- When gasoline prices soared after Hurricane Katrina, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson looked at the sport/utility vehicle that he drives and thought about the message he was sending, according to the Associated Press.
The SUV vehicle only averages about 15 miles per gallon. So the former U.S. energy secretary decided to switch to a hybrid, which combines gasoline and electric power for twice that mile-age.
“You need to practice what you preach,” Richardson said.
Rugged SUVs have been a popular choice for governors on the move, providing plenty of security, extra legroom, and space for staff members. But with gasoline prices hovering near $3 a gal-lon, some governors are trading in their SUVs and asking state employees to cut back on unnecessary travel.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been using a hybrid SUV after Katrina, keeping his Ford Expedition parked when he travels around Tallahassee. The hybrid goes hand-in-hand with Bush's recent push for alternative fuels.
"It's kind of hard to be arguing to conserve gasoline when you're driving around in an SUV that guzzles it down at a 6- to 8-mile per gallon clip," Bush said last month, according to the AP report.
Two Midwest governors, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, are shifting to SUVs that run on E-85, a gasoline-ethanol blend. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne started using an E-85 SUV after helping open a pump for the alternative fuel in Boise.
Pawlenty considered purchasing a hybrid. He chose an ethanol-powered SUV because he could-n't find a hybrid large enough to accommodate himself, three family members, security, equipment, and staff members.
“Our country has been asleep at the switch on these things,” Pawlenty said. “The basic economics are that the supply of fossil fuels is limited and the demand is outstripping the supply. It's a recipe for continued crisis if we don't start changing our ways.”
Maine Gov. John Baldacci, meanwhile, has left the SUV world altogether. He now uses an unmarked sedan.
"This is a small, humble step the governor has taken to demonstrate that everyone can take small steps to save energy," said Baldacci spokesman Lynn Kippax.
While largely symbolic, the shifting away from large SUVs is part of a broader message of conservation after two major hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast, shutting down oil rigs and refineries.
Georgia was the only state in the nation to suspend its gasoline tax for a month, saving motorists an estimated 15 cents per gallon.
In Arizona, state Department of Public Safety officers plan to pare back the number of miles they patrol along the highway. Officers have been ordered to trim their driving by 10 percent a month and conduct more enforcement through radar guns on freeway ramps, medians, and overpasses.
In Michigan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm continues to use an SUV on official business but she has increased the number of gasoline inspectors to watch out for potential gouging, Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said in the AP report.
Michigan has spent about $2.8 million more on fuel this year for state-owned vehicles and is putting together a task force to look at alternatives to travel for state employees. State workers are encouraged to fill up at state-owned bulk fuel tanks, which save about 6 cents a gallon.
“We're looking at every penny, every day trying to make sure we're most efficient,” said Rose Wilson, who manages Michigan's fleet of 7,500 vehicles for the state Department of Management and Budget.
In Florida, officials are working to build an infrastructure for hydrogen power near Orlando, where a small fleet of buses and cars are being tested. State workers, meanwhile, are keeping the thermostat set in the low 80s and keeping the lights off to save electricity.
“High gas prices are going to revolutionize the way we drive and move our society to more fuel-efficient vehicles,” Richardson said in an interview, according to the AP report. “Unfortunately, it's taken a crisis of high gas prices to move us in that direction.”