November 4, 2008
Link to op-ed
With Washington's government facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit, we need to cut expenses now. One smart place to start is with a two- to three-year moratorium on buying new state fleet vehicles and to begin the transition from oil to electricity in transportation.
Virtually every major automaker will sell plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles starting in 2010-12. General Motors is advertising the plug-in Chevy Volt for 2010. Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes will have plug-in cars on the road within three years. Last month Warren Buffett bought a major stake in BYD, a Chinese company that will have an electric-powered five-passenger car for sale this month.
Instead of buying state vehicles that will be consuming gasoline for the next decade or two, the governor should order an immediate moratorium on buying new gasoline-powered cars for the state fleet and make firm plans for the purchase of the coming plug-in cars that use little or no gasoline.
Washington can become a national leader in moving beyond foreign oil to domestic electricity in transportation. We already have a small but important national demonstration project for plug-in cars in the Puget Sound region that can be expanded, integrated into the transportation system and developed into a national model.
Other fleet purchasers should join the state moratorium. Mayors, county executives and CEOs can direct their fleet managers to hold off light-duty vehicle replacements except for emergency vehicles and stretch out maintenance schedules on existing cars.
This is a bipartisan issue. Both presidential candidates emphasized that our addiction to oil is harming the economy, national security and the environment. A federal fleet moratorium inspired by Washington can help end that addiction.
Five years ago oil cost $23 a barrel. Despite the recent wild swings, oil prices remain historically high. Last year the U.S. paid $300 billion for imported oil, and this year we will double that. According to Henry Kissinger, our foreign oil purchases have resulted in the "largest transfer of wealth in human history." What's worse is that a major share of the world's oil revenues ends up in countries hostile to our interests, undemocratic or both.
In 2006 when oil prices averaged $60 a barrel, Washington drivers used 3.6 billion gallons of gasoline that cost $9.3 billion - more than the state spends on K-12 education.
With 97 percent of all transportation fueled by oil, we have had no choice other than to pay up until now. But with recent advances in more powerful, lighter-weight and durable batteries, we can begin to replace oil with electricity in light-duty transportation.
Every new internal combustion car that's sold will make it more difficult for us to reduce our oil dependence. And over its lifetime each such vehicle will also generate several tons of global warming gases a year. Around Puget Sound, transportation produces more greenhouse gases than all other sources combined.
No gasoline-only cars should be exempt. The state owns hundreds of Toyota Prius cars that average 45 mpg and plans to buy more. But plug-in hybrids will get 100 to 150 mpg - and all-electric cars will not use a drop of gasoline. A Wall Street Journal car column advised a reader not to buy another Prius now: "It would be prudent to wait. More carmakers, including Toyota, are working on hybrids that plug in and run for extended periods and distances on electric power alone. This characteristic is expected to give the next generation of hybrids greatly improved fuel economy compared with current models."
Cleaner, cheaper domestic electricity offers our best available opportunity to move beyond oil in transportation. A moratorium on buying new gasoline vehicles with a plan to buy the coming plug-ins would be an added incentive to automakers to speed up the transition we need for the economy, national security and the environment.
Steve Marshall is a senior fellow at the Cascadia Center and an expert on energy and transportation. Denis Hayes is president of the Bullitt Foundation.