Home editor's blog on sun & fossil fuels Gas car's tailpipe extends all the way to coal plant

Gas car's tailpipe extends all the way to coal plant

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editors-blog-entry3One of the most common -- and simplistic -- critiques of plug-in vehicles is that they just push pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.

It's the standard, "You're just plugging into a lump of coal" charge, or what I call, the "gotcha" critique, as in, "Ha, ha -- you smug EV owner or advocate, you're polluting too -- gotcha!"

Here's my back-to-you "gotcha":

"You, gas car drivers, are also plugging into a lump of coal -- via the oil refining process!"

Oil refining requires a tremendous amount of electricity, much of it generated by the burning of coal at large power plants. In the U.S., in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, oil refineries consumed 42,682 million kilowatts of electricity.

To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of the yearly electricity consumption of about 5.4 million average American households!

That's right, gas-powered cars run partially on coal!

Oil refining requires a tremendous amount of electricity, much of it generated by the burning of coal at large power plants. In the U.S., in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, oil refineries consumed 42,682 million kilowatts of electricity. To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of the yearly electricity consumption of about 5.4 million average American households!

To be fair, about 52 percent of electricity in the U.S. is generated via the burning of coal. However, this percentage varies tremendously from state to state and even from utility to utility. This means that in order to get the most meaningful picture of what an oil refinery is actually plugging into for its electricity, or what you're plugging into to get your home electricity, or your EV's electricity, you need to look at the power-production numbers for different states, and, ideally, local utilities. I'll do that sometime, but not here.

In the end, unlike EVs, on top of plugging into a lump of coal, gas cars also have a tailpipe. That tailpipe spews toxins into the air and directly into the lungs of those both nearby and faraway. In fact, the long tailpipe of the gas car is the primary contributor to the unhealthy and deadly air pollution billions of us breathe 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So, not-so-smug-anymore gas-car drivers (OK, for now, I'm still a gas car driver, but I certainly don't feel smug about being one), you've got the longest, filthiest tailpipe around -- and it extends all the way back to those very same coal smokestacks you incorrectly thought only EVs plug in to.

Gotcha back -- big time!

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