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.

 

Holiday Gifts For The Green Movement

There’s no better time than the holiday season to reflect on the events of the past year – and there has been no shortage of environmental news stories that have both inspired us and made our blood boil. As Christmas approaches, let’s consider some appropriate gifts for those who have left their mark on green news in 2011:

President Obama: A microphone and some earplugs. Since the beginning of his term, the president has become notably less enthusiastic about clean energy and environmental issues, perhaps succumbing to Republican pressure and inevitably “compromising” with natural gas, as well as totally giving in by opening up areas off the U.S. to offshore oil drilling. In fact, the positive steps his administration has taken to support renewable energy and clean technology have flown somewhat beneath the radar, for fear of appearing “too partisan.” Advice to the president: Speak up about the benefits green technologies can bring the nation, and block out the noise from the Republicans in Congress and fossil-fuel lobbyists.

Newt Gingrich, and the other GOP candidates: A science textbook. Ten years ago, climate change was fact to everyone – not a partisan issue. It’s time for GOP leaders to stop denying science and accept that the planet’s future is resting on our action to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and combat climate change.

TransCanada executives: Some red tape. The best we can hope for, at the moment, is for the Keystone XL pipeline to face more regulatory delays and to ultimately fail in the face of a decision by the Department of State.

Former Solyndra employees: A new job in the growing solar sector. Solyndra grabbed all of the negative headlines with its failure, but that does not mean that the U.S.’ entire renewable energy future is doomed. The solar industry represents a flourishing employment sector that has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years.

The mainstream media: Some White-Out. It would be nice if the mainstream media could undo the mistakes it made in chastising solar company Solyndra for its DOE loan-guarantee debacle. In reporting so excessively and sensationally on an exception, rather than a rule, mainstream media outlets – including The New York Times and The Washington Post – cast the entire renewable energy industry in a poor light and questioned the justification for government aid of a growing, environmentally responsible industry.

BP: Some oil-covered shrimp cocktail. This year, we did not forget BP’s massive negligence and sin against the environment, as the Gulf still struggles to emerge from the disaster’s aftermath. BP needs a taste of its own medicine – or, perhaps of some oily shrimp for a nice holiday hor d’oeuvre.

Monsanto: A gift card to Whole Foods. Maybe, if Big Ag saw how much better organic food really is, it would stop attempting to overhaul the world’s food supply with a Soylent Green approach to genetically engineering food. Unlikely, but it’s worth a shot.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: A reality check and an inhaler. In addition to coal in its stocking (naturally), the ACCCE needs to admit that coal will never be “clean,” and the nation’s reliance on the filthy substance is endangering our children and grandchildren, not to mention future generations.

Alec Baldwin: A train ticket. Traveling by rail should help lower the outspoken actor’s carbon footprint, as well as allow him to avoid future airline conflicts. Besides, you can use your iPhone – and Words with Friends – on trains.

Sustainable nonprofit organizations: Your donations. There are plenty of responsible organizations doing their part to care for the planet and its future. This holiday season, replace a couple of peppermint-mocha lattes (or more) with a donation to your favorite conservation groups – they need your help.

Special thanks to my colleague, Phil Hall, for inspiring this post.

DOI: Florida Everglades Deserve More Protection

Florida’s Everglades are set to receive new protections under a new initiative proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The project would establish a new national wildlife refuge in Florida’s Kissimmee River Valley, as well as afford the area new protections. Under the program, the DOI would purchase 50,000 acres of the designated area from willing sellers in order to establish a wildlife refuge.

An additional 100,000 acres would be protected through conservation easements purchased from landowners, the DOI explains. These private landowners would still own their land, as well as retain the right to develop crops and raise cattle; however, the easements would ensure that the land could not be developed.

Although the preliminary proposal for the Everglades conservation project was first announced in January, it was refined using input from public comment periods.

The DOI’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann commented to the Associated Press that she’d be willing to drill for oil in the Everglades if it were done “responsibly.”

How she intends to destroy a World Heritage site “responsibly” is quite the enigma. But here’s hoping that the DOI can finalize the protections before she – or another member of her political party – has a crack at it.

 

‘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.

New Vehicle Labels Trick Stingy Consumers Into Going Green

(Image credit: fueleconomy.gov /EPA/DOE)

As consumers continue to rank economic concerns over environmental issues, the federal government has crafted an ingenious method of tricking those worried about their bottom lines into going green. 

Beginning in 2013, all vehicles – including gasoline-powered, plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric – will be labeled not only with their usual miles per gallon, but also how much consumers will save in fuel costs over five years compared to if they were to purchase an “average” vehicle, thanks to a new initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The label also states the estimated average annual cost of fuel for the vehicle, and rates the car both on greenhouse gas emissions and smog.

The emissions information will surely interest the more environmentally minded, but for those who tend to look the other way when it comes to their carbon footprint, the costs of owning a gas-guzzler could certainly be an eye-opener. As gas prices soared close to the $5-per-gallon mark in 2009, there was a marked uptick in sales of energy-efficient vehicles.

As shameful as it may be, money has proven to be the most effective motivator of consumer behavior, and I commend the government agencies for not only recognizing this truth, but using it to benefit the planet.

Of course, the system is not without its flaws. The annual costs of fueling the vehicles will invariably change along with fluctuating gas prices, thus rendering the new labels inaccurate. Moreover, each car model’s savings compared to the “average vehicle” will depend on that “average” shifting over time. For instance, a car that gets 50 miles to the gallon is now on the leading edge but may soon become “average,” affecting these calculations.

Nonetheless, the agencies have pulled off a brilliant marketing campaign – PR for emissions reduction, if you will. No, we will never convince everyone to be environmentally friendly, but saving money is something we can all agree on. Just don’t tell the climate skeptics they’re helping the Earth, too.