Green Fatigue

Natural-Gas Exec Promotes Fuel, Slams Electric and Compact Cars During Road Trip in Hummer; Will Give $2,500 to Phoenix School

A Pittsburgh natural-gas exec and his wife will donate $2,500 to a central Phoenix school on Friday as part of their cross-country trip in an alternative-fuel-powered Hummer H3, which they say pollutes less than a Smart Car.

Murry Gerber served as CEO for EQT, a major natural-gas producer in Pennsylvania, for 12 years, boosting the company's value for shareholders by a devilishly good 666 percent during his tenure, according to a 2010 Pittsburgh business news site. Now he's promoting the compressed version of the gas as an alternative to gasoline while on the road trip with his wife, Cindy.

If you'll recall, Arizona had an up-close-and-personal experience with natural gas for vehicles about 10 years ago: The financial disaster known as the Alt-Fuel Fiasco. The debacle stymied interest in alternative-fuel-powered cars here for years, but the problem wasn't due just to the unaffordable state subsidies given to vehicle buyers. As we noted in our 2008 article about alternative fuels, various problems with the alt-fuels and the alt-fuel industry have meant that consumers (including government and business vehicle fleets) have been moving away from, not toward, them.

Without getting into all the complex problems here, we'll note that the H3 vs. Smart Car claim is suspect on its face, because Smart Cars have been widely criticized for having relatively low fuel mileage. There's probably a good reason the Gerbers didn't compare the pollution of their NG-powered, low-mileage H2 to a Toyota Prius.

Suspiciously, the Gerbers don't provide stats on the Smart Car comparison on their Gerbers' trip site. We sent them an e-mail with a few questions about that.

In the meantime, we had to laugh at the gas exec's full-on slam on small and electric cars on his site. One Web page crows how natural-gas-powered vehicles are "a lot more fun" because, to sum up their theme, Hummers and other huge SUVs are awesome:

...perhaps you're a parent and need a vehicle that can accommodate the kids, sporting equipment, and all the other things that a family needs to bring along. Perhaps you need a vehicle that can get you to Grandma's house several hundred miles away. Or perhaps you need a vehicle for your work, a pickup truck or van, which you can use to haul tools or deliveries.

The point being, of course, that you sure as hell won't get that sort of usefulness or pleasure out of a compact car. Their dog, Seamus, has "plenty of room to stretch out as we roll along without crowding us."

Electric cars receive their own page of criticism, in which Gerber slams the vehicles as near-useless hazards to our nation's electricity grid and environment.

He may be right about electric cars -- but natural gas, which produces plenty of greenhouse gases and typically requires a huge vehicle like an H3 to haul around a stockier fuel tank, isn't exactly a miracle fuel.

In any case, the charitable natural-gas mogul and his wife plan to stop by Andalucia Middle School in central Phoenix on their way through Arizona and award its science program a check for $2,500. Perhaps one of the bright students at the school will work on a new energy source -- one with a lot fewer drawbacks.

On the way out, they'll fill up at the Clean Energy station on the west end of Sky Harbor, one of only seven compressed natural gas stations in Arizona. We checked the price of compressed NG at the station: It's $2.45 per gallon equivalent. Does that mean it's cheaper than gasoline at $3.63 per gallon (the price at an ARCO station we passed this morning)?

Not necessarily.

An article about the NG-powered Honda Civic GX and its gas-powered sister, the LX, gives a more realistic look at the gas/natural gas situation than the one given on Gerber's site.

Mr. Fusion just can't get here soon enough.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.