Individuals' power to clean up energy

Posted: May 09, 2005

As it becomes increasingly clear that no serious solution to the nation's energy crisis will be coming out of Washington this year, perhaps it is time for ordinary Americans to start taking matters of energy policy into their own hands.

Skyrocketing energy prices, dependency on foreign governments and environmental impacts such as global warming are all looming problems that ultimately must be addressed by sound public policy at the federal level. Congress and the President are responsible for passing energy legislation that resolves these issues, but thus far they have done little beyond bickering over how to best use this opportunity to provide billions of additional dollars in taxpayer handouts to big energy companies. In this unfortunate political climate, patriotic Americans can demonstrate personal leadership on energy issues by taking the initiative on those energy-saving options that are available to them as individuals.

One obvious step for individual drivers is to avoid gas guzzlers when buying a new car. Auto showrooms are stocked with a growing number of models that get decent gas mileage, and the state of Pennsylvania now offers buyers a $500 rebate when residents buy highly efficient hybrid- and alternative-fuel vehicles. The rebate program is an extension of the popular Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant, which has allowed fleet owners, such as the Lower Merion School District, to replace their diesel school buses with much cleaner-burning compressed-natural-gas trucks and buses.

There are also many other ways to begin reducing your oil consumption. In the Philadelphia area, the Mobility Alternatives Program (MAP) works with major employers to ease the impact of the daily commute, offering up a host of transportation options that can be adopted by anyone.

Using mass transit is an undemanding way to get to work without wasting fuel. For those not lucky enough to live within walking distance of a train stop, MAP has pulled together dozens of free and low-cost "park and ride" lots to help cut out the gas-guzzling congestion that typically make up the last dozen or so miles getting into and out of the city. For the more athletic among us, many of SEPTA's bus routes now also have bike racks, which make getting around town considerably easier.

If SEPTA still doesn't meet your needs even with these route-extending options, MAP also offers free, computerized ride-matching that makes carpooling a breeze. They even have an emergency ride home program, which provides a safety net should you ever need to alter your carpool schedule at the last minute.

Of course, there is more that individuals can do than just reducing energy consumption during the daily commute. Sensible electric usage is a crucial part of any personalized energy plan.

The energy package just passed by the House of Representatives actually increases air pollution and global warming with new incentives to burn coal for electricity generation without adequate pollution controls. In fact, more than 90 percent of the subsidies in the legislation go to the already well-established coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries. In the absence of a strong push toward renewable energy by Congress and the White House, individuals can do their share by investing in renewables on their own.

Wind power is 100 percent pollution free, and it is locally generated - helping to bring new jobs to the region. Along with conservation measures such as installing more-efficient Energy Star light bulbs and appliances, buying wind energy is one of the most important things an individual can do to reduce air pollution and to help bring renewables in the mainstream as a viable low-cost energy alternative.

For about a year now, Peco Energy Co.'s residential customers have been able to decide how they want their electricity produced. The default option is to get your electricity from nuclear and coal-fired power plants, among the largest sources of pollution in the region.

Those interested in a cleaner energy portfolio are now able to select Peco Wind to power their homes. For an additional $5.08 on their electric bill each month, Peco customers can buy 200 kilowatts of wind energy, helping to move the country toward a much more sustainable energy future.

Simple steps like these can go a long way to improving the environment and increasing the country's energy independence - although not far enough to let Congress and the President off the hook. Couple these personal measures with a call for your elected officials to take some commonsense legislative steps to better support energy efficiency, mass transit and renewable power.

Joe Minott is executive director of the Clean Air Council (www.cleanair.org).

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