Big Oil’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Your Gasoline Isn’t Going As Far As It Should

It’s no secret that consumers continue to get ripped off by the major oil companies. But a new investigative report from NBC news reveals another way the richest corporations on Earth have exploited consumers for their own profitable gain.

The big oil companies – and the industry groups that represent them – have worked tirelessly to conceal what, until now, has been a virtually unknown truth: The hotter gasoline is when it is pumped, the lower the vehicle’s mileage per gallon will be.

According to the NBC report, Big Oil collected an extra $1.5 billion from U.S. consumers as a result of failing to address the issue. Not to mention, gasoline prices tend to increase in the hotter summer months, intensifying the cost burden on consumers.

The technology to prevent the problem already exists: “smart” pumps that adjust the price of gasoline according to the temperature. In fact, these smart pumps are already deployed in 90% of gas stations in Canada.

If Canada – which has one of the coldest climates of any nation – recognizes the need to install the new pumps, then why hasn’t it been done in the U.S., where summers in Southern states are downright sweltering? 

Because oil-industry lobbyists have fought long and hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. Several lawsuits against the oil companies are ongoing in some of the warmer states, but the cases are still pending.

Although the NBC report highlights the issue from a consumer-protection standpoint, it fails to mention the wider environmental impact of their negligence. Fewer miles per gallon, of course, mean not only more money, but more harmful emissions.

Installing smart pumps might be a higher-cost option over the short term, but it would pay dividends over the long term not only to consumers, but to the environment.

But, of course, Big Oil isn’t too concerned about that. 

The good news is that there is something you can do. Fill up your tank in the morning, at night, or on colder days to avoid handing out extra dollars to fund dirty oil. Or, better yet, forget the gas altogether, and bike, walk, or – if you have the cash to spend – buy an electric vehicle.

 

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‘Clean Coal’ Industry Accidentally Admits It’s Not Clean

U.S. power plants will now be subject to stricter emissions standards, thanks to a new measure finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule imposes tougher regulations on power-plant emissions in 27 U.S. states – many of which are coal-dominated – and aims to reduce harmful emissions that travel across state lines. (Read more about the new regulations here.)

Evidently irate that the U.S. agency tasked with protecting the environment would issue a ruling to help reduce pollution, the coal industry fired back with such a ludicrous response that only a sector with a moniker as oxymoronic as “clean coal” could have invented.

In its statement, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) condemns the new emissions regulations, claiming they “will increase electricity prices and destroy U.S. jobs.” Here’s what Steve Miller, president and CEO of ACCCE, had to say:

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause. America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations.”

Sounds like cry of desperation to me. But that’s not the most absurd aspect of ACCCE’s response. As a “clean” energy group, ACCCE says it “advocates for the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions.”

Near-zero emissions? So why the desperation? “Clean coal” could easily meet the EPA’s new standards… right?

We all know “clean coal” is the ultimate oxymoron. But this dirty industry is not only unethical in its environmental practices, but also its communication to the public, using blatant scare tactics clearly targeted toward Middle America. Miller continues:

“We urge EPA to take a realistic look at the enormous impact of all the regulations they are considering and how those regulations affect families and businesses. In a time of high unemployment, we should be pursuing sensible policies that create jobs, not eliminate jobs.”

Maybe he was forgetting that these “lost” jobs are being replaced with abundant employment opportunities in a newer, burgeoning sector called clean energy.

A Little Friendly Competition

I would be remiss if I neglected to acknowledge the climate negotiations that have taken place in Cancún over the past couple of weeks. I guess you could say I was a bit cynical — but how could you not be after the disappointment in Copenhagen last year?

In the conference’s 11th hour, participating nations reached an agreement to set up a new fund to help developing nations adapt to climate changes and for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from The New York Times. But what seems to be lacking from the final agreement is the actual numbers and a concrete goal.

For years, renewable energy advocates in the U.S. have been calling for a renewable electricity standard (RES), or a federal mandate to fulfill a specified percentage of the country’s total energy requirements with renewable energy by a certain year. RES legislation has yet to pass in the U.S. Congress, but these are the kinds of specific goals we need in order to make a significant dent in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prevent further climate change.

The international Kyoto Protocol does contain specific goals and numbers — the 37 participating industrialized nations and the European community have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an annual average of 5% over the period from 2008-2012. The U.S., however, failed to ratify the protocol under the George W. Bush administration, rationalizing that if China — although still, technically, a developing nation, did not sign it, then it should not have to, either.

Yes, China is the biggest polluter on the planet. However, the U.S. is number two. But is this really how we want to play? The United States became a world superpower by leading by example. Why not use the same strategy in the 21st century? China is quickly establishing itself as a leader in renewable energy. The country is already home to solar energy giants such as Suntech and Yingli and, thanks to the government’s commitment to clean energy, is also set to increase its wind energy production five-fold over the next 10 years.

The United States is a capitalist country — we are motivated by competition. If we really want to establish ourselves in the world economy and maintain our position at — or at least near — the top in innovation and leadership, it’s time to step it up.

Partisanship has obviously been a major hindrance to accomplishing any kind of climate-change reform. But if we cannot agree on policy, can we at least agree on a little healthy competition? This is a country based on capitalism and free markets, right? I think even our stubborn and often-narrow-minded Congress would agree that we, as a country, should strive to be number one.

When it comes to climate change, is it possible that instead of failing to come to an agreement, that we actually encourage a little competition? Could it be a more productive strategy in the long run?

It sounds condescending to our leaders, and definitely overly simplistic, but I propose a plan: Let’s make it a competition: Can we beat China? What about the EU? Instead of playing the childish game of “He’s not; why do I have to?” let’s make it, “Oh yeah? Look what I can do!” I don’t know of any political representative — of any party — who can’t agree on that mantra.

Flying Into The Future

Sure, we’ve all heard about the hippies who filter recycled restaurant oil to run their 60s-era vans. But what if that concept could be applied on a gargantuan scale to help curb greenhouse gas emissions?

It turns out it’s not such a far-fetched idea after all: German airline Lufthansa has announced it will begin fueling some of its aircraft with a 50/50 biofuel-kerosene mix for some of its domestic flights. The airline will begin the six-month trial using its Airbus A321 beginning in April of next year.

According to a company statement from Lufthansa, “The primary purpose of the project is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life.”

Wait, let me get this straight: They are testing the biofuel on commercial flights — real flights, real people. Nicht mit mir! Either Lufthansa needs a better English translator, or it needs the German equivalent of Mythbusters. I’m definitely no scientist. But is there any way it could simulate the biofuel flights without using human beings as its experimental lab mice?

To Lufthansa’s credit, the company is pushing the frontier of innovation in an era defined by fear and uncertainty. Not to be forgotten, almost every major technological breakthrough has involved taking some degree of risk. But let me ask you this: Would you want to be on one of those experimental “trial” flights?