California Moving Toward Reducing Petroleum Dependence, Says NRDC

Governor's "Flex Your Power" Campaign Builds on Recent Bills to Improve Vehicle Efficiency

SAN FRANCISCO (May 26, 2004) - Gov. Schwarzenegger's new "Flex Your Power at the Pump" campaign to educate drivers about ways to reduce their fuel consumption is the latest sign that state leaders are serious about tackling California's oil dependency problem, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The environmental group, with offices in San Francisco and Santa Monica, said using less gas will save consumers money while protecting the environment.

"California is in for gas pains, if it doesn't reduce its oil dependence," said Roland Hwang, NRDC senior policy analyst. "Our addiction to oil threatens consumers with higher prices at the gas pump and more pollution from oil drilling and refining, tanker traffic and vehicle tailpipes."

Hwang is principal author of the 2002 NRDC report, "Fueling the Future: A Plan to Reduce California's Oil Dependence." (The report is available here.) The NRDC report included four main recommendations:

  • Launch a public education campaign to promote smart driving, including fuel efficient tires and vehicle maintenance;
  • Raise the fuel efficiency of the state's auto fleet;
  • Encourage smart growth and diverse transportation options;
  • Start building a hydrogen fuel infrastructure.

Hwang said many of the recommendations have since been adopted by the state, although he warned that gas prices won't drop overnight. "Conservation and energy efficiency aren't a personal virtue," said Hwang. "They're what kept the lights on during California's electricity crisis. We can use common sense solutions to reduce our addiction to oil too."

State initiatives to reduce California's petroleum dependency include:

The new "Flex Your Power at the Pump" campaign

This campaign is modeled after the state's previous "Flex Your Power" campaign, which succeeded in averting additional rolling blackouts during the summer of 2000 by educating Californians about ways to conserve and use energy more efficiently. It was the most successful electricity demand reduction program in U.S. history. The new campaign will spread the word on ways for drivers to operate their vehicles more efficiently. For example, drivers will get better mileage if they keep their tires inflated properly and don't exceed the speed limit.

Enactment of SB 552 (Burton)

This bill, which was sponsored by NRDC and California Treasurer Phil Angelides, will make California's fleet of 73,000 state-owned vehicles the cleanest, most fuel-efficient in the country. SB 552 directs the state to phase in fuel efficient, low polluting and alternative fueled vehicles to the maximum extent possible. SUV purchases are limited to those that demonstrate a critical need. Police, firefighters and other public safety personnel are exempted. SB 522 was signed into law last year.

Enactment of AB 844 (Nation)

This bill, which was sponsored by NRDC and the Union of Concerned Scientists, will improve the efficiency of replacement tires sold in California. Few drivers know that fuel economy drops when they replace original equipment tires. Replacement tires have more rolling resistance, which means that energy is wasted as heat, instead of moving the vehicle. AB 844 requires a labeling program for replacement tires so consumers can make informed choices. If energy efficient tires were installed on every vehicle in the country, gasoline consumption would decrease by 3 percent, saving more than 5 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. That's 50 percent more than the U.S. government's own estimate of the amount of oil that could be economically extracted during the same time period from beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Energy efficient tires would pay for themselves in the first year of fuel savings. This bill also was signed last year.

Creation of the California Hydrogen Highways Network

The governor signed an executive order last month creating a public and private partnership to build a hydrogen highway by 2010. Hydrogen is not a silver bullet; it's a long-term solution that must be part of a diversified strategy to develop new technologies and alternative fuels, according to NRDC. The group said investing in hydrogen is not an excuse for not taking immediate steps to decrease oil consumption using existing tools and technologies.