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Senator Takes Hybrid Hummer on a Semi-Wild Ride

9:10 AM PDT on May 21, 2009

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has a knack for puncturing Capitol Hill's bubble of obliviousness. His classics include the spotting of
Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer
(D-CA) leaving an event that protested high gas prices in an
18-miles-per-gallon car -- for the one-block trip back to her office.

In his latest dispatch, Milbank takes on the hybrid Hummer H3, a new model
produced by Raser Technologies of Provo, Utah, that claims to get 100
miles to the gallon of gas. Raser's home-state senator, Orrin Hatch
(R), climbed behind the wheel of one of the monstrous "green" vehicles
yesterday, with less-than-stellar results:

Orrin_Hatch_1.jpgSen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had fun with a hybrid Hummer. (Photo: UPI)

With a whine and a lurch, the Hummer began to accelerate, and for a fewterrifying moments, Hatch was in control of the bright-red 5,000-poundtruck. Well, not entirely in control. "All I've got to do is smash thatcar, I'll tell ya," he said of a vehicle in his path. The questions heasked were unsettling: "Squeeze that button? ... Do I park it thisway? ... I'm going to miss the curb? ... Is there a reverse?"

Spotting a Capitol Police car, he speculated, "They're probably lookingat me." Eyeing some photographers near the car, Hatch allowed that hewas "a little bit concerned" for their safety. When one got too close,Hatch muttered: "That guy's really got some guts to stand there."

Hilariously, Hatch's home-state newspaper had a much kinder interpretation of the affair. The Salt Lake Tribune
described the senator as "carefully avoiding a troupe of photographers
and reporters" as he steered the hybrid H3, which uses a 40-kwh battery
pack that weighs 600 pounds on its own.

Leaving aside the frightening thought of a hulking military-style vehicle being repackaged as "green" -- for the bargain price of $50,000 -- the hybrid H3's claim to 100-mpg status is pretty misleading.

For
one, the car has a range of 40 miles on its plug-in electric battery
before its 11-gallon fuel tank begins burning gas mileage. But those
first 40 miles aren't gimmes; if Hatch had to make a long trip in the
D.C. area, he'd be paying 12.83 cents for every kilowatt-hour in the
car's battery pack. The 100-mpg figure is an average of the H3's
gas-free first 40 miles and its subsequent fuel-using mileage. How many
miles to the gallon does the hybrid Hummer get when you factor out its
electricity-based miles? It's tough to say.

What we do know
is that Hatch is a longtime supporter of tax credits for producers and
purchasers of plug-in hybrid vehicles, including a proposal to give
government money to electric utilities that offer rebates to plug-in
drivers. His co-sponsor in that effort: then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

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