PLUG OK license plate
Senate Centrist Coaliltion backing plug-in hybrids
Jun 21, 2005 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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More progress in Washington:

Anne Korin of recently briefed members of the Senate Centrist Coalition about PHEVs / GO-HEVs, and as reported in the article that follows, they appear to be set to introduce one or more amendments to the Energy Bill promoting incentives and other support for PHEVs.

The effort has been bolstered by Thomas Friedman's column on Friday­group/­calcars-news/­message/­69, the joint statement by former Secretary of State George Schultz and former CIA Director James Woolsey­group/­calcars-news/­message/­68, and by coordinated efforts by a number of people at California's electric utility companies. We may have more specifics in the next few days, and suggestions that supporters contact Senate members....stay tuned.­index.php?title=Senate_Centrist_Coalition

  • Evan Bayh (D-IN)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
  • Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Kent Conrad (D-ND)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Judd Gregg (R-NH)
  • Jim Jeffords (I-VT)
  • Herb Kohl (D-WI)
  • Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
  • Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT)
  • Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
  • John McCain (R-AZ)
  • Ben Nelson (D-NE)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Mark Pryor (D-AR)
  • Ken Salazar (D-CO)
  • Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME)
  • John Sununu (R-NH)
  • George V. Voinovich (R-OH)

Friday, June 17, 2005 Daily Updates

Senate Gang Of 14 Working On Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Amendment

The same centrist coalition in the Senate that brokered a deal on judicial nominations is using energy policy to venture out into policymaking for the first time, according to informed Senate sources. They say the coalition is working on an energy bill amendment pushing ultra petroleum-efficient hybrid technologies -- backed by an eclectic group of national security conservatives and a leading environmental group, Senate sources told Inside Fuels and Vehicles.

The "Set America Free" document, put forth by these energy security interests as an "Open Letter to the American People," will be overlaid onto the energy bill now being debated on the Senate floor, a Senate source explained. Proposals from its "Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security" that are not in Energy Policy Act of 2005, S. 10, may be included in the amendment, the source went on to say.

Freshman Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (D) mentioned the strategy in a speech at the 16th Annual Energy Efficiency Forum earlier this week. The "Gang of 14," as they are called, are "looking at the possibility of an amendment [to the energy bill] to put more emphasis behind vehicle efficiency." In his speech, Salazar characterized U.S. dependency on imported oil as "the major national security issue of our times ... and we need to do something about it."

The block came together to avoid what could have become the complete paralysis of the Senate over the right to filibuster judicial nominations. Using the same strategy to move energy measures that have widespread support but may be opposed by Senate leadership would be a new exercise in asserting the centrists' clout, observers say. In addition to Salazar, the six other Democrats are Sens. Robert Byrd (WV), Joe Lieberman (CT), Daniel Inouye (HI), Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Pryor (AR) and Ben Nelson (NE). The seven Republicans are Sens. John McCain (AZ), Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), John Warner (VA), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Lincoln Chafee (RI).

The same unique makeup of the Senate centrist coalition is reflected in the coalition behind the set America Free proposals. Among the signatories of the Set America Free document are leading neo-conservatives, such as Reagan administration national security and Pentagon officials Robert McFarlane and Frank Gaffney, former CIA director James Woolsey, who along with signer Bill Holmberg are longtime renewable fuel proponents. A prominent environmental group, NRDC, formerly known as the National Resources Defense Council, is also a part of the coalition.

In the speech to industry and government officials, Salazar mentioned "automobiles getting 500 miles per gallon" of gasoline. He was referring to "plug-in hybrid electric vehicles," which is a key element of the Blueprint. Unlike hybrid vehicles on the road today, these vehicles can be plugged in to recharge the battery. Other features would be similar to today's hybrids, with the battery pack being recharged by both the internal combustion engine as well as the energy from braking. Plug-in hybrids would have a longer range on battery power alone than the current crop of hybrids on the road.

The Blueprint notes half the cars in the U.S. are driven less than 20 miles a day. A plug-in with a 20-mile, all-electric range would substantially reduce fuel consumption. "Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can reach fuel economy levels of 100 miles per gallon," the Set America Free document states. The 500-mile per gallon of gasoline ranged cited by Salazar could be achieved if the vehicle were fueled with E-85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

The Set America Free Blueprint estimates that if by 2025 light-duty vehicle fleet were all hybrids and half of them were plug-in hybrids, it would cut oil demand by 8 million barrels per day -- the U.S. currently uses about 20 million barrels per day, of which 40 percent is used in the transportation sector. The document goes on to state that if the hybrids were flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), capable of running on E-85, the oil savings could amount to 12 million barrels per day.

A Senate source familiar with the Gang of 14 discussions said that incentives for manufacturers to produce plug-ins and other fuel efficient vehicles, including FFVs, would almost certainly be included in the amendment. In fact, the first policy recommendation in the Blueprint is to: "Provide incentives to auto manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase, hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and FFVs across all vehicle models."

A package of tax incentives adopted by the Senate Finance Committee June 16 includes more than $2.7 billion in incentives for consumers to purchase hybrids and other advanced technology vehicles, as well as for alternative fuels and for installing the infrastructure to dispense them. The House bill only calls for clean-burning diesel vehicles to be eligible for tax incentives. Neither bill would provide manufacturers with incentives to build fuel efficient vehicles.

Other than DaimlerChrysler, automakers have shunned any discussion of plug-ins. Toyota and others with hybrid models go to great lengths emphasizing that their vehicles do not have to be plugged in. They continue to suffer from the perception of electric vehicles that had limited range and often needed hours to recharge.

Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles sold in Japan have a button that allows drivers to drive in electric-only mode for short periods of time. The button is disabled on U.S. models. Automobile enthusiasts have also modified Prius vehicles so that they can be plugged in and the batteries recharged. Toyota does not openly encourage the practice.

Other proposals in the Blueprint include mandating the use of plug-ins and FFVs by federal state and local governments and providing incentives for commercial fleets to buy the vehicles. In what is sure to be controversial, it calls for "incentives to enable new players, such as utilities, to enter the transportation fuel market." It is unclear which of these proposals the centrist collation in the Senate would support.

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