The Road to Cleaner and Cheaper is Full of Potholes

“Our grading system will be controversial but is well-defended,” said Dugan. “We defy anyone to show that the current practice of using taxpayer subsidies to produce motor fuels from coal is decent public policy, or even that automakers can produce an affordable, durable car that runs on cleanly produced hydrogen.”  Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog

When talking about the technologies that will lead us into a new transportation paradigm, I feel like I’m driving down a winding road full of potholes and missing the shoulders. What technology is best? Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs)? Flex-Fuel Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles? Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PEVs) or maybe cars that run on compressed natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells?  I’m not a waging person so I won’t place my bets but I am willing to “collect the money” from those who want to gamble on the winner.

There is a lot of criticism that the American government is passing transportation policies without considering the long-term (or even short term effect) effects. I agree and there are many that agree with me but most of the “complainers” fail to offer solutions.

Well – here is a potential solution for you. Consumer Watchdog released a report today that it presented to the White House and Congress called “Road to Cleaner and Cheaper” handbook, which offers policies the organization believes have the most merit, and grades vehicle and fuel choices on their cleaner/cheaper balance. 

So, how did our current future transportation technologies fair according to Consumer Watchdog?

“A” Hybrid, Plug-In Hybrid and All-Electric Vehicles (If you’re a fan of these technologies, be sure to follow the debate between, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Portland Mayor Sam Adam on building electric vehicle infrastructure)

“B” Ethanol and Biodiesel fueled vehicles (with corn-ethanol fueled cars getting a lower grade)

“C” Natural Gas fueled vehicles (higher grade for use in short-haul bus and truck fleets)

“D” Hydrogen fueled vehicles

“F” Coal-based transportation fuels

Judy Dugen, Consumer Watchdog’s research director, said today in a company statement, “The United States is far more dependent than other developed nations on cars and roads, something that cannot be swiftly undone. But it can become cleaner in affordable ways. That is the point of this plain-language handbook.”

Well, I don’t know how “plain-language” this handbook really is but it’s pretty plain that Consumer Watchdog despises hydrogen and it appears the our government is also beginning to lack confidence in the technology and has cut funding for hydrogen research. But for you hydrogen fans, keep your eye on the country’s only hydrogen highway being developed in California.

I have a feeling that although the grades above are not my own, and I don’t share the organization’s hatred for hydrogen, I’d better start paying more attention to my rear-view mirror. I’m half expecting to be tailgated, rear-ended or run off the road just as I’m approaching a cliff. Good thing no one knows what kind of car I drive.



Joanna Schroeder

Joanna is a writer and consultant specializing in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture issues.