Congressman, Actor Promote 'Plug-In' Hybrids

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday appeared in Washington, D.C., to promote a plug-in hybrid car that supporters claim can travel 150 miles or more on a gallon of gasoline and to answer critics who accuse Congress of posturing on global warming issues.

Appearing with Markey was actor Rob Lowe, who told reporters and fans that "clean energy is something I've been interested in for a while." He said he had decided to take a public stand on the issue, because "I've been watching as the climate changes."

Lowe, a former star on the long-running NBC political drama "West Wing," took Markey and two staffers on a short ride in a modified Toyota Prius, which Markey later described as "incredible." Lowe said he plans to have a hybrid modified with plug-in technology so he can drive it -- and show it off -- around his home in California.

Modifications performed by Massachusetts-based A123 Systems added a battery that can be charged overnight through a normal electrical outlet, allowing the car to run on more electricity than a normal hybrid.

There are currently about one dozen operating plug-in hybrids on the road, according to A123 Systems President and CEO David Vieau. The modifications cost nearly $10,000, but Vieau said the cost would drop as the modification becomes more popular.

Critics accuse federal lawmakers of declaring their interest in environmental and global warming issues without following through on promises to pass legislations aimed at addressing the problems.

In a statement Wednesday, National Center for Policy Analysis senior fellow H. Sterling Burnett said that "when it comes to global warming, Congress has been long on talk but short on action. The special climate change committee has been a bust, yielding more press statements and photo ops than concrete proposals."

Burnett praised House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) for threatening to introduce legislation that would impose a tax on carbon emissions.

Introducing such a bill, Burnett said, would "lay bare the hypocrisy in Congress."

Because consumers would not be likely to support candidates who vote to increase the cost of energy, "it is unlikely a new energy tax will get a majority of support in this, or any, Congress, despite their rhetoric otherwise," he said.

"The most important point he [Dingell] is making," Burnett wrote," is that there is no such thing as a free lunch in fighting climate change. Regardless of whether we attempt to slow warming through new energy taxes or a cap-and-trade approach, the costs will be quite high, will harm the poor the most, and, by most estimates will do little or nothing to prevent global warming."

Markey took the criticism in stride. "The criticism is accurate as far as the past is concerned," he told Cybercast News Service. But he pledged the energy legislation the House will focus on this month will change that.

He promised "substantial new incentives for these new future-oriented automotive technologies" and other measures to address environmental issues.

Markey said that in spite of the high initial costs of a modification such as the $10,000 plug-in technology, he expects Americans will eventually catch on to the ideas and accept them.

"It will take a couple of years to get people educated about the technology and then you'll see it adopted," he said.

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