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The Planet
Seeking Clean and Green Energy

By Sarah Wootton

Serving waffles and 'racing' SUVS are just two of the ways the Club is putting the heat on senators

Crissy PelegrinCrissy Pelegrin is not your average second year law student. While her law school classmates geared up for Mardi Gras festivities in the streets of New Orleans, Pelegrin met with Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and John Breaux (D) in their Capitol Hill offices to talk about the upcoming Senate debate on national energy policy.

She may be a serious young law student, but Pelegrin is not without a sense of humor. In January, she said, the Baton Rouge Group presented Sen. Landrieu "with a plate of waffles and a bunch of organic greens because she's been waffling on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and needs energy to make the right decisions."

Landrieu's state director, T. Bradley Keith, accepted the greens but refused to take the plate of waffles.

Meanwhile in Florida, two Sierra Club organizers, Darden Rice and Joe Murphy, took to the highways in a Toyota Prius and GMC Yukon, respectively, to see how much of a difference a higher fuel economy standard could make. The pair reported daily to the Club Web site on everything from the amount of money spent on gas to the best SUV bumper sticker seen -- Who Needs Oxygen? -- and the weirdest sight -- a duck eating a frog at the Tallahassee press conference.

Pelegrin, Rice and Murphy are just three of the hundreds of Club activists who have been mobilizing in the past months on one of the highest-stakes debates in recent years, the Senate vote on a national energy plan. Last summer, the House passed an energy bill, supported by the Bush Administration, that calls for drilling the Arctic Refuge, makes no significant improvement in auto fuel economy standards and does almost nothing to increase energy provided by clean, renewable sources. In addition, it provides $38 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the coal, oil and nuclear industries.

The debate has moved to the Senate where, as The Planet goes to press, Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has introduced a bill that keeps the drilling rigs out of the Arctic, increases fuel economy standards and requires that 10 percent of America's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

While the Senate bill is much better than the House version, it still does not go far enough, according to Debbie Boger, the Club's senior representative on Global Warming and Energy. The bill subsidizes the nuclear industry and the tax portion, which was incomplete at press time, is expected to give billions of dollars in subsidies for the fossil fuel industries. Instead of funding dangerous and dirty industries, said Boger, the bill should contain stronger provisions for fuel economy and renewable energy sources.

The Club recommends a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of an average of 40 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks and a renewable standard of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. It also supports protecting the Arctic Refuge which, government reports show, contains less than six months supply of oil that would take 10 years to get to market.

Until the energy bill is voted on -- at press time it was scheduled to come to the floor at the end of February -- the Club will continue its nationwide blitz to educate and lobby the public and senators.

In early February, Club activists and allies trekked to the nation's capital from as far away as Oregon and North Dakota for several days of lobbying their senators. After a training by staffers from the Club's D.C. legislative offices, participants fanned out.

In a meeting with their senator, Kent Conrad (D), Jonathan Bry and Nick Boutrous of Bismarck, N.D., focused on protecting the Arctic from oil drilling rather than renewable energy sources. Since their state is one of the leading generators of wind power, the senators heartily support deriving more energy from renewable sources.

Nebraska volunteers Dave Kosen, Jim Knopik and Dick Whiting had to overcome the reluctance of their senators to support a fuel economy standard increase that some think would disproportionately affect truck-owning farmers. The senators are wary about supporting a standard that farmers think would harm them since the state is -- and its voters are -- largely agricultural.

"Higher fuel economy could benefit everyone at the gas pump," said Alex Veitch of the Global Warming and Energy Team. "If Detroit used the technology that exists to make a Ford Explorer achieve 34 mpg instead of the current 19, the car buyer would spend $935 more at the car dealership, but would save $790 each year at the pump."

In a debriefing session after the lobby days, some participants expressed disappointment and others elation over their Senate meetings. Many senators remained noncommittal on major provisions; others were very receptive to the Club's energy priorities.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) explained that his wife drives a Prius and that the blades on many wind turbines around the country were probably made in Rhode Island.

Darden RiceDown in Florida, after Rice and Murphy's five-day trip, the Prius had made its point - Rice spent $22.84 to drive 723 miles while Murphy spent $60.21 to drive 701 miles. The Prius saved Rice money by using fewer gallons of gas, which translates to protected lands, cleaner air and less global warming pollution.

Interviews with the Gainesville Sun and Florida Radio New Network -- and four TV stations and three other radio stations -- helped Rice and Murphy spread the fuel economy message.

In addition to bolstering support for higher CAFE standards, Rice and Murphy's trip helped promote the Club's Green Fleets campaign to encourage governments to purchase hybrid cars. It's already making its mark in Florida, where sheriff's departments in Alachua, Martin and Hillsborough counties have bought Toyota Priuses for their fleets.

The Prius won't stop in Florida, though. Colleen Kiernan, organizer for the Georgia Energy Project, will continue the trip from Tallahassee, through several stops in Georgia up to Washington, D.C.

Organizers plan to offer senators, representatives and their staffs a spin in the Prius to let them experience what their constituents have been talking about.

Waffles and organic greens will be optional.

Take Action:
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