Amid new fuels’ uncertainty, clean diesel’s benefits proven

(Regarding op-ed “Alternative fuels not mature; improve gasoline quality and reduce emissions” by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Energy & Environment Special Report, June 24.) Congressman Dingell astutely recognizes the many challenges of developing next-generation fuels and vehicles to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and the uncertainty of their ultimate acceptance and market penetration. That makes his question “How can we integrate today’s fuels and technology to produce meaningful, near-term benefits for all Americans?” one of the most important but most overlooked questions facing us today.

One answer is to use more clean-diesel technology. Clean diesel is an alternative to conventional gasoline that is available in almost 50 percent of all fueling stations and delivering benefits today. Having undergone a complete makeover in both fuel (now ultra-low sulfur diesel) and emissions technology (certified to gasoline-equivalent emission standards in all 50 states), the new generation of diesel delivers 20 to 40 percent more miles per gallon than its gasoline counterpart and 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It’s no surprise then why more than half the new cars sold in Europe last year had a diesel engine or why the Green Car Journal’s 2009 Green Car of the Year is not a hybrid, but a clean diesel (the Volkswagen Jetta TDI).

This new generation of clean-diesel engines along with the millions of others already on the road is diverse in its ability to use high-quality blends of renewable biofuels made from soybeans, algae, compost and other sources. Once next-generation renewable diesel fuels like those currently fueling the Helsinki bus system are available in America, much higher blend levels can be used that will further reduce CO2 as well as PM and NOx emissions. And since these fuels also meet the same quality and performance specs as conventional fuels, they can be seamlessly blended and transported within the existing fuel distribution network, eliminating major barriers to expanded use of conventional biofuels (transportability, quality and stability) and making them more cost-competitive for consumers.

Mr. Dingell and others recognize that while some future vehicle and fuel technologies may offer great promise, they are many years away from displacing gasoline and diesel fuel as mainstream transportation fuels. And most importantly he offers the badly needed wisdom that our near-term benefits are going to come from incremental improvements in existing technologies that are proven and available to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions today.

Using more clean-diesel technology and fuel instead of gasoline can make substantial progress in the transition to future technologies. We must not ignore the benefits of here-and-now energy-saving technology like diesel that has cut CO2 emissions and reduced dependence on imported oil.

From Allen Schaeffer, executive director, Diesel Technology Forum, Washington

A prudent approach to immigration policy

The letter you published in your edition of July 1 (“Immigration warning,” from Yeh Ling-Ling, executive director, Alliance for a Sustainable USA) is full of unsubstantiated conclusions.

First, the Pew Hispanic Center has a sound paper on the correlation between illegal immigration and the domestic labor demand. Thus, it is not serious to invoke the boogeyman of infinite hordes of illegal immigrants coming to increase the domestic unemployment rate. If there is no expectation of jobs, and so of wages, why would they invest in coming here to stay unemployed? Who would pay the bills of those who remain unemployed? Actually many of those already here have already left as a result of the recession, reducing the stock of illegal immigrants to 11 million.

Second, our history is plagued with examples of using threatening, magnified numbers of minorities to justify racism and xenophobia, from the Civil War, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the nativist legislation of 1921 and 1924, to Jim Crow. NumbersUSA is one organization that, in a Malthusian line, is devoted to blaming illegal immigrants, 5 percent of the population, for the problems of the whole population — that is simply absurd even in terms of those who are seriously worried about population growth.

Third, as the alienation to which the Italian and Irish communities were subjected by the nativists of the 1920s helped the development of the organized crime inside those communities, the alienation resulting from the current xenophobia could end up surrendering the Hispanic community to demagogues skilled in the Latin American styles of doing politics. Nowadays more than 90 percent of the resident visas are awarded depending basically on family or country of origin, the applicant’s caste of birth. The chance to achieve immigration reform based on good character is ours to take now so that the Hispanic voters of whom Ling-Ling is so afraid do not mean any undesirable change of the mainstream when demographic trends make of Hispanics a powerful political force.

Fourth, services provided to immigrants is a legitimate issue to debate when we actually seek answers instead of excuses. For example, if we achieve healthcare reform, we could require of them to take health insurance. We could require hours of volunteer work as a way to their integration and their paying back to the community what they can’t through taxes.

From Alfredo Bravo de Rueda Espejo, Gaithersburg, Md.