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Ted Inoue

I'm quite disturbed by the high level of anti-diesel discussion on this and its sister site. This shouldn't become an either/or debate between hybrid and diesel advocates. If we're going to be successful in reducing overall consumption and finding long term solutions, we have to work together. The common enemy are the gas guzzling SUVs and other low-efficiency vehicles.

Diesels may produce more smog, but they can also run on biodiesel. Hybrids are much cleaner but run on gasoline. Neither is perfect. Both have their place. Let's stop this destructive in-fighting and focus on the the real problems.


Ted - just another visitor here, but I think this is another case where the devil is in the details. If the government was really going to support the small, efficient, and increasingly clean diesels they have in Europe that might be good - especially if moves to clean up those diesels pay off.

Of course, this is our government, our president, our congress ... which makes me think they are using this "and diesel" clause to pay off Detroit and subsidize those huge 4x4 diesel king-cab trucks I see being used as "communter cars" down here in Orange County, CA.

Oh, I suppose the old Hummer H1 model (in diesel) might qualify as well.

Am I wrong? I'd love to be too cycnical, for once!


Hi Guys, ScottN here. Just wanted to quickly join in this conversation with a bit of friendly pushback for Ted. You make a good point about "either/or" and the potential of diesel, but let me make a few points:

1) The "either/or" choice was made by the House, which eliminated all non-diesel incentives in the Energy Bill, and made those incentives such that it does not push toward truly cleaner diesel. As Odograph said, the devil is in the detials, and that's a pretty darned important one.

2) If you take a look at our report, the Diesel Dilemma (if you didn't click on the link in Sharkey's blog, it's http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/cars_and_suvs/page.cfm?pageID=1307), you'll see we are not anti-diesel, but there are questions about it's cost-effectiveness on gas/oil savings and pollution as opposed to advanced gasoline technology. Truly clean diesel can certainly be in the clean car future mix, but we have to have a realistic baseline about what it can do and what the cost will be to the consumer to get there.

3) Much like diesel technology, biodiesel has potential, but still has cost and compatibility issues, not to mention the fact that some are trying to pass 2% biodiesel (B2) mixed with regular diesel as a "green solution" where it really is not, and there is the factor of a 10% increase in Nitrogen Oxide emissions for 100% biodiesel (though you're talking about major reductions in carbon and soot). We have a FAQ on biodiesel that does a pretty nice job surveying the landscape, you can find it at http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/trucks_and_buses/page.cfm?pageID=1415.

Hope helps clarify this a bit.


The UCS members certainly have a right to their opinions about light-duty diesel vehicles (apparently always with the connotation “dirty”). However, the full disclosure about the air quality impacts of light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles needs to be made, not just one-sided half-truths.

First of all, the statement that the VW Jetta TDI makes “…44 times more smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions…” actually should read “…44 times more smog-DEPLETING nitrogen oxide emissions…” since nitrogen oxide (NO) actually destroys ground-level ozone (GLO). It’s NO2 that is the “ozone precursor” in that it photodissociates into NO + atomic oxygen (O) which subsequently is available to combine with molecular oxygen (O2) to make ozone. Virtually all of the NOx emitted by diesel engines is in the form of nitrogen oxide (NO).

Also what is not mentioned is that gasoline vehicles typically give off relatively large quantities of fugitive VOCs which diesel vehicles do NOT (diesel fuel is virtually non-volatile at ambient conditions). In my opinion as an air quality scientist (yes, I’m a “concerned scientist” too, I just don’t happen to agree with all of UCS’s positions, especially on diesel vehicles), anthropogenic VOCs are what are causing GLO levels to remain stubbornly high in many urban areas. Additional VOC emissions come from the production, distribution, and refueling of gasoline, something for which “tailpipe” emissions do not account.

While current diesel vehicles typically emit higher levels of particulate matter (PM) than an equivalent gasoline vehicle, particulate filters (DPFs) are being used in Europe which reduce the PM emissions to BELOW ambient levels, i.e., DPF-equipped diesel vehicles are functioning as PM filters as they run around. DPF’s should be utilized in this country also. Costs are not appreciable. Gasoline vehicles would need filters just to keep up!

Mercury has demonstrated a diesel-hybrid vehicle call the META ONE which is categorized as PZEV, according to Mercury. Why isn’t UCS CLAMORING for vehicles like this? Are you satisfied with gas-hybrids which only get about the same mileage as diesel vehicles with a conventional transmission (and that’s mostly only in stop-and-go city traffic)? Diesel-hybrids are capable of 30-40% better mileage than gas-hybrids.

Furthermore, diesel vehicles are capable of running on biodiesel (B100). UCS apparently endorses biodiesel. Use of biodiesel significantly reduced emissions from diesel engines in and of itself. As for costs, B20 biodiesel where I live is actually less than petro-diesel and even regular grade gasoline. However, diesel vehicles are needed to utilize biodiesel.

UCS’s opposition to tax credits for clean diesel is ill-founded and ill-conceived in my opinion.

Mike Briggs

Rather than creating yet more complex credits to try to create a minor encouragement for something good, it would be far, far simpler and more effective to do one simple thing:
create a petroleum fuel tax, to account for all of the hidden costs of petroleum dependence, using the revenue to decrease income taxes proportionately.

A petroleum tax would both encourage people to purchase more efficient vehicles, and *also* use domestic alternative fuels. Encourage people to buy gas-electric and diesel-electric hybrids, and run them on ethanol and biodiesel.

In the long run, the ONLY way we can improve our economy (related to energy costs) will be to create a petroleum tax. We can't pump nearly enough petro here in the US to get us back to importing less than 50% of the oil we use. The only way to do that is with alternatives. The problem is that it costs countries like Saudi Arabia about $2 per barrel to pump oil (which they now sell for $45-55). We can't come close to that $2 per barrel with any alternative, now or in the foreseeable future. So, once alternatives start making a subtantial dent in our petroleum imports, enough that the oil countries are not pumping at full capacity, they can lower prices enough to force alternatives back out of the market, and still be making a tidy profit. Say we can produce biodiesel for $30 per barrel. Saudi Arabia and other oil countries could sell oil for $20 per barrel and still have a huge profit margin. Since the majority of consumers buy based solely on price, that will just force competitors back out of the market, and put us right back at being wholly dependent on petroleum.

Also, without any form of petroleum tax, just increasing our efficiency will result initially in reducing demand, which will drop petroleum prices, making it more difficult to get the majority of the public to buy efficient vehicles, or use alternatives - so consumption will go back up.

I think it's important to characterize this not as a "tax increase", but rather shifting a portion of income tax away from that and into a petroleum tax (since as I said, income taxes should be reduced proportionately with the creation of the petroleum tax, so that people are not paying more in total. For example, if we calculate that creating, say, a 50 cent per gallon petroleum tax would create an additional $90 billion in tax revenue (that's roughly what it would create), income tax rates would be reduced across the board just enough to reduce income tax revenue by $90 billion). It wouldn't be done to get additional revenue, but to accomplish two things:
1. Shift the hidden costs of petroleum dependence onto petroleum sales itself, rather than using income taxes to pay those hidden costs - lowering the cost to consumers, which encourages continuing our dependence.
2. Level the playing field more for alternative fuels (by having consumers pay the true price of petroleum at the pump), or even give them an advantage. The problems of continuing our petroleum dependence are so large, and will only get worse, that it should be considered an issue of extreme national importance - economically and strategically (and environmentally, although that's less of a concern to most people) - that it is justifiable to have a "sin tax" on petroleum, to encourage more efficient use, and use of alternatives.


I think Mike Briggs and I are on the same page.

My current thinking is that the combination of three things will yield optimum results:

* tax “bad” energy, and “hogs” of bad energy higher
* fund research possible replacements
* allow a free market in those replacements

That would seem to guarantee that the bad goes away, and the most efficient replaces it.

The problem with the status quo is that the corn lobby fights the hydrogen lobby, and the winner will likely be political rather than practical.

No one is going to do this of course, so it is more a suggested direction than a policy.


Did you guys notice that the "hill drive" page lists some small to midsize diesels, but if you click on their link for a complete list of diesel vehicles, you see a bunch of big trucks?

I'm afraid the diesel advocates are going to be used to get subsidies to GM for their Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Duramax Turbo Diesel 6600 V8

Robert Issem

Hybrids are great, and I agree that we should work to insure incentives are in place to purchase the clean and efficient models - but there's no reason to attack clean diesel technology.

Hybrid gasoline, clean diesel, and hybrid clean diesel all have a place in our future. FedEx is already using diesel hybrids in some of their delivery trucks. Hybrid and clean diesel are complimentary technologies - not competing.

I own a two 2004 VW diesels and fuel both with fuel grown right in my home state of Virginia - B100 Soy Biodiesel. Absolutely no petroleum, a completely renewably fueled with a closed carbon cycle resulting in a net of ZERO CO2 emissions. Biofuels are another complimentary technology which can be implemented immediately in any diesel powered or flex fueled vehicle.

Additionally, beginning next year, diesel fuel in the US will be ULSD (Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel) which will enable diesel emisions to be fantastically cleaner. The new clean diesel fuel will enable advanced diesel emmissions systems to be employed and virtually eliminate all diesel NOx and particulate emissions.

Overall, the work you're doing is great. Just achnowledge that our nation's energy and emissions goals must be approached from a number clean engine and clean fuel directions.

Mercury already has a PZEV diesel-hybrid engine in development:

The clean diesel legislation you are trying to undo does not provide incentives for the diesel engines and fuels of the past - it is aimed at the clean diesel fuel and clean diesel engines of the future.


Robert Issem
Callaway, VA

Robert Issem

I just want to point out that I cannot imagine the clean diesel enthusiasts I know attacking and attempting to undo legislation that provides incentives for hybrids.

Isn't there a better use of UCS time and energy?

Personally, I look forward to buying a clean-diesel hybrid that I'll run on ULSBioD :) Clean Diesel efficiency, plus hybrid efficiency, plus a sustainable and renewable biofuel, plus advanced PZEV emissions... what's not to like!?!



Ted Inoue

Odograph and ScottN - thanks for the thoughts. I agree that the details are important and that there does seem to be potential problems. I hope that the diesel incentives don't encourage more guzzling.

ScottN - while it is true that our beloved gov't decided to cut the non-diesel incentives, I propose that your time would be best spent with the positive message - ensure that incentives continue for all 'green' vehicles. The point of contention I have is that the messages here seem largely to be anti-diesel.

I did read "The Diesel Dilemma" and it does raise some valid points.

As for the B2 etc. - sure, that's a farce. But that argument is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I could just as easily point to the misleading claims made for hybrids or hydrogen etc. But that simply skirts the real issues - all these technologies can contribute substantially to the global reduction of conventional oil consumption.

Ultimately, I agree with Mike Briggs. The right solution is to tax oil so that alternatives become much more desirable to the general public and remain competitive. We need long term solutions.


Hear, hear Sharkey!

Mike Briggs: If you are talking serious policy efforts here, I'd suggest implementing the countervailing tax reduction as a deductible on employment taxes rather than a reduction in income taxes. People who are making their money from investments don't need to drive to work.

I bought a diesel last year because it was what I could get (I couldn't even find a Prius to sit in, let alone test drive) but I'm strongly pro plug-in-hybrid. The potential of the PIH for slashing need for fuel of all kinds should not be underestimated. I have some analysis of a slightly radical proposal at http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2005/03/forty-two.html and plenty more elsewhere at The Ergosphere: http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/

NB: Stripping HTML without prior notice or warning that it is being done (especially from the poster's edit window) is unspeakably rude.


Is there any sort of pollution information that you have regarding the construction of hybrid vehicles and their batteries? How about when they wreck and cause toxic spills harmful to both the occupants and the rescue personel?

It's not a jab, I am just curious.

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