles per gallon and has an onbaord computer that is truly awesome. There’s a fully loaded gps/navigation system, kind of like having at your fingertips. The radio and many other functions are all done through the touch- screen display. In its cool silent/stealth mode — when the electric motor takes over completely —you can’t even hear the car run. So you are also fighting noise pollution.  There is no need to plug in the electric motor because it recharges automatically while you’re driving.

Starting this car is unlike anything you’ve ever done: Foot on the brake, press the power button, watch for the “ready” indicator to light up and you’re ready to go. You can then, if you wish, check the center-mounted display, which shows the flow of energy between gas engine, electric motor, and batteries. Sprouting 

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